For more than a month there’s been this sensation in my chest — like being crushed from the inside. Normally my head is so full of words, I literally can’t sleep until I get them out. They dance in there like prosaic ear-worms. Lately, though, it’s been eerily quiet. The dead calm of stupefaction. All I can think is “breathe.”
In my youth I was known for my quick wit and even quicker temper. I’m the only girl amongst four brothers — in a family of bossy Polish women. On top of that, I lived in 12 cities by the time I was 18, making me the perpetual new kid in class. I was never going to get anywhere by being meek or reserved. You add in a history of violence, and well, you get me at 19 picking a fight with some frat boys … at their party … at their house. Not my finest moment. (It was worth it.)
All this is to say, it’s rare that I’m without words. Yes, I know how to bite my tongue now and I have no interest in doing anything more violent than flipping the bird, but that’s not for lack of opinions or the words to express them.
These past several months, though, I’ve felt an emptiness. No running inner monologue. No hastily jotted notes to myself with bon mots I think I’ll use later but never do. No impatience at the slow-moving monotony of time spent doing chores or errands, instead of writing. No words at all.
Then a couple days ago I felt a kind of ringing in my ears, like the disquieting loudness that comes after you’ve been under water. I had been submerged in shock for so long that the hard edges of unfiltered sound surprised me. And just like that, words came back.
I don’t know why it took me longer than most to shake out of the stupor. Perhaps it’s settling firmly in middle age or perhaps it’s the fact that I have the joy of my child’s giggles and a home filled with unflinching love that soothes the savage part of me. Whatever the alchemy, I’m starting to feel like myself again.
At this point, I have no interest in rehashing the whys and hows of where we came to be. If there’s anything we learned on Nov. 8 it is that the virtue of verifiable facts — of being right, not because we feel it but because it is objectively true — is a consolation prize.
If this is the Post-Truth Era where anything is true if we clap our hands hard enough, there is no place for nuance and symbolic gestures. I woke up on Nov. 9 to a sea of safety pin avatars. My name was added to six different (closed) women’s groups on Facebook. Some of you were pretty busy that night.
Looking at the well-intentioned handiwork of so many (mostly) young women, I felt a kind of motherly pride. “Congratulations on waking up! We’ve been waiting for you!” Those of us who’ve been turning our feminist blood, sweat, and tears into action for decades — we’ve most definitely been waiting for you. Those of us in the thickest part of the weeds of both parenting children and taking care of our aging parents — we’ve been begging you to sign up. Those of us who’ve taken the heat and scorn (and death threats) from the opposition while simultaneously rebuffing the younger generation’s ennui with the word “feminist” — we thought you would never get here!
I know this isn’t what you want to hear. I know this is not what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to be handing out cookies right now, because solidarity. I’m supposed to be selling you on Team Feminism by making you feel safe and warm in your new-found outrage. I’m sorry, but that shit just ain’t going to cut it right now. We’re well beyond the place of wrath and tears here. Self-righteous symbolism and nuanced rhetoric is exactly how we ended up here, so deep in the shit that we have to create a whole new litmus test for truth.
If you’re here because you’re angry and you want to fight for change, welcome aboard! But if you’re here to assuage your white guilt with token symbols or to blankly share your story of disillusionment because you just found out that systemic racism is a thing … I’m sure you can find someone handing out cookies and hugs on Facebook.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about social media. I believe in the power of collective catharsis. And I know that social media is brilliant for organizing. Where I decamp is when everything I’m reading in these groups is literally stuff the local and national feminist community has been talking about for y-e-a-r-s. I do not have the patience to hold your hand while you figure out feminism. And there are whole groups of people who cannot wait for you to get woke. People of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, refugees, rape survivors, domestic violence survivors, people living with HIV/AIDS … and so many more do not have time.
This is not the time to have a pity party. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Tangible work. The time for symbolic gestures, subtlety, and remaining in your isolated bubbles and online echo chambers is over. If we want to create change, we have to be willing to be in uncomfortable situations, have challenging conversations, and dismantle privilege by starting with our own.
Here are things you can do right now:
- Plug into an existing group that shares your goals. I speak from experience (and the hubris of going it alone) when I say that there is no point wasting time reinventing the wheel. The benefit of working with organizations that are already established is that they already have leadership, a network of connections, volunteers, donors, and communication to members (and the media). Locally, a good place to start is Nevada NOW, the Rape Crisis Center, the ACLU of Nevada, and The Center.
- Donate! Like the song says, money changes everything. This is especially true of local organizations with no ties to national groups. The donor pool is relatively small in Las Vegas. Every drop helps.
- Support local and independent media. This includes Bitch Media and Ms. Magazine (both of which survive on donations and subscriptions), and subscriptions to any newspaper, magazine, or online publication that is still doing thoughtful, well-researched journalism. And remember the power of social media, too. Share why you are supporting certain media outlets. And be sure to like/follow them so they benefit from greater influence.
- Volunteer. Sure it’s easier to cue up The Handmaid’s Tale than do data entry or stuffing envelopes, but those volunteer hours free up staff and organizer’s time to focus on leadership duties, fundraising, and other work.
- Share why you are taking action. If you boycott, tell the company why (how else will they know?). If you volunteered, tell your friends to give some free advertising to the cause and maybe spur them to get involved.
- Get involved in government. This is more crucial than many people realize. It’s cathartic to share another post about the Narcissist In Chief, but where your voice can really make a difference is local and state legislation. Zoning laws create food ghettos and actual ghettos. It’s the little things that local boards and commissions do that effect your daily life. And there isn’t an elected official alive who enjoys having their phone lines and twitter feeds shut down by citizen action. You will move the needle — and maybe cancel out the equally organized opposition — if the news cycle is dominated by how many people are calling, tweeting, and sharing.
Welcome aboard! We’ve got work to do!