I’m not much for bandwagons. I don’t post a lot of things on Facebook, trying to shout into the void with the hope of changing the mind of the approximately four people who disagree with me who haven’t already hidden my posts from their feed or been deleted because their disagreement crossed the line into abuse. I don’t pressure people to sign a lot of petitions (which frankly is the very least you can do. But no pressure. Okay, a little pressure. It’s just not hard. Also, do more.). In the places online where I spend the most time (so…here and Pinterest), I try to highlight sources and give tangible ways to dismantle systems of oppression and to support others who are doing so. In my face-to-face life, I do the things I suggest. I don’t put a lot of faith in talk that doesn’t reflect walk. I am usually wary of things that look like action but can’t stand alone as real activism. I am usually skeptical as hell.
But I wore a safety pin on Friday as a statement that I was on the side of the people who are afraid of what the election of Trump means for their safety and freedom. A few people called it effective, but it was mostly just offensive. I am not new to this, and I should have known better. Just like I don’t need help identifying men who are pro-women (and the thought of them wearing something that tells me, “It’s okay, sweetie. I promise I’m safe,” makes me make gagging noises) or need men to save me (cue more gagging), other people don’t need me to save them either. I should honor my wariness and my gut, for they are both more educated than I give them credit for, and I’m sorry I didn’t. I hate that I hurt people I respect, and I wish I could go back in time and not do it.
I haven’t had the words lately to say to people (well, not words they would be able hear, anyway) who are telling protestors to sit down and shut up and get over it. To accept the things we fear as normal. To not grieve when someone, whose words – not the media tweaking his words, not the media portrayal of him, his actual words that we heard come out of his actual mouth – have denigrated, disrespected, and dehumanized whole groups of people (who have already been marginalized and ridiculed most of their lives), gets elected to the highest office in the land.
My distrust of Trump goes beyond mere distrust of politics. It goes beyond disagreement (and my disagreement with just about everything he proposes is not a small thing to get beyond). I don’t trust him as a person, and thus I don’t trust him to set the example that leaders need to set. I’ve had enough experience having to protect myself to have a pretty good gauge of who I can expect to be allies, who I can expect to be apathetic, and who I can expect to be aggressors. And he falls firmly in the last camp. I wish he didn’t. Wednesday I said I don’t have prayers for him yet, but I am praying that he has a Saul-knocked-off-his beast sort of change (although make it a good one, God, because post-knock-Paul and I have issues, too). I know my choice not to explain why that’s what I see is frustrating for those who don’t see it, but it’s not a list for public consumption. There are people who would use it as a list of things to emulate, and there are people who would read not to understand but to patronize me and tell me I must have misunderstood – that he couldn’t possibly have meant exactly what he said. And that makes them unsafe, too.
I don’t know what to say to people who ask us to feel safe when we’re not. But I’m exhausted and emotional from my festive two-panic-attack-a-day habit (I should see someone before I can’t afford it anymore), so I’m going to give it a go anyway.
As a single woman, I have never been safe. My entire adult life, as many times as I have unlocked my front door and walked into the world, I have not been safe. I don’t relax much behind that locked door either, because locks aren’t hard to break if someone were to get a notion to try. If they do, I have objects in every room of my home that I could confidently use as weapons of defense if I needed to, and I’ve put a lot of thought and a bit of practice into how I’d use them. I am constantly on alert. I’ve had to be.
This is not just how I feel; this is my reality.
I don’t talk about these experiences a lot, mostly because people like to say things – they just can’t help themselves – and there’s nothing to say that fixes it, so their attempts are frustrating. I have been followed by a group of men who aggressively offered themselves to me as I walked from my car to my apartment in the dark. I have been catcalled threats of what someone would like to do to me if he were physically closer when walking from my car to the building where I taught my classes. I have been called a cunt more times than I can count. I have been grabbed ten feet from my front door in a neighborhood of hundreds of people, none of whom came out of their homes to see if I needed help when I yelled. I am wily and vicious and marginally trained to respond in these situations, which was apparently surprising to my attacker, so he let me go. I am constantly haunted with thoughts about what could have happened if he hadn’t, because I doubt I would have been able to fend him off. I have been spat upon for voicing an opinion that does not make me sound like a Stepford wife.
I don’t just feel like I’m not safe. I am actually not safe.
And I am very privileged. This world is not as unsafe for me as it is for people of color, particularly those who are also women. This world is not as unsafe for me as it is for people who do not identify with the gender on their birth certificate or for those who love people who have the same gender. It is not as unsafe for me as it is for immigrants and refugees. It is not as unsafe for me as it is for people who are differently abled. It is not as unsafe for me as it is for people who practice a different religion than Christianity.
And now those who perpetuate this danger by their behaviors and their policies have been given new encouragement through Trump’s victory and its implied confirmation that their behavior, like his, is acceptable and winning.
To protest this implication and the events that led to it is a constitutional right. It is right, period.
To hear the lament of those who are hurting and to mourn with them and to publicly, actively, and financially be for them and their freedom is a moral imperative. Especially if you call yourself a Christian.
I am not asking you to save me.
I am asking you to find a real way to extend to everyone the same freedoms in practice that we extend in lip service, and I am asking you to make it a priority.
Let’s start with the easiest. A five-dollar-a-month commitment is not that much. Even someone with my budget can find an extra five dollars a month, although I’ve scaled back on some things so that I can give more. If you make over what the cost of living equivalent of my almost-$30,000-a-year salary is where you live (for reference, if you spend less than half your household income per capita on rent/mortgage payments), you can probably find more to give as well. If all you can do is donate, here are a tiny handful of groups who are trying to make our country safer for those whom it generally is not:
The Southern Poverty Law Center (Note also the petition. Because we have a president-elect who needs to be reminded that it’s a bad idea to make a white nationalist like Bannon one of your top advisers.)
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Council on American-Islamic Relations
The Trevor Project
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund
There are so many others. Where do you donate? Where are the financial needs you see? Please link in the comments.
Get involved in your local community so that you know its people and their needs. Go to meet-and-greets with people who are running for office and vet them. Call the offices of your elected officials (actually call – letters and emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, but it’s harder to ignore a ringing phone), and tell their staff your concerns and how they can best represent those concerns. Volunteer, particularly with groups who are likely to lose some financial support in the upcoming year. Buy fair trade and sweatshop free whenever possible.. Vote every day with your dollar by not supporting businesses that commit human rights violations or those that do not take care of their people, particularly their people whose paychecks are the smallest (and tell said businesses why they’ve lost your patronage and what actions they must take in order to earn it back. Otherwise, you’re just paying more money for groceries for no reason.). Make art that provokes and challenges. Buy the art and support the businesses of people who benefit from fewer societal privileges than you do. When you hear people say racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, classist, and otherwise wrong things, respond with truth.
When you see someone disparaged or bullied, don’t ignore it. But also don’t make a spectacle of yourself; this is not about you. Pay attention to the ones being attacked and take your cues from them. Often, it will look like putting yourself in between the attacker and the person attacked. Sometimes, this will look like confronting the attacker. Sometimes, this will look like denying attackers the attention they are craving and being an excuse for the ones attacked to remove themselves from the situation. If you are unclear what the person being attacked wants you to do, ask permission before you do anything, even if it’s sitting by them, because they might want their space. When someone’s personal agency has been threatened, only that which restores it is helpful. Do not become part of the problem by pushing what you imagine you’d want someone to do if you were in this situation, because it might be very different from what – if anything – they want you to do.
Learn from my mistakes. Resist what is easy (because it’s probably more patronizing than useful), and do real things that are helpful.
What else? Suggestions are welcome.