There were many unforgettable lines in Angela Davis’ keynote last week, but my mind keeps returning to one in particular, circling back and back like it’s stuck in the rinse cycle of a washing machine. I keep thinking about when she said, “The intellect should be pessimistic, but the will, above all, must be optimistic.” I find it easy to get caught in the drudges of pessimism. I originally signed up to write this column a year ago. Then, I had assumed I would be writing weekly pieces analyzing gender norms, or perhaps occasional articles on legislation that impacted issues like reproductive rights or access to birth control. The conversations we now see as commonplace would have been baffling. Like many people, I did not think in just a year we would be debating whether certain religious groups should be barred from immigrating to our country, if Congress would successfully be able to seize the healthcare benefits of millions of uninsured people, or what the political ramifications of having an attorney general who has said “grabbing someone by the pussy” does not constitute sexual assault may be. The way our discourse has evolved is frightening. I remember the night President Trump was elected, sitting on my porch, too nervous to fall asleep, watching thick fog flood the streets like a viscous sap from the sky. It felt like it was signaling a new period in our history, a transition to a time that is cloudier and more difficult for light to make its way through. Sometimes, I feel like I was right.
We are in a different period of American history. I find little sympathy in the argument that there is not much need to worry about what is going to happen under this new administration, that little actual change will happen under Trump’s presidency. While there is an unwavering sluggishness to our federal bureaucracy, President Trump has already demonstrated the ways one can erode primordial checks to power if they have others who will support them in their attempts to do so. The people who are the most fearful are all the people whose very existence and livelihood are being threatened. Small changes in policy can have monstrous effects for someone is already at the brink, and offensive comments are more than just harmful when they legitimize violent forces already degrading one’s humanity.
This brings me back to the careful words of Angela Davis. As she alluded throughout her speech, we clearly need to be informed of the things that are threatening each other and our world. However, that does not mean we can give way to apathy and cynicism. History is an arch, or so I have heard, and it is necessary that we not think of the moment now as its precipice. We are only part of a larger narrative. We need to do justice to the people who have fought before us by not giving up now, but by continuing their work. We need to be aware of the dangers that loom, but even more importantly, be confident that we have a chance of standing against them. We have reached the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. We need to keep going for the next 100, and the 100 after that.
So, in no particular order, here are things we all can do under this new foggier reality: 1) Register to vote. Only half of our country voted in this last election, and, screwed up electoral system or not, the fact that only half of our country even participated illustrates how much we cede power to those who are willing to show up. C’mon, just vote. 2) Although it sometimes can feel bleak to do so, read the news. I suggest doing it with a friend, some good breakfast, or the crossword. It helps to lighten the mood. Find the humor in it, if you have to. Injustice faces much less resistance when the public is uninformed, and we can only hold those in power accountable when we know why we should be angry. 3) Call your representatives. You don’t have to about everything, but know which pieces of legislation affect issues you care about, and, even more crucially, know which way your senator or congressperson plans to vote. It is actually really easy to figure out; people just like to pretend it is more difficult than it is. As Trump’s proposed immigration ban proves, doing so can have real effects on the way elected officials vote. 4) Practice your argumentative skills. Much of why Donald Trump was able to be elected can be attributed to the gross divides in our country, and how we often create our own echo chambers to reverberate our opinions. The only way we can bridge gaps is by talking to one another, and the easiest way to do that is with empathy and information. Memorize a few facts that you can quote. Know how to say in ten words why climate change is real and why it is crucial that we care about it. 5) Donate to organizations that fight for issues you believe in. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and The Innocence Project, just to name a few, have already been key players in standing against the policies of our new administration. They can only run if we continue to support them. Sign up for a newsletter or donate a few bucks. Planned Parenthood has received double the donations it normally does since Trump’s election, and they have been using it to lobby politicians, spread awareness about reproductive rights, and help women in low-income communities. 6) Similarly, donate to trusted news organizations, and don’t read or support those that are not committed to journalistic integrity. Think pieces from less credited organizations can be fun to read, but papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Independent do work that is crucial to our democracy. They only can work if they can pay their reporters. 7) More than anything, find something – a novel, some art, some friends, or the words by wise women like Angela Davis – to keep your will optimistic. This may be the hardest part of all. However, none of these changes will be possible if the people who have the ability to fight give up. We can’t give up, now more than ever.