“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela
It’s two-and-a half weeks before Christmas. I’m standing in the parking lot of my local Verizon store. To be precise, I’m standing on the soggy, grassy strip that separates the paved lot from the onrushing traffic of Route 9. It’s a good place to be if you’re wielding, as I am, a sign that says “Save Net Neutrality.”
Earlier today, the sun was out, sort of, but now it’s 4:00 p.m. Darkness is descending and the temperature’s in free fall. I’m a veteran of these things. I should have remembered to wear two pairs of socks. But despite the teeth-chattering cold and the marshy ground, I’m good because I’m not alone. There’s a hundred or so of us out here, waving our signs at the passing cars, and there are lots of cars. The Verizon store is situated between two malls and just down the road from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. People honk and wave wildly, opening their car windows in the freezing air to give us a thumbs-up in solidarity.
“Net Neutrality is Free Speech!” we shout. “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Ajit Pai has got to go!”
This is what democracy looks like.
The Crazy That Was 2017
2017 has been a tumultuous year. To quote Dickens, It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
The awfulness is easy to identify:
The Muslim travel ban.
The elevation of pro-Nazi groups and their rhetoric of hate.
The silencing of scientists and the dismantling of EPA regulations.
The deportation of Dreamers.
The repeated threats to our healthcare. (Trump’s monkeying with payments to states has resulted in higher premiums for everyone.)
Attacks on our first amendment rights.
Attacks on women, LGBTQ folks, and all people of color.
The proposed drilling of the Arctic, and the doling out of national monuments/public lands like candy to fossil fuel magnates.
The baiting of North Korea’s volatile, psychopathic leader by our own volatile, psychopathic leader.
A slew of appointments for far-right racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-environment federal judges—a legacy which we’ll suffer for the next four decades.
And that’s the short list.
What can you say about a country where an accused child-molester was in serious contention for a seat in the Senate?
A country where the Speaker of the House wets his pants at the prospect of dismantling Social Security and Medicare, reducing millions of Americans to starvation, homelessness, and premature death.
A country where thousands of disabled Americans fill the halls of Congress, pleading “Kill the [tax reform] bill! Don’t kill us!”, only to be ousted from their wheelchairs and dragged out by cops.
During the Geo W. Bush years, it often felt like we were fighting some Medusa. For every threat we battled, two more appeared with lightning speed. I remember thinking, “Crikey, does this guy ever take a rest?” Little did we know Bush was just the warm-up act.
David S. Graham nailed it in The Atlantic : “[The Trump] administration has set a new standard for chaos and dysfunction.”
A word to the wise: Never ask what else can go wrong.
The Best of Times
So, what’s the upside to this mayhem you might well ask. As Francoise Stovall, Digital Director for Every Voice, noted: “I’ve protested, I’ve called, I’ve signed, I’ve knocked, I’ve rallied, I’ve organized – but it can still be hard not to get discouraged or feel hopeless that our democracy is under attack or that one person can’t make a difference.”
The upside is that it’s not just you or me battling the behemoth. It’s millions of us. The continual onslaught of threats to our civil rights, first amendment protections, and democracy itself has gotten us out of our armchairs and into the streets. We are organizing and mobilizing and raising our voices from Maine to California. From the Women’s March, which drew an estimated 4,000,000 people, to protests against the Muslim travel ban at airports across the country. From noisy denunciations of Republican fake healthcare bills at Town Halls to packing the halls of Congress in outrage against the current tax-bill scam.
Driving home from the Net Neutrality action, I felt energized and hopeful and, yes, happy. Standing with a hundred other people—shouting If they take away net neutrality, Corporations will control what you see!, and getting lots of positive feedback from passersby—gives you strength. Makes you part of something positive and powerful. Reminds you that you don’t have to fight this alone. We’ve got each others’ backs.
The Proof is in Your Inbox
For proof that our collective fight for our democracy is working, you need only to consult your Inbox. Two notes I received today:
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Because of you, two of Trump’s radically extreme judicial nominees, Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley, had their nominations withdrawn today. This victory would not have been possible without supporters and activists like you who signed petitions, bombarded senators with calls, donated, and shared information about why these nominees were completely unfit for lifetime seats.
: People For the American Way (PFAW)
I’m excited to share that the outpouring of public pressure from UCS supporters like you has worked. Together, we successfully defeated Michael Dourson, President Trump’s dangerous pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. This is a victory for science and the safety of families throughout the country—and it wouldn’t have been possible if thousands of people like you didn’t speak out.
: Union of Concerned Scientists
We must be the change we wish to see, and we are being it.
The Long Arm of the Law
When I was a young punk, I associated “lawyer” with other evils like “Nixon” and “Agent Orange.” But life has shown me that “lawyer,” like “satisfaction guaranteed,” is a relative term. Which lawyers are we talking? The ACLU? Lambda Legal? The SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center)? These are the heroes out there, protecting in court the democratic values we fight for in the streets. “We’ve got lawyers on the ground” has become a balm to my jangled nerves.
The Boston Globe reported that Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since he took office—lawsuits that erupted over the Muslim travel ban, violations of the Emoluments Clause (Trump’s private profiteering from the presidency), and the attempted ban on transgender people serving in the military.
But that tally only takes us up to last May. Add to it the subsequent litigation concerning the rights of Dreamers (DACA), proposed drilling in the Arctic, sexual harassment, Trump’s (unconstitutional) plot to reduce and sell off national monuments/public lands, and you’ve got quite the list. The Center for Biological Diversity, alone, has filed 40 lawsuits. And just yesterday, New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, tossed his hat in the ring when he announced a multi-state lawsuit against the FCC, challenging their December 14 repeal of net neutrality.
Conservative lawyer Jonathan Turley fumed, “Every group, every aggrieved person, is filing lawsuits.”
“If every aggrieved person is indeed filing suit, then the president can expect a good deal more,” Caroline Hallemann wryly observed in her article for Town & Country.
Out of the Darkness, Into the Light
In the past year, the volume of e-mails I get has almost doubled. It’s running around 600 a day. And then there’s the text alerts. All of it begging me to please stop whatever I’m doing now and save this, sign that, call my senators, my rep, write a letter, submit a public comment. Top that off with the many calls to action: Be here to fight this/that in the rain, the snow, the cold, the heat, weekends, holidays.
I do my best to keep up with it all, but I must confess there are moments I resent the time these unending requests take from my writing, from relaxing with friends and family, from reading and gardening, from dreaming. I’ve been marching and protesting and fighting the good fight since I was a student in the 1970s. When do I get the time to live my life, pursue my goals? And then I realize, this is my life—this is what matters—and I am living it. So, I must keep hollering for what I value. For justice. For democracy. For the preservation of the planet.
Two years ago, my stepdaughter gave me an orchid plant. It cycled through a series of blooms until this past July when the petals fell away and then …nothing. A friend advised me to cut back the old stem and continue regular watering. A new stem, she assured me, would appear in time. Last week, it finally sprouted. I know it will be some weeks though before buds appear and more time still before they blossom. I just have to keep watering.
Fighting the good fight is like that. It’s not enough to sit in a corner and hope. Like my orchid, hope needs active tending. And sometimes it’s a long wait. Last week, though, Doug Jones defeated accused child molester Roy Moore for the Alabama senate seat vacated by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jones, as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, brought to justice the two remaining Klansmen responsible for the 1963 bombing of an Alabama church that killed four young black girls. In his victory speech, Jones quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
The arc doesn’t bend toward justice by some magic, but from our collective actions. And that’s possible because, as Anne Frank so poignantly noted in her diary, there truly are more good people than soulless scoundrels in this world.
Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the turn of the earth from darkness toward the light. People in every culture celebrate this as a moment of renewal, of hope. In a blog post written right after the 2016 elections, I quoted D.D. Guttenplan: If we withdraw into our grief and abandon those most threatened by Trump’s win, history will never forgive us.
So, as we head into 2018, I’m still here. I still holler. Let’s get together and make some noise.
Peace on Earth. Happy Holidays.
(And now a little “Holiday Cheer” guaranteed to put a smile on your face.)