Post-election action plan

 

lovetrumpshate

A candlelight vigil in Takoma Park days after the election

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.

books

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.

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Dancer Patrick Casimir in What’s Goin’ On, Marvin Gaye Project at Dance Place, photo by Jonathan Hsu

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!

What else?

 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.

gearinup

  • 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.

Mixed graffiti

Early morning.

I pedal around a bend in an urban bike trail, paralleling the train tracks on my way to the city. And suddenly: an enormous profile of a woman’s face looking up into the sky. Brilliant color. Strong, heavy, sure lines. Larger than life.

I burst out laughing.

What a joy to come upon this unexpected art! On my last ride, it was just a blank, grey, concrete-and-chain-link wall. Now this!

Mural-Woman2

I love street art. Especially along this stretch of tarry-smelling industrial trail – the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I am always looking to see what new tags will appear. And I check in with old pieces – that mural of nerdy-looking bikers on one wall. Bold, fanciful letters on another. The oddly dark mural of creatures riding bicycles on another. And always Crotch Rot. I wish s/he’d thought of a less evocative tag.

But that is what street art is: a messy mix of the unexpected. I get a happy hit of color and beauty around one corner. And a disturbing inner dialogue about what “crotch rot” might really mean, and how I feel about someone expressing themselves in a way that makes my nose wrinkle. Or worse.

On the day I discover the profile of the woman, I am giddy with delight. New art! It’s like a reward for riding my bike to work today. And then – the artists are still at work. Even better. I stop.

Mural-Artist

“Thank you for doing this!” I say. The artists are gracious about my enthusiastic interruption of the work. They explain it was part of a project called Pow Wow DC. I look it up later and discover it’s an effort to beautify the city with a week-long blast of street art by international and local artists.

This is great! And then, when you start thinking about it, get into the weeds, it’s complicated.

  • Why international? Isn’t local art good enough?
  • Who pays for it?
  • Did you ask the neighbors if they wanted this?
  • Maybe they want a grocery store instead?
  • What about gentrification?
  • Is this neighborhood down with being artsy?

And what about “real” graffiti, the unsanctioned spray of color applied late at night, with lookouts to avoid arrest? The kind that shouts, “I am here,” that sprouts up like a new and unexpected blossom, to discover in the morning?

One of those early morning gifts was this message, applied right in the middle of the assigned murals, but respectfully drawn out in neat cursive between he finished images:

Must we gentrify everything?

Mural-Gentrified

Gentrification is complicated. Beautification is subjective. What I think is laugh-out-loud joy may be a dark herald of $14 cocktails replacing the corner barber shop.

That doesn’t make me unlove the art.

I’d like to think there is room for graffiti and assigned murals. Let’s have art. All of it.

But then, what is art? Who decides what is beautiful? I love a lot of street art – swirly lines of color, fanciful faces and clever phrases included. But the profanity disturbs and disappoints me.

In my neighborhood, the city has just commissioned a piece of art for a wall that faces the highway. Terrific, right? But no. The neighbors hated the conceptual drawings, and did not mince words on the neighborhood listserv. “Hideous.” “Yuck.” I felt badly for the artist. But also: this is public art. It’s supposed to be appealing to that public.

The artist went back to the drawing board. Art by committee. Good luck.

Sing it forward

RyCooderEtAl

A few songs into the show at the Birchmere, I realized I was smiling like I hadn’t smiled in days. Long. And hard. And irresistibly.

And then I was crying. Just a little.

Because: Music. Good, amazing, phenomenally played music.

I was lucky enough to be sitting 30 feet from a stage that would have collapsed had the bona fides of these musicians been that sort of heavy. These are my sorta bona fides.

Ry Cooder: mad skills, but perhaps more importantly: curious, unafraid to try something new, and always respectful of traditions at first unfamiliar, but quickly inhabited by his own fingers on strings, his own voice on harmony. Ry Cooder who played with and lifted up the Buena Vista Social Club, V.M. Bhatt and Ali Farka for western audiences. A guy from Los Angeles who played with bands like Little Feat, Captain Beefheart and the Rolling Stones and later turned to traditional music, seeking out masterful musicians from all sorts of traditions, learning their styles and offering it up to the rest of us.

Ricky Skaggs: master of and loyal to his own deep tradition of bluegrass music. Saavy enough to reach audiences that might not otherwise wrap their ears around his quick picking fingers on mandolin and guitar. The real deal. I first heard him when I was in college at Appalachian State University, close to his roots in Kentucky, and his technical skill made it clear that he was special even then. He’s been playing mandolin since age 5.

There they are, in that photo: Ricky, Sharon (his wife) and Ry.

The family band: blew me away.

Sharon White – Ricky’s wife; Chery White, Sharon’s sister; Buck White, their 85-year-old father on keyboards and vocals; and Joachim Cooder, Ry’s 37-yr-old son on drums. Blew. Me. Away. Each is talented in their own right, but there is something extra you get when families make music together, an added dimension of visceral connectedness. Is it because they spent their earliest years matching and mixing their voices and instruments together? Or is it in the blood? It is simply one more wonder to consider as the music reaches down deep and draws up tears and smiles because this exists in the world, and I get to hear it.

Yes I am gushing. The music was so fine-tuned but at the same time so natural, so easy yet so perfected.  But also: I know this was just two silver-maned guys on stage, one with black jeans and black shirt, the other sporting a considerable gut and hippy/hipster eyeglasses, playing to a silver-haired audience. As my honey pointed out, every one of the people up there wore eyeglasses except for the old guy, and the youngest. I watched them connect across the instruments and behind the lead singers. Age is no object. But it was worth pointing out, as Skaggs did, that everything about this show was from pre-1965 except for the drummer. Now there’s some depth for you.

Meanwhile, the oldest musician was not up there just for show — Mr. White bounced all over the keyboard, when the others turned to him for his break he nailed it. And he could sing. Could we get any better than the traditional tune he lit into with his two daughters, a tune Sharon said they used to sing with their mama? I imagined the countless times that song’s chords signaled another round of a familiar tune, the snuggling in to that place where your voice belongs, buttressed by all the others, both nesting together and projecting out to the world this connectedness like no other.

And then there was Ry Cooder’s song about Christians who should unload their diamond-studded shoes. Maybe it was the result of reflecting on Ricky’s deep faith, his reliable testimony that he is blessed, and grateful to God who gave him the opportunity and the mission to share his music. Ry Cooder is no born-again Christian, but he slides right in there holding down the bass vocals as if he’d been raised up in a Southern Baptist church, and now writing a Gospel-ish song of his own, admonishing Christians who may have been blinded by all that crusted glory that can creep up on them like power.

Because in addition to this being deeply traditional, it is also being carried forward – there was a lot of banter about learning from YouTube videos, and of course there was that young guy anchoring it all down with drums. This sort of music is not just about sitting in your seat and listening to a show. It is about seeing the magic of connection among the musicians. Carry it forward.