Activism Alert: The World Wants Us Not to Give Up

Demonstration in Chicago 11/12/2016, Photo: Shawn Lent

Although there was hope in Ilhan Omar’s win in Minnesota and in several other stories last week, the statement made by this election was crushing. I questioned my existence as an artist. I questioned my existence as a female. I questioned my existence: full stop. So many parts of my identity and family are threatened by this man, his policies and what this win represents. I was comforted to see the suicide hotline numbers on my news feed. A moment of reprieve came when my friend in Budapest, Flora Hevesi (Communications Lead of Greenpeace’s energy campaign in Europe), shared these poignantly revised Peter Gabriel’s lyrics:

America, don’t give up.
You are not beaten yet.
We know you can make it good.
You’re not the only one, no reason to be ashamed.
You still have us and we are proud of who you are.
Just don’t give up.
Please don’t give up.

Step One to Recovery: Remembering America Is One Nation Among Many

As I struggled to breathe deeper and dry my tears, I reminded myself that a Trump victory does not have to mean a win for self-interest over human rights. And we are not alone. It was time to reach out beyond America. I read the letter regarding the election of Trump signed by 1,539 Fulbrighters in 95 different countries, where they say “The consequence could be dire for both international cooperation and peace.” In addition, the headlines from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace‘s recent blog posts offered insight into how the rest of the world might be responding:

Russia: Cautious Hope, by Dmitri Trenin
Europe: Anxiety and Morbid Fascination, by Lizza Bomassi
China: Watching Closely for Signs, by Douglas H. Paal
Egypt: Expecting Greater Forbearance, by Amr Hamzawy
India: Perplexity on Top of Uncertainty, by Ashley J. Tellis
Israel: A Honeymoon of Uncertain Duration, by Ariel (Eli) Levite
Iran: Happiness Among Hardliners, by Karim Sadjadpour

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One of my friends in Europe, Sarah-Jane, posted this personal story from her living room:

My son asked me “So who won, Mummy, the man or the woman?”

“The man.”

“Oh no!!! (face palm).”

No idea where this came from, as I had told them nothing about the US election, plus they are six and five years old and we live in Belgium.

And then he said, “But he’s a bigger baddie than the one running Turkey!”

Woah.

Sarah-Jane then reached out to me directly:

How are you? To me it feels like Brexit but a million times worse. We have elections soon in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Far right and populism are on the rise everywhere.

Another friend posted:

Meanwhile, we Austrians have our own demagogue to get rid of on December 4th. Let’s get that done, before we start condemning the US…

Outside a pub in Clerkenwell, England. Photo: @DanielAlpert

Outside a pub in Clerkenwell, England. Photo: @DanielAlpert

It’s true. America is just one of several Western democracies among the multitude of nations facing shifts this season. Like some others, America’s shift is toward a predominantly white and right, but also middle class, energy. According to the New York Times, Trump didn’t receive votes from individuals of lower economic status, as some think: “Trump won the income brackets of $50,000 and above, including voters who make $250,000 or more. By contrast, Hillary won the majority of voters (whites and non-whites) who make $49,999 or less each year.”

We can also learn from responses in other countries. In the UK, Richard Wilson and his celebrity backers have launched the @StopFundingHate campaign to persuade companies to stop advertising in media responsible for spreading hate and lies about migrants, with a video you have to see. Their biggest win so far is having Lego pull their ads from The Daily Mail.

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Step Two to Recovery: Asking Questions and Just Listening

As terrifying as the threats of state-sanctioned oppression, repeals of social progress, and normalized rape culture have been for me, I had to do something to crawl out from under that foreboding weight. I needed to get over myself and dive into what I didn’t know.

While some of Trump’s threats hit home directly, I was less aware of how this win by the “build the wall” folks was affecting friends both beyond and at our southern border. I asked my amazing friend Cristina Balli, in the border town of Brownsville, TX, who is executive director of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, to share her thoughts. Her steadfast hope and conviction of presence are exactly what many of us need to hear:

The election of Donald Trump evokes great fear among many populations, but I will speak directly of Latinos. As Director of an organization dedicated to preserving Latino, Chicano and Native American arts and culture I feel particularly vulnerable with the uncertainty of what the near future will bring, but at the same time even more firm in my resolve to continue this work. We are a rich community in history and culture that brings great value to this country — the country needs us; it has needed us in the past, needs us now, and will continue to need us in the future. We are here to stay and to help in our own native lands, despite geopolitical barriers. Our ancestors have been through similar political times and much worse; we will be inspired by them to continue our struggle.

I asked another friend, Raúl Ramírez Riba, a Mexican attorney in Mexico City, for his thinking on the election results from his perspective and role. He was rolling up his sleeves — because for him, a Trump presidency is a call for action:

It’s time Mexico shows its true spirit. We kicked out the French when they were the world’s superpower. What is this wall going to do but tremble and fall? Mr. Trump wants to forbid undocumented Hispanics sending money back to their countries? Through legal and technological innovation, we as Mexicans will sustain their civil rights to transmit what is theirs to whomever they want. Some Trump’s supporters who are racist and extremist want to seed fear in our expats? We’ll give love and open arms to any Hispanic emigrant who wants to return to their nation. People of Hispanic heritage living in the USA need to know we have their back. Our government may not be up to the task, but our society is. This election signals a new era in the world and Mexicans are ready to claim their place in the future. Trump messed with the wrong people.

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Step Three to Recovery: Rising Up From My Couch

Lastly, I extended my hand to my fellow citizens who had voted for Trump. They told me that I now know the fear and misrepresentation they had been feeling for eight years. Three said the petitioning and protesting was actually whining. There is too much post-election fuss, two other friends said. In response, I reminded them that the very first amendment made to our Constitution ensures the right to peaceably assemble, the right to free exercise of religion, the right to freedom of the press and speech, and the right to petition grievances. The Fourteenth Amendment ensures equal protection of such rights and is the sturdy foundation for our country correcting itself in such cases as Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Then I went out and joined the peaceful #LoveTrumpsHate and #NoDAPL demonstrations.

Looks like artists and progressives are needed in the world immediately. #Imwiththem.

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