I Protest

There have been a lot of stories about the Women’s March on January 21st. Here’s mine.

I had not planned to go, initially. Boston isn’t an awful drive from here (an hour or so to Alewife, and then the subway, which I enjoy riding), but I’ve gone into town on Event Days before: Earth Day, Gay Pride. And the garage at Alewife (because heaven help you if you try to park in town) is always mobbed, and the trains are full, and I figured the crowds on this particular Saturday would be far heavier than anything I’d seen. I figured the Alewife parking lot would be full. I figured they didn’t need me.

But I checked the web site, and as it turned out, Boston wasn’t the only Massachusetts march. In fact, there was one pretty much the same distance away, but in the opposite direction: Northampton, MA.

Here’s a confession: I get very, very anxious traveling to places I’ve never been before. I worry about getting lost. I have some kind of strange perception thing where maps are of almost no help to me. I have tried, and I don’t think it’s lack of desire to learn; I think there’s just something hard-wired in me that can’t make the spatial translations properly. And I have let this keep me from doing things I otherwise wanted to do.

So when I say that without Siri, I wouldn’t have even tried to march on the 21st, I’m being honest. (And I know Siri isn’t the only game in town, and maybe not even the best one. Fill in your favorite direction-finding technology.) Thanks to Siri, I knew I could not only get where I was going, but back home again.

I brought The Kid with me. She had some questions about protesting, based mostly on what she’d seen in the media. I told her that I would protect her. I told her it was OK if she didn’t want to go.

She thought about it for a minute, and said, “Let me be angry too.”

Northampton was not crowded. We found a parking spot in a municipal lot (note to self: bring more change next time; the municipal lot only took coins), and grabbed a snack on the way to the UU church where everyone was meeting. We passed a guitar shop, and The Kid made me promise we could stop there before we went home.

The church, as it happened, was full to capacity, and for fire code reasons they couldn’t let any more people in. There was a woman directing everyone down the road to the field where the march was going to start. So we turned and walked back down the road we’d just walked up, this time with a group of people going the same way.

What surprised me – and it shouldn’t have – was how many of the people we were heading down the road with were closer to my age than my daughter’s. Many of them were older than I am. This is not a movement of the young. It’s a movement of all of us.

respect

The Kid’s favorite

The field was fairly crowded, but not uncomfortably so (the newspaper later tagged the crowd at 3,000; that seems not inaccurate). And there were so many people, and so many signs. Many of them were the Fairey pieces, gorgeous and iconic; but many were hand-made. There were children, and strollers, and men with families and on their own, and hundreds of pink hats, and political and non-political conversations all around me.

crowd2

We were more or less in the middle of the pack.

We started marching around 11:45. The police had us walk in the right-hand lane of the road, and traffic moved – slowly – in the other direction. At first we walked, but then the chants started, sometimes behind us and traveling up in a wave, sometimes in front of us and moving back. One woman we were walking with had a strong, clear voice; she led chants as well, and my daughter and I echoed her every time.

We chanted “Equal Rights are Human Rights.”

We chanted “No Justice No Peace.”

We chanted “Black Women’s Lives Matter.”

We chanted “Trans Women’s Lives Matter.”

And I felt, for a little while, like we might be OK after all.

We didn’t stay for the speakers. My lack of change meant I had to move the car, and my mapless anxiety liked the idea of getting away before the big flood of traffic. We did stop at the music store, where my daughter told me she wanted to learn guitar – not that acoustic stuff, which she calls “boring,” but electric guitar. We asked a few questions of the shopkeeper, who was unfailingly polite to the out-of-town newbies, and I told her we could look into getting her lessons.

And then Siri took us home.

In the days afterward, there has been pushback on the protests, from within and without. While I think there are certainly issues local organizers can work on – accessibility being a big one; I saw one woman on a scooter, and although she managed, I don’t know that there was a lot of specific effort made for those who were not as ambulatory as the rest – I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Do it better next time includes next time, and I think that’s critical. There must be a next time, and a time after that, and another.

Does it change anything? On a national level? I honestly don’t know. I suspect we’ll see changes designed to make assemblies like this more difficult, or even impossible. As much as I despair over the actions of this administration, the most alarming changes are to transparency and the right to speak. Protesting might just make them work harder to shut people up.

But I’ll tell you: I felt stronger that day. I felt less despair. I was still angry, still shell-shocked by moving through the looking glass overnight. But I looked around at the others, and at my child, chanting at the top of her lungs, and I thought maybe, just maybe, it was OK to hope that what’s happening to our nation is temporary.

Is that naive? Probably. But sometimes naiveté is what it takes to get me out of bed in the morning.

Keep yelling. Keep fighting. No matter what.

greaterthanfear

 

Same As It Ever Was

I’ve lived in New England all my life, and at this point I’ll probably never live anywhere else. This is curious, in a way, given how much I dislike being cold; but places become habits, familiar and comfortable, and they can soothe us on a subconscious level. Drive two hours to the coast and everything begins to look strange and exotic: still beautiful, still welcoming, but not quite right. Drive south, and the flora changes slowly but inexorably until it’s full of alien trees and flowers, fascinating and mesmerizing, another universe. Nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there.

Humans are adaptable, of course. If I ever moved, for any reason, it wouldn’t take long for the alien landscape to feel familiar. But I suspect there would always be something when I came back here, something in the percentage of pines or the types of bushes or the density of foliage along the highways that would resonate with the most fundamental, oldest part of me in a way that nothing else does. The harmonics of home.

On Friday, temperatures dropped below zero. Yesterday, we had about eight inches of snow. Today it’s nearly 50F (10C for you metric folks) and raining, and it’s a tossup whether the rain will get rid of all the snow or just add a beautiful and dangerous veneer of ice to everything. It’s a short drive from here to state highways, which are usually well cleared; the most hazardous part of any expedition is between my front door and the main road.

The climate is changing. Hiccups like -13F to 50F in two days don’t lead to that conclusion in a straight line; bobbles have always happened. But the climate is changing, and that’s the fact of it, and sometimes I recognize that the icy, hazardous driving that comes with living on a mountain isn’t such a bad thing to deal with, given the future of sea levels. I’ve sometimes, in service of fiction, googled maps of likely sea level rise, depending on the severity of the damage we’ve done and are still doing. I write the future; I want to know what land masses are most likely to stay habitable.

Humans are adaptable, but one of our biggest flaws is inertia. We may see change coming, but we’re slow to shift. We almost never shift in anticipation. We wait for the wave to hit before scrambling for higher ground, and by then it’s too late for most of us. We have faith in some larger System that has Rules that will somehow kick in and save us from disaster. Where the climate is concerned, this takes the form of the Technology Fairy: Someone will figure out how to fix it, so we don’t actually have to change. Someday, Someone will present us with the perfect type of renewable energy/solar-powered car/efficient replacement for fossil fuels, and we’ll all be saved.

Someone is always Someone Else.

Yesterday, when it snowed, I took some time to look around. (It was warmer than the previous day’s -13F, so this was a relatively pleasant exercise.) Around here, the snowy landscape looks almost like a black-and-white photograph, untouched white against the black and gray of bare branches. When the sun comes out, it all turns crystal, and it looks unreal, like one of those old department store winter displays. And it’s quiet, in a way it’s never quiet in the summer and fall: no rustling of leaves and grass, the snow absorbing the sounds of small animals moving through the woods. It feels still and quiet and strangely safe, despite the cold.

I’ve read some speculation that the reason the whole world seems to be falling into fascism – again – is in part because those who were adults during World War II – fighting it, and surviving it – are nearly all gone. There may be a grain of truth to that. Certainly as a species we have terrible institutional memory. I remember the Vietnam War, and being terrified at what I saw on television; now, as an adult, I can think about how much more terrifying it was for the actual people there: the civilians who, like me, like most of us, just wanted to get through an ordinary day, and had that taken from them for reasons that must have seemed astonishingly disconnected from their own lives; the soldiers sent into a fuzzy-edged and ill-considered war by men with little of their own skin in the game.

History rhymes, but we so rarely notice.

The United States is not this. The United States has always been this. Both of these things are true. To paraphrase an overused meme: today, we are feeding the wrong wolf. We have always, as a nation, said the right things, and some of us have meant them, and others have said “We mean this, but only for people like us.” As a species, we are deeply vulnerable to fear, and despair, and the promise of Someone Else fixing it all.

We are Someone Else. We have always been Someone Else.

I’ve probably already mentioned that I hate the telephone. I joke about it, but it’s on the level of a genuine phobia, and it’s debilitating sometimes. It’s also my first hurdle in the fight against inertia. We still have elections, and we still have representatives, and I can pick up the damn phone and thank them when I agree and suggest an alternative course of action for them when I don’t. It’s a teeny, tiny thing, and it may be useless.

But it may not. And it beats the hell out of inertia.

Pandora’s Box had it right: hope is the strongest thing of all. If it weren’t, the despots of the world wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away from us.

Here Be Dragons

I had an ultra-stereotypical suburban Mom day yesterday. The Kid had a dance recital, so I spent the morning googling how to put long hair in a bun. (Conclusion: Without hair spray you need roughly 8,000 hairpins.) On the way to the recital location, Spouse and I chatted about, among other things, future college costs and strategies. Then we sat in a hot, cramped room and watched kids dance to Christmas songs for two hours before heading home, The Kid in the back seat under her iPod.

It seemed so normal. But nothing is normal.

When we were talking about college and scholarships and loans, I wondered aloud if such things would even be around by the time she would be going. (Yes, given everything, that will likely be the least of our problems; but money is a quantifiable thing and is sometimes the easiest way to put worries into words.) And then we went back to the financial discussion, because life goes on and you still have to plan and as yet I have no idea how to plan for the sorts of contingencies that look more and more like they’re going to come true.

That’s what I struggle with the most, day after day, as the news keeps getting worse. Generally if I can see the road ahead I can strategize. But this is becoming a mish-mash of the worst possible imaginable scenario, and things I never thought could happen in this country. Without a clear path, paralysis begins to feel normal.

That’s the thing to guard against. Routine is good, and can be helpful. Continuing to make plans for the future can be helpful. And heaven knows it’s impossible to stay constantly engaged in the news. We have to take breaks, in the spirit of putting on our own oxygen masks first, if nothing else. If we don’t stay strong, we really will be paralyzed.

But allowing it all to fade into the background? That’s how normalization happens.

And right now, it’s a really rough balance.

Politicians know how to play this game: propose something hideous, take one smidge of hideousness out of it, and a relieved electorate accepts something that would otherwise have been unworkable. (Wait for the “modification” of the Social Security proposal, probably along the lines of exempting a percentage of the older population from the changes.) This is how the entire country has been hauled further and further to the right.

But that’s politics as usual. I know what that looks like. I know how to react to that (although not, apparently, how to stop it). What’s happening now isn’t politics as usual. Some politicians will be taking advantage of the same old methods, but there is nothing usual about any of this.

When life gets difficult, I turn to writing. This is a thing I’ve done my whole life. It’s reflexive. It allows me to survive. And I’m doing it now, although I’m finding some of the work I’ve been planning is changing. I had some thoughts on near-future stuff, and it seems both insufficiently post-apocalyptic and too depressing to think about. Among other things, I write to escape, and near-future isn’t looking escape-worthy. I’m toying with bumping the timeline out a few hundred years and working with a similar story. Anything that shows humans surviving that long is optimistic, after all.

Writing isn’t going to be enough. This isn’t going to be the kind of thing where we can put our heads down and have earnest discussions until the next election. The hardest thing to fight against is going to be the normalization, the complacency. The acceptance of the “merely” horrible.

Some time ago, I lived with an alcoholic. It was creeping cohabitation that started with me spending a few weeks at his place after I broke my foot and couldn’t drive. He was drunk every night. He was awful. And then he’d sober up and apologize and that apology felt so good, so soothing, and I got hooked, like any drug addict. I stayed with the source of the pain because I liked how it felt when that same source made the pain go away.

This is how it happens. The day-to-dayness of our lives stays more or less the same, because objects in motion stay in motion. We hang on to routine because we need to breathe, we need to regroup, we need strength to strategize. And routine becomes an opiate, and the worse things get the more we cling and the less capable we are of making necessary changes.

It’s doubly hard when we can’t see what those changes are going to be.

I always thought voting was the answer. Research your candidates. Support them. Vote. In this case, it didn’t matter. It’s possible it never would have mattered. This was a perfect storm of civic ignorance and foreign interference. If it was just the election, that would be one thing, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s the politicians themselves. Our government is not our own. This has probably been true for a while, but there have been enough people to hold the line. Now there’s no one, and it’s unclear how many of the usual tools will continue to be available to the rest of us.

So what do we do?

The only thing I’ve concluded is that compromise is exactly the wrong way to go. Most people–even those who identify as Republican–agree with the bulk of the policies championed by progressives. Now is not the time to view this as an election defeat requiring a change in strategy, because that’s not what it was. This was not an ordinary election defeat, and it’s not going to be an ordinary administration. Human compassion and civil rights have just become decentralized in this country, and we must each become a center of compassion.

Does that sound amorphous? It is. I live in a bluer-than-blue state, and it’s very easy here to get lost in the inertia of routine. And we’re still in the anticipatory stages. We’ve seen enough by now to know that it’s impossible to underestimate the perfidious nature of the next administration, but even so, we keep being shocked by the realities. We try to imagine the worst, and we find out the next day we had it wrong.

So for now? Maybe we do focus on routine, on self-care, on hugging our people and our animals and remembering why all of this matters. Maybe all we can do right now is make ourselves as strong as we can. And remember that we are not alone. We are not even few in number. We are the majority, and that matters.