By now, my inchoate hopes that our nation will just wake up from the bad dream of Trump — or even more remotely that he’ll be impeached by a radicalized Congress — have turned to dust and floated away. He seems here to stay, and I need to figure out how to stay human, stay upright, with him in the White House. I need to be thinking about the long haul, about a life and a lifestyle of resistance, as opposed to a posture of resistance.
A historian would turn to history, would draw hope from the millennia of people who resisted injustice with verve and creativity. An artist would look to craft, the wordless public assertion of “I am” that pulls us all in, provoking and preserving, and then propelling us forward. A scientist would look to the building blocks of our reality, seeing the grand logic of life through both the microscopic and the telescope. I am none of those things, but I do have a lot of friends. So, in my near despair, I did what all the young people do: I posted on Facebook. Seeking the wisdom of the hive-mind, I asked, “How are you staying sane, focused, hopeful, resistant as you navigate, respond to, resist both the hateful hype and the actual terror that Trump represents and has unleashed?”
I keep going through the responses I got to this post. I need every single one of them. I need those people: artists, historians, scientists, strugglers, hopers. One friend reminded me of an experience with my uncle, Father Daniel Berrigan, who at dinner with three friends in the 1980s got impatient with their conversation — I imagine that it was a litany of political ills and social frustrations mixed with too much chatter about movies and television. My friend shared that Uncle Dan closed his eyes and said, “Let us close our eyes to the culture and (opening his eyes, scanning those seated) open them to our friends.” My friend finished his post with: “I tucked it away. A gem of advice.”
One friend recited Andrea Gibson’s poem “Say Yes” in time with a video of her performing the work. It is a powerful poem that says, “This is for your grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree where the fruit would grow to laugh.” He says that this daily practice “breaks me open, and gives me the courage to tackle another day.” I was not familiar with Gibson, a queer poet and activist originally from Maine, and now I am a total fan. “This is for the radical anarchist asking the Republican to dance, because what’s the chance of anyone moving from right to left if the only moves you see are NBC and CBS? This is for no becoming yes. This is for fear becoming trust, saying ‘I love you’ to people who will never say it to us.”
Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco responded to my question by citing two points gathered from a deeper look at history: “1. the millions of people around the world who struggled under worse regimes than this, but nevertheless never lost hope, remained resilient, and celebrated their important historical role in the struggle even when things were difficult. 2. the fact that no government has remained in power if at least 3.5 percent of the population was engaged in active resistance (meaning that should Trump overreach by attempting to seize power in an authoritarian way, we would only need slightly more than 11 million people on the streets — which is only about two-and-a-half times the numbers on January 21, before he actually did anything).”
Zunes is citing the work of Erica Chenoweth, whose research discovered the 3.5 percent rule. This University of Denver political scientist crunched the numbers for every known nonviolent and violent campaign for government overthrow or territorial liberation from 1946-2006 that included at least a thousand observed participants. It is a huge dataset. And she found that when enough people join, change happens, and it happens nonviolently. As Chenoweth said on the TED stage in 2013, “Every single campaign that did surpass that 3.5 percent threshold was a nonviolent one. In fact, campaigns that relied solely on nonviolent methods were on average four-times larger than the average violent campaign. And they were often much more representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class and urban-rural distinctions.” That sounds like the kind of people power we need to be building with our resistance!
Brian Terrell — a peace activist friend from Iowa, who travels the world with Voices for Creative Nonviolence — shared: “I have good friends who are shocked by the advent of Trumpism and are traumatized by what he is doing and what he threatens to do. For myself, I have been coping, sometimes better than others, with the terror and violence of each successive presidential administration. Is coping with the actual terror that Trump represents and unleashes any different from coping with the actual terror that Obama represented and unleashed? The world is still reeling and millions still traumatized from the terror unleashed by Jimmy Carter in Central America, Iran, etc. Had the election gone otherwise, many of our friends in the United States — who are worried about Trump — would likely now be oblivious to the terror that Hillary Clinton represents and that she would surely have unleashed.”
That jives with what another friend — singer-songwriter Joyce Katzberg in Rhode Island — shared: “My routine in the aftermath of Trump’s election is no different than it was during Obama’s or Bush’s or Clinton’s, etc. I take care of my soul by not exposing myself to ‘Fear, Inc.’ pushing their hate through the TV and radio. I pray every day to be useful. I walk frequently among trees and wild things to get their counsel, and I avoid being around people who nurture hate.”
I have a very busy friend who always seems energized and positive. She has two kids, a gaggle of chickens, a sister with special needs and is always doing a million things. Her son and my stepdaughter are in the same fourth grade class. She shared: “I would love to be in my own cocoon, but unfortunately I cannot. So doing good for others, helping a child, advocating for services that may be needed, not complaining but bringing ideas to the table … just realizing that I cannot do it all, but if I and everyone did one good thing [helps me realize] how many millions of good things we can accomplish.” Right on, Claudia Bouchard!
A lot of people talked about controlling the media they consumed. But I loved the way a friend from college watched the news. Amber Subsebat wrote: “When I feel compelled to read the news online, I keep this webcam going with the audio on. It’s a barn owl that has been laying eggs every few days. Great to watch at night when they are active. The ambient outdoor sounds are very grounding, and the pace is so much slower than the media consumption going on in the other tabs of my browser. I’ll be reading the news, then the male returns and chirps, and I am suddenly transported to a different world. That’s one way I’ve been coping that helps to slow my heart rate.”
Virtual bird watching: That sound like a pretty awesome recharge to me.
Other friends mentioned stand-up comedy, water (with or without a lemon slice), daily Eucharist, cannabis, Pokémon Go, taking care of chickens, beauty, helping out in schools or soup kitchens, and sharing meals with refugees.
Laura Gross Bandara, another college friend, was really specific, mentioning books that are helping her right now — specifically the writing of women like the recently deceased (at age 100) Detroit organizer Grace Lee Boggs and the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. She is also keeping these two books — This is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants — within reach. Laura writes: “I am making sure that I am showing up for face-to-face events, not just doing online and phone activism. Also, honestly, doing puzzles. It helps to focus. Weekly media and Facebook fasts.” I like the seeming incongruity of Laura’s current go-to books and want to know more about how they connect.
So, how am I dealing? I am listening to my friends. They are recharging me. I also started running again. It has been helping me find space in my head — breathing in cold, fresh air and blowing out the cobwebs, the knots and the fear. With each footfall, I find relief from the constant flutter of information, commentary, headlines and tweet-storms. In the new rhythm of breath, I am pounding an escape from this inescapable sensation that I am not doing enough — that no one is doing enough — to resist the Trump administration.
Andrea Gibson’s poem is going to become my metronome too. “Play loud, play like the apocalypse is only four, three, two, but you have a drum in your heart that would save us. You have a song like a breath that could raise us, like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries out to be blue. Play like you know we won’t survive if you don’t, but we will if you do.”