Today wasn’t my first protest, but it wasn’t far from it – and it was my first protest of this type; something formed quickly in direct response to a particular incident. I posted a while back about how my focus has been on volunteering/education rather than protest and direct action, and I’m fine with that, everyone finds their own work – but I said that I wanted to stay open to opportunities for protest, and this wasn’t something I would’ve been okay with sitting out.
It was a great gathering and an excellent group of speakers – the Knoxville News Sentinel livestreamed the whole thing. I was particularly impressed with Representative Rick Staples; his message about refusing to turn away from difficult situations and choosing to become dangerous was powerful.
I participated in my first Black Lives Matter chant. It felt significant, and it felt overdue.
There was a police presence but it was small – and I wonder how that same event would’ve been different if had been organized by Black Lives Matter. There were folks there from BLM, but the event was organized and promoted by the Women’s March Coalition. I was so aware the whole time that I’m a middle class white woman and I was attending a rally organized primarily by white women – almost all of the speakers were people of color and they were the voices of the event, but when an organization that’s known to be run by middle class white women organizes an event in Market Square, the response is different than it would have been if it had been organized directly by Black Lives Matter. I’m not saying that this detracted from the event – in fact I think it was an example of using white privilege for good – it’s just something I wanted to be aware of.
I’m glad that Knoxville responded so quickly. It makes me proud of my city that I didn’t have to drive two hours to go to an event like this, I just had to walk two miles. I’m proud of the amazing and diverse collection of leaders and activists and educators and elected officials who spoke. I’m proud that our mayor was there via livestream even though she’s apparently traveling currently.
And it tears me up that we had to have this event in the first place. It tears me up that white supremacy is still a thing. That people – real people – can even believe such hideous things.
Not long ago, something like this would’ve happened and I would’ve just thrown my hands up and said I didn’t know what to do to help, and I would’ve retreated into my world of entertainment and not actually looked for ways to help. Going to a rally isn’t going to fix the world, but it’s something – it’s getting out there and standing up with people in my city who believe that our country can – and must – fight this crisis. And maybe I’m not out there on a front line literally punching Nazis in the face, but every time I go to Centro to help immigrants learn to speak English, I like to think I’m delivering a symbolic punch in the face to the white supremacists. And I’m just going to keep on doing that. A particular rally may be a one-time thing, but the message it sends to the city – and the country – is important, and so is the organization and motivation that comes as a result, and the energy that people take away. I came away ready to keep plugging away at my Spanish studies and to go into Centro next week and deliver some symbolic Nazi punches.
The blog I had previous to this one was focused specifically on geeky things. I’ll always be a geek and there will be times on this blog when I geek out about some ridiculously nerdy thing – but I trailed off on that blog and I think it was, at least in part, because I was too limiting in directing a topic for it. This one I’ve left purposely open. I wanted a place where I could talk about news, current events and politics if I wanted – but I didn’t want to limit it to that, either, because sometimes I want to talk about books or fitness or something completely random.
One of my friends tweeted something today that I identified with in a huge way:
2015 me: who are you?
2017 me: I’m you but now I livetweet congressional hearings instead of scifi tv shows
Yep, pretty much. I haven’t out-and-out gone off about politics yet on this blog and it’s partly because, to quote Jon Lovett, “there’s just so much going on” – one doesn’t even know where to start. I’m also relatively new to following politics and I’m very aware that there are a lot of areas where I just haven’t learned all the background and I try not to spout off too much about things if I don’t feel I really understand them.
But I’m learning and I’m doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about volunteerism vs. activism. I’m really into DeRay Mckesson’s Pod Save the People and of course he’s an extraordinary activist and talks a lot about activism, getting involved, what you can do, etc. And he talked on the newest one about starting where you are, and about not waiting for someone to give you permission, and not worrying that what you’re getting involved with isn’t the absolute most critical thing, because there’s so much to be done.
And that’s part of what I worry about, so hearing him say that was helpful. It’s not that I worry that what I’m getting involved with isn’t what should be at the top of the list – I’m helping people strengthen their English skills and I’ve got no doubts about how important that is, and there aren’t enough people doing it (there regularly aren’t enough volunteers, so myself and other teachers will end up teaching two units that are supposed to each have their own separate class).
The thing that sometimes pokes at me is that I’m focusing on volunteering and not as much on activism. I am calling elected officials (and various other offices – I get my ideas of who to call each week from 5 Calls) every week (I have a spreadsheet!) and I keep an eye out for activist opportunities that work for me; I’ve done one protest and one phone bank with Planned Parenthood and would gladly do either of those things again. But I haven’t gone to any of the big marches – being in a crowd of loud people can sound really draining at a time when I’m really ready for some rest.
And it’s not like I feel like I have to do #allthethings – I’m just super inspired by people doing protest and activism and a part of me wants to do more of that. But I’m also really loving the volunteering I’m doing and putting a lot of energy into it, and I feel like it’s a great fit for my personality and skills. I do still want to keep open to doing more activism and look for ways to do that without burning myself out. But I’m in this for the long haul – the election was what woke me but I intend to stay woke, which means I don’t need to do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW, I need to continue to do things in ways that are sustainable. So if I need to rest instead of marching, that’s okay – I’m not doing anyone any good if I exhaust myself.
Really I just feel, in a lot of ways, like I’m trying to make up for lost time – so many years of living in my bubble and not making any effort to get out and do something that helps someone. And you can’t make up for lost time, so there’s no point running yourself ragged trying – you start where you are and go from there.
Revelling/Reckoning has been one of my favorite Ani Difrano albums since it came out, and there’s a song on that album that I’ve always loved but that also has always terrified me – Tamburitza Lingua. This is the part that’s always gotten to me: “10 9 8 seven six 5 4 three 2 one / and kerplooey / you’re done. / you’re done for. / you’re done for good. / so tell me / did you? / did you do / did you do all you could?”
And the answer is no – the answer is always no, the answer always has to be no, unless you’re one of the rare and amazing people that gives up their entire life to activism/volunteerism – I know a person like that and he’s fucking incredible. But not everyone is that person, and that doesn’t mean your contributions aren’t crazy important – the important thing is making contributions.
DeRay frequently asks his guests what advice they’ve been given that has always stuck with them, and in the first episode he asks Andy Slavitt, who quotes his dad’s advice – “always contribute more than you cost in all that you do.” That’s a huge goal to work towards. I think I’ll be working towards it for the rest of my life. And I’ll never be able to say “I did all I could” – but that song doesn’t scare me like it used to.
I used to believe – or at least thought I believed, or wanted to believe – in the inherent goodness of people. I don’t anymore. I haven’t for a long time. I’m not saying I’ve figured it out beyond that – people are fucking complicated, yo. Years and years of working jobs that involve lots of interaction with different groups of people have solidified my belief that people in general are way dumber than we’d like to believe, and sometimes way meaner. Yes, I’m a bit of a misanthrope, and yes, I can be elitist and judgy. I own it.
Days like today solidify my belief that there are people out there that are just truly bad. I don’t usually use words like “evil” just because there’s an almost religious connotation there that I’m not sure gets my intention – I can certainly understand why people use words like that today, but to me the word “evil” almost implies something beyond human. I don’t know that I believe that there’s anything even vaguely supernatural about it – some people are just not good people and some people take it way, way further than just a lack of goodness. But I think it’s all human – humans can be seriously, seriously fucked up all on our own. We don’t need any supernatural help to accomplish that.
My thoughts on good and bad and the balance of light and dark in the world are a bit of a swirling mess and I don’t claim to have any set philosophy, at least not one that makes sense when I’m sober. But I will say this – even though I very much believe that there are all manner of bad people out there, I refuse to let that deter me from seeing how many good people there are, too. You don’t have to try to sugarcoat humanity to recognize what bravery and heroism and beauty there is out there. There are people who blow up kids and then there are people who risk their lives to save them. I won’t lose my faith in the latter just because I believe the former are always going to be with us, too.
And I won’t give up and be apathetic because “people suck and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Yes, there are a lot of terrible people and no, we can’t change that fact – we can change systems, situations, laws, etc., in various ways that give the terrible people less power, opportunity and incentive to cause such destruction, but we can’t change the fact that there are terrible people. There always have been, there always will be.
But there have always been amazing people, and there always will be, and that will always be worth fighting for, even if it’s a fight that won’t ever end.