The presidential election deeply disappointed and shocked me and many other progressive people dumbstruck at the rise of a man who has exhibited disturbing bigotry, racism and misogyny, in addition to rejecting some of the foundational social services and compassion we depend on to make the world a more equitable place. There’s been lots of hand-wringing and chatter. What to do?
Thus far there have been vigils and rallies. A lot of people have given money to Planned Parenthood, or to environmental organizations or to the arts, anticipating a collective abandonment of the things we care so much about. There have been lots of facebook posts and petitions and op-eds and tweets of outrage.
But what will really make a difference?
The action plan
A few days after the election I actually made a list. I hadn’t shared it with anyone because the point was not to be all, “I’m on this, I’m going to save the world,” the point was to make a difference in whatever way I could. Also, I was acutely aware that my shock and dismay over the election was due to my ignorance, and I was a little embarrassed about that. This racism thing? It’s been going on for centuries. I don’t face it every day because I’m white. Boom: the definition of “white privilege.” It’s blinding. (Blackish explains this eloquently)
Anyway, I’m ready to share my list now, ready to admit I have so much to learn, admit that yes, I am earnest and naked in my desire to make the world a better place, and aware that my efforts are a drop in the bucket. I am sharing it because I want us all to think of everything we can to move forward during this time that so many people say is dark. I want to make it light, one tiny idea and one tiny action at a time.
I donated money.
I am lucky to have enough money to give some to organizations that need it. There are so many: Planned Parenthood, which may lose federal funding in the post-election climate. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected and focused leader in the fight against racial and social injustice. Locally, the DC Rape Crisis Center and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, in Baltimore.
I am giving to my church, because it is deeply immersed in social justice action. St. Stephen and the Incarnation gave away the land next to the sanctuary to establish low-income housing, and now helps run services for the people there. It founded Samaritan Ministry, now a city-wide social services organization. Its program Loaves and Fishes has been integral to feeding the hungry. St. Stephen’s also provides meeting and office space for many support organizations, from the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project to CISPES, supporting the Salvadoran community. I also celebrate Sunday services here, with music from a variety of cultures, multi-gendered prayers, a diverse set of ministers and sermons that frequently teach about supporting one’s community, being open-hearted and the importance of speaking truth to power.
I am educating myself.
I am sadly ignorant of the lives and the history of the people of color who live all around me. And I know little about the great black scholars, philosophers and authors. They were not taught in the schools I attended, at least not in my classes. So I am building a library of African American-centric books.
Some favorites so far: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander; Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates; and Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by Charles Blow.
I already read a lot of books by women, but I skipped the feminism courses and could learn a lot from the founding mothers. And what about Latino authors? It’s been a long time since I picked up Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Julia Alvarez. I have so much catching up to do.
I am listening more broadly.
In addition to expanding my library, I am changing up my media diet. I seek out different voices: Not just the New York Times but also The Root. Not just Atlantic Magazine but The Grio. And I’m having a lot of fun with television series and movies: I like Madame Secretary, and Good Girls Revolt was fantastic, but my new guilty pleasure is Empire and I’ve just started watching Queen Sugar (Ava Duvernay, who hired only women to direct Queen Sugar episodes, is my new hero.) I can’t wait to see Hidden Figures.
I will spend more time at Dance Place.
Thus is a recurring theme on Mixed Ginger. Dance Place, my dance home for decades, is so much more than a place to take class, and it is open to everyone: the definition of inclusive. In addition to classes in African, Latin, jazz and modern, its full performance schedule encompasses all sorts of dance styles and histories. The after-school and summer programs support a huge community of young people who not only dance – they learn about computers, gardening, art and all the other things the generous people at Dance Place share with them.
I intend to keep attending class, see more shows, and invite more people to discover this gem of a place. Check out the performance schedule and come see a show with me!
Many ideas. Some underway, some aspirational.
- Volunteer once a month for Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. At Write Nights I can write encouraging notes to young prisoners who compose poetry and send it in for feedback. Free Minds creates connections with people who have few supports inside a prison system that is incarcerating a disproportionate number of young black men (see Ava Duvernay’s 13th for more on this) and it reminds us of people of all colors who have been tossed aside, sometimes for minor transgressions, sometimes for regrettable but changeable behavior.
- Stay more abreast of local and state politics and urge my representatives to advance progressive policies that serve all people. Here’s an example: bail reform. There is an effort underway to scrap bail requirements that keep poor people—who have not yet been convicted, only arrested, who are often innocent—in jail for little reason other than they cannot pay the bail. Here’s a compelling story about it and a description of how it could change. What else is coming up in Maryland? Montgomery County? Takoma Park? I have to do my research.
- Spend carefully. My next bike repair or purchase will be at Gearin’ Up bike shop, where local kids learn bike mechanics and get bikes if they build them themselves from the parts around the shop. I’ll shop locally – that means Politics and Prose book shop instead of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I’ll continue to enjoy Denizen’s, the only woman- and minority-owned and operated brewery in Maryland. Their Southside Rye IPA is my fave.
- Broaden my circle of acquaintances and friends. This can be as simple as approaching strangers at a party, and instead of choosing a middle-aged white woman like myself to compare notes on how to parent 20-something children, for example, finding a young person, or a man, or a person of color to talk about, well, anything – what we did last weekend, whether you got the flu that was going around, how crazy it is that Metro closes at midnight. My hope: these connections could blossom into real relationships. But even if they create just a momentary connection, that’s better than another conversation that I’ve had multiple times with people just like me.
And I’ll keep talking about these issues. They aren’t the only thing. Our lives go on, we go to work, we make dinner, we see our friends and family. I want to do all of that AND stay true to a commitment to make the world a better place, at a time when my core values are really being challenged. If you are on the same page, use the comments below to share what you’re doing. Or to tell me I am a naive and over-hopeful fool. Or to tell me this is an overblown reaction and we’ll all be fine. I’d love to hear your thoughts.