I get it. I get the anger, the dismay, the strong feelings over every single pronouncement these days. The anger is right and it’s justified. Anger is a valid response to the unmitigated attacks on the most vulnerable in our society. Immigrants documented and not, are under attack more than ever. Muslims, Jews and other minority religions are threatened simply because their faith is not the faith of the mainstream US, at the same time that LGBTQI+ citizens are having their rights stripped away and their safety compromised in the name of ‘religious liberty. Oh, sweet irony, kill me now. Social services for the poor are under attack, as well as services for people with disabilities. The EPA and other agencies we cherish are being subjected to a scorched earth philosophy that might well leave little left of the government we have come to take for granted. All in all, anger seems like a pretty rational response. I validate that anger, unquestionably.
Against is easy. What are we for?
Like I said, I get it. As a transwoman, I have been on the front lines of the culture war ever since I transitioned. These issues are not merely issues of righteous moral indignation for me – they are. These issues affect me and my family in deep, personal ways.
Anger, however, is insufficient. Against is insufficient. It is by clearly thinking about and articulating what we are for that we create sustaining movements which can build the changes we want to see.
Only when it is dark enough can we see the stars – MLK
Some may argue that this is not the time for idealism. We need to be practical, take things slowly. I disagree. This is EXACTLY the time for those of us on the left to start articulating our worldview in clear, strong terms. We need to shout out the call for equality, for safety, for quality of life for all citizens. We need to share our vision for a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Certainly the other side isn’t being shy about it, and neither should we.
I would like to suggest that it is time for those of us on the left to do the same. Shout out our vision of acceptance, of equality, of decent living for all. Shout it loud enough for the Right to hear it. Shout it loud enough for the left to hear it. Shout it loud enough for the center to hear it. It’s a worthy message, and it needs to be heard, strongly and without compromise.
A few reasons. First, ‘against’ does not sustain. What happens when Mr. Trump is gone? Impeached next month or voted out in four years, honestly, little will change. Trump is not the problem here. The problem is a culture that accepts violence and domination as legitimate tactics. Little beyond his own personal corruption is happening today because of Mr. Trump. Those of us who have been paying close attention for a while know that the Republicans have been promising everything that Trump is attempting for several years.
Donald Trump is Oz the Great and Terrible. The bigger problem is the man behind the curtain.
Getting rid of Trump will not solve our problems. He is merely a loudmouthed, bloviated demagogue. The Republican leadership – I do not believe rank and file Republicans necessarily follow lockstep with everything the leadership says, any more than the left does – have been promoting racism, misogyny, bigotry and the demonization of the poor for decades. Mostly, they use coded language, as outlined in Nixon’s southern strategy. Trump says ‘what he thinks.’ Trust me, when you are on the receiving end, the coded bigotry isn’t a whole lot better than the out loud version. In some ways, it’s worse. Quiet racism allows the left to go to sleep, thinking things aren’t quite as bad as they are. At least when it’s in the open, we can confront it.
Understand this: the problems with racism, misogyny, trans/homophobia have existed for a long time, under administrations both Republican and Democratic. They won’t go away when Trump is gone. They won’t even go away if every Republican is thrown out of office. Democrats are not necessarily without their own prejudices, both personal and institutional. Most black people’s lives did not improve a whole lot under president Obama, and many poor women and women of color would still be struggling were Hillary Clinton president. I’m not trying to imply any kind of equivalence here. Certainly one is better than the other. I would just like to remind people that problems of inequality are deeply rooted in society, and that simply voting for one party over the other, while necessary, is not sufficient.
To truly improve the lives of the most vulnerable takes work, commitment and civic involvement. It takes time. It’s worth it, but it does take a bit more than the righteous anger to sustain.
There are other reasons for focusing on what we are for. We have been attacked for trying to promote ‘special interests.’ Framing the debate this way is divisive and puts those of us working for social justice on the defensive. Framing our work in terms of an ideal worldview helps us get beyond this perception.
Black lives matter. Trans lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Not because black people, trans people, Muslim people are special and deserve special treatment, but because they are full, equal human beings who deserve full and equal treatment under the law, and full and equal access to power and opportunities. Personally, I don’t see why we should accept anything less.
I understand that we may not achieve this lofty goal within the next two years, but I believe framing the argument this way calls us to a higher purpose, one which can sustain and inspire us moving forward. We may never reach those stars we see in these dark times, but I believe they will provide us with a much better sense of direction than merely reacting to extremism. Continuing and sustaining the work for equality, under all administrations, strengthens society as a whole, and helps create standards that become harder and harder to dismantle as time goes on.
As a transwoman, I will take any support I can get. Even in a state with legal protections, things are pretty rough out there. If all you can muster up is indignation about the overt hate against us, I’ll take it. I’m desperate. Honestly, though, I would much rather people make a stand for universal equality, including transwomen, because of course transwomen are equal, valuable, intelligent citizens who deserve the same rights as everyone else. Equality, real equality, is a lot more than mere legislation. It requires seeing beyond our differences and recognizing our shared, inherent humanity. It takes a bit more work, but it matters.
Ditto for everyone else. It’s not just about indignation over rhetoric, although words do matter. It’s about working towards a better society for all.
What, then, are we for?
While many came to the Women’s March on Washington and its numerous sister marches with anger and opposition to the current administration and its current loud-mouthpiece, this was not the stated intent of the march. The principles outlined by the national organizers were clear, and unabashedly progressive. The march was promoted, not against anyone, but in support of the most vulnerable citizens. For anyone that looked, they even proposed reinvigorating the Equal Rights Amendment, but modernizing it a bit to include all vulnerable groups: people of color, minority religions, the lgbtqi+ community., the disabled, and many others. I call it the ERAA, Equal Rights for All Amendment.
I admit, I’m a true believer. I know not everyone is. I know it might be less than probable that we achieve this goal in the next two years, or even twenty. I know change does not happen right away. At fifty, I do not have the starry-eyed idealism I held at twenty. Nonetheless, I am not willing to compromise one iota on my principles. I am not interested in politicians on either side who tell us to wait, who tell us what’s practical, who use their own institutional inertia to validate disempowering those of us who have too little power. I am willing to stand up against, with logic, reason, passion and compassion, anyone on the left or the right who accepts less than equality for all. All our institutions and policies were created by people and are sustained by people. Democracy, with a small ‘d’ means we need to make sure those institutions serve all of us, equally. Personally, I feel quite comfortable speaking out against anyone who offers us less, whichever side of the aisle they sit on. If we settle for less, we’ll get it.
I have no power. You have no power. We, together, have great power. I would suggest that striving for ideals and articulating a clear vision of a better world, of fighting FOR equality instead of merely being AGAINST the most extreme attacks on equality gives us power. It allows different groups to rally under a single cause without surrendering our own individual identities or voices to leaders who may or may not champion them with the same passion and urgency that we feel. These issues matter greatly. They have for a long time before the current administration, and they will for a long time to come.
The work matters, the ideal matters, the vision matters, even if we never get there. Focusing on what we are for, not merely what we are against, matters. If we are merely against Trump, all we will ever do is react. Reaction allows the other side to set the agenda, while we tag along. It allows us to placidly accept anyone not quite as bad as the extremists, instead of striving to be the best we can be. It’s time to focus on something better.
We focus this energy and achieve these goals through civic involvement. Not sure how to harness your energy for good? We March On, Connecticut Chapter will be hosting a series of forums throughout Connecticut. At them, we will be offering suggestions for how to get involved and giving people a chance to connect with the many wonderful groups who have been working on issues of equality and quality of life for many years.
Personally, I’m in it for the long haul. I hope you’ll join me.
Cassandra Martineau is a lifelong activist. Lately, she has been working as a statewide organizer for the Women’s March on Washington, Connecticut Chapter, and starting up a blog, transcendingchaos.com. Join in the conversation, add your voice and stay active! While there is some overlap, transcendingchaos.com is not affiliated with the Women’s March on Washington, or any other group.