An Appeal for Vigilance and Harmony in Uncertain Times
The Spine-chilling Stakes
And so it came to pass that the nightmare came true, the virulent racist, sexist, homophobic demagogue was voted to the highest office in all the land. In the days following the tragedy –and make no mistake, this is a tragedy, one of epic proportions– many of us have grappled with waves of emotion unlike anything we have ever experienced. We felt anger at those who opened the door to something frighteningly close to fascism, disappointment in the ones who sat idly by as we stared an existential threat in the face, but probably most of all, abject horror.
As the reality of the matter began to set in, the fear of the implications gradually grew as our understanding of them expanded. These election results extend farther than just his inflammatory rhetoric peddling intolerance and ignorance, his words aren’t half as powerful as his actions will be. In his 100-day plan, he lists in frightening detail how he intends to kick off his governance. It should send a shiver through your spine to even envision what else he –or rather his cabinet, who will be the ones actually enacting policy– plans over his four years as President. If it doesn’t, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to inform yourself and them of what we as a community face. Contrary to what many may tell you, this is not merely a matter of waiting out the next four years, his impact on the country and the world at large extends beyond 2020.
Many of our most closely guarded measures of progress are now in very real peril and it is not an exaggeration or grim reading of reality. Already we have seen how the Republican-led systematic disemboweling of the Voting Rights Act –the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement– robbed thousands of people of color of their vote through tactics of voter suppression. Consider then how much further this Presidency can take this vile undercutting of the VRA now that it has the House of Representatives and the Senate in Republican control; picture how many more people could be stripped of their vote now that the newly-elected Commander in Chief could name up to three new Supreme Court justices to the highest court in the land. It’s not just four years; he could and likely will define the country’s path for the next 50 years.
It’s not just the VRA that is in jeopardy, this will be an administration of open and aggressive hostility towards women. The President Elect is already on record saying that women should be punished for having abortions. Furthermore, he’s stated that he expects his Vice President, Mike Pence, to handle much of his domestic policy. It’s impossible to overstate the horror women feel at the prospect of this. Pence is a staunch pro-life advocate, one who took to the Senate floor in 2013 and said: “I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history.” As Governor of Indiana, he pushed for defunding of Planned Parenthood for years until it was finally passed in 2011; an action that resulted in Scott County, Indiana suffering a massive HIV outbreak. Pence also signed into law an extreme anti-abortion bill that as Motherjones stated: “…would have forced women to seek funerary services for their fetuses, whether they wanted to or not, it required all fetal tissue –at any stage of development, and no matter whether it came from an abortion or miscarriage– to be cremated or buried. This would have stopped fetal tissue from being used for research, but it went much further than that. The wording of the burial provision meant that technically, even if a woman had a miscarriage at eight weeks of pregnancy at home, she would have to keep the blood and tissue, take it to a hospital or clinic, and have it buried or cremated by a funeral home.”
Additionally, he opposed President Obama’s first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which protected women from pay discrimination. As with the VRA, the precedent set by Roe v. Wade stating that a woman has the right to choose is now threatened with the likely shift of the Supreme Court. Every woman, especially those of low income, will be at risk of losing access to birth control, pap tests, breast exams and every other service that Planned Parenthood provides. As the President Elect stated this past Sunday night during a nationally televised interview, he intends to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. If you’ve seen any of your female loved ones sobbing or in fear, understand that it’s because they will be among the first to feel the brunt of this administration’s attack.
Aside from a cabinet stocked with people who intend to attack the rights of women, the coming administration also has many anti-LGBT extremists in its ranks. For starters there’s Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, an organization that has been named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. There’s also former Attorney General Ed Meese, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, an organization that believes laws that protect LGBTQ people are “not necessary” and only serve to “weaken marriage culture and the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions”. Much like women’s rights, the rights of our LGBTQ friends loved ones will be one of the early targets.
Add these early signs to the already palpable hatred displayed for Latinos, Muslims and others and you have a recipe for a bone-chilling reality where civil liberties will be infringed upon from the upper most reaches of government. That is a proposition that should scare us all, not just the ones being affected directly. Already we’ve begun to see people and media trying to normalize these things under the guise of “coming together” and “giving him a chance”. That behavior is patently dangerous and is precisely how we as a country ended up with a demagogue as our President. The days we live in are not normal, not by any stretch of the imagination, we can not and must not let society fall into the same trap it did during the campaign when white supremacy was made to seem like a normal part of the electoral process.
The risks faced are also of a larger scale, the fate of the country is threatened but so is that of the world as a whole. One of the more immediate threats posed by these election results will be to the environment. A hallmark of the President Elect’s campaign has been to undermine everything that President Obama has accomplished in his eight-year tenure. That’s not something that will stop now that the election is over; in fact it has only just begun. By now you may have already heard that he plans to destroy the Affordable Care Act, leaving 20 million people uninsured. Another one of President Obama’s hallmark accomplishments was the Clean Power Plan, which set guidelines for the country to reduced its carbon footprint to stave off the clear and present danger of global warming. This, in addition to the Paris Agreement, became the most ambitious plans of action against climate change. Unsurprisingly, both will also be at the gallows when President Obama’s successor takes over and neither seems to stand much of a chance of survival. Currently, the Earth’s atmosphere is a mere three degrees in temperature from being irreparably damaged. As the Washington Post’s story detailed, the world’s leaders are currently scrambling to literally save the planet from the person who was just elected. Without a curtailing of greenhouse gas emission we will see coastal cities ravaged by rising sea levels. Cities like New Orleans will be hit the hardest as natural disasters will only continue to grow in severity. Hurricanes and droughts will grow more severe, millions will die and millions more will be displaced. The world we leave for future generations, for our sons, daughter, nieces, nephews and grandchildren is threatened.
If any of this sounds apocalyptic to you, the reason is that it should. It is not hyperbole to say that we now stand at the doorstep of something ominous, something unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. To not be afraid is to be unaware of the reality we now live in; this fear, however, should inspire you into action.
How Do We Move Forward?
As the shock has begun to wear off, many have wrestled with a feeling of helplessness at the thought that this contemptible person has been chosen to lead our country. I was no different. As the results came in and the reality of the matter began to settle I lashed out at third party voters for their dangerously blind idealism (something I’ve since come to regret), harbored revulsion for those who voted for the demagogue pig, wept for all the people who will be adversely affected by everything; a pattern that held for much of the week. But a funny thing happened once I was able to make it through all my stages of grief; a renewed vigor and vitality of spirit.
It became apparent that simply simmering in despondency was counterproductive to not just our mental health, but to a maxim many of us adhere to, that of remaining strong in the face of adversity. Thankfully we have predecessors to model our action after. If we are going to stem the tide of the oppression that we now stare at, it will take a unified front. Say what you will about the racists who voted against the protection of civil liberties (and there is much to be said), but they were united. While we struggled with infighting (third party voters and non-voters against those who voted for Hillary, etc) and splintered, the other side never wavered in their support of their candidate and each other. That should be a lesson we all internalize as we move forward, we must all be united in our fight against tyranny.
A true dedication to intersectional support of one another is our strongest resource. No longer can we believe that oppression of another group other than our own doesn’t affect us. No longer can we look away when one of our Muslim brothers and sisters is attacked or accosted. No longer can we think of feminism as something that is mutually exclusive from masculinity. Martin Niemöller’s poem First They Came for the Socialists must be ingrained into our collective thinking.
What Does Intersectional Support Mean?
Like many others, I have heard many friends condemn white feminism for years, never fully understanding what they meant. It was a foreign concept that I understood in the abstract but not fully. After this election, a deeper understanding of white feminism hit me like a runaway freight train. Watching 53% of white women hand the power of choice over their own bodies to the likes of Mike Pence made one thing abundantly clear: over half of the country’s white women would sooner give up their power to choose before they give up their white privilege. Immediately it became clear that the women in our lives have far less support in their fight for their rights than we were led to believe; intersectional support means that the vacuum of support should be filled by us men as we bury the preconceived notions of what supporting feminism means. Far too long the concept has been linked with a belief that it threatens our masculinity when in reality it’s the complete opposite - to support the women in our lives is the biggest display of strength that we can show. Support is shown by action. For example, if you know a woman who is attending the Million Woman March in Washington D.C., support is going with her and marching with her. Other forms of support will arise in the coming days but the lesson remains the same: action over rhetoric.
Intersectional support also means erasing the lines and divisions that separate us from one another. This portion of the action plan is aimed directly at my fellow Latinos. We as a people need to come to the understanding that our fates are inextricably linked to those of our fellow brown people. Be they African-American, Muslim, and everything in between. Forming a unified front means checking our racist family members and informing them of the world we have been plunged into, sparing no detail. All that talk of “pelo bueno y pelo malo” (good hair and bad hair) has to be snuffed out and exposed for the ignorant division-sowing force that it is. There is a common Spanish saying that goes: “En la union está la fuerza”. It means, “in unity is strength”; unity means everyone, not just those who speak Spanish. We often ask of white people to check their friends and loved ones’ racism; it would be unbridled hypocrisy to not do the same.
The same holds true for every other group of people who will be set upon in the coming months. Immigrants, Muslims, and every other oppressed group’s struggle should become our own for it is the only way to combat the white nativist sentiment that has taken the country by storm.
Of critical importance is taking an active role in educating the people around us and condemning any desire to disengage now that the nightmare scenario came true. After what happened, it will be easy for lots of folks to throw in the towel when they’re needed most. It is our duty to impart on everyone we come across that voting/politics is no longer merely a choice, a thing that someone chooses to do or not to do, it has instead become one of the last methods of survival in a nation now being run almost entirely by white supremacists. There is no such thing waiting for 2020; increasingly, 2018’s midterm elections grow in importance and turnout from people of color is of crucial significance. Collectively we must drive this point home to everyone.
On the Thursday night after the election, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture screened ¡Palante Siempre Palante!, a documentary about the Young Lords Party and their efforts for social equality in the 1970s. A former member of the Young Lords, Carlito Rovira, was part of a Q&A session after the film and he made it a point to stress the importance of education in social change movements. He stated that one of the tenets that made the Young Lords and the Black Panthers before them such effective vehicles for change was their dedication to educating the people they were trying to help, sentiments whose virtues Fred Hampton himself extolled before his life was taken. Teaching them about how electoral politics work, teaching them about their rights and above all, teaching them why they need to stay engaged and educate others as well.
In the digital age, information comes from all sides and far too many people are misled by what they see and read. Several folks believed when they were told that the candidates were equal when they weren’t. The election is stark proof of what can happen when minds are polluted with lies and half-truths, it’s of utmost importance that we walk away from this better than we entered. We have to learn how to properly vet the sources we get our news from, as well as the angles from which they operate. The President Elect won the election after he was handed a propaganda machine worthy of North Korea, one where facts stopped mattering and people stopped questioning what they consumed. Our failures in 2016 cannot be repeated in the years to come. Meaning that when hackers begin to dump ill-gotten information on the people who will rise up against the administration (it will happen, you can be certain of it), we will need to see the ruse for what it is: another attempt to suppress our vote through misinformation. Be aware, be vigilant, and don’t fall for the okey-doke again.
In the days and weeks to come many organizations and movements will arise to fight back against the threat elected into office. There will be many ways for you to engage, but you must remember that action is the operative term. The time for working solely behind a screen is gone, for this battle to be successful it must be met with an equal amount of boots to the floor grassroots organizing. Get up and get out. Volunteer your time to places like the American Civil Liberties Union who has offices all over the country. Whichever cause (women’s rights, voter rights, immigrant rights, etc.) resonates with you most, there will undoubtedly be an organization that could use your help in the run-up to 2018’s midterm elections. Call (don’t write or email, they are the most easily ignored means of communication) your elected officials and lean on them whenever possible. Above all, remember that this is not normal, do not let anyone try to normalize the grim reality.
Over the next few weeks I myself will be helping put together another resource and will share further details as soon as they’re available. In the meantime, be scared, be angry and be active. Together we can build an apparatus even more sophisticated and powerful than that of the ones aiming for the systematic oppression of civil liberties.