When I popped into my local supermarket the other day, I noticed these magazines on the handy, impulse-item display rack at the check-out counter.
Yikes! Feeling a bit apocalyptic, are we?
I decided not to add these worst-case-scenario magazines to my reading list. Having seen my fair share of dystopian sci fi movies, I am fairly clear about what to expect — and about how long I’d last living in a global version of The Hunger Games (about five minutes, tops). But standing in that market, looking at those magazine covers, I began to think about the narratives we’re each constructing in our heads as we struggle to make sense of the shocking new abnormal.
“We don’t go into a state of shock when something big and bad happens; it has to be something big and bad that we do not yet understand,” wrote Naomi Klein in her bestseller No Is Not Enough. “When we find ourselves in that position, without a story, without our moorings, a great many people become vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear one another and relinquish our rights.” To Klein, the story currently playing out on the nation’s big screen is more Wall Street than Hunger Games. “As this has been unfolding, it struck me that what’s happening in Washington is not the usual passing of the baton between parties. It’s a naked corporate takeover.”
Clearly Wall Street’s famous line “Greed is good” has become a mantra-run-amok in Washington. But that’s not the whole story. Slavery, and the belief in white supremacy that sustained it, are fundamental not just to our nation’s past but to its present, providing the painful context for everything from voter suppression to police brutality to Nazi rallies to sexual predators. We ignore this context at our peril. As philosopher George Santayana famously noted, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the USA, our rearview mirror tends to be made of rose-colored glass. “Our problem as Americans is we actually hate history,” says educator Regie Gibson. “What we love is nostalgia.” As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in their report Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, “We enjoy thinking about Thomas Jefferson proclaiming, ‘All men are created equal.’ But we are deeply troubled by the prospect of the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, who bore him six children, declaring, ‘Me too.’”
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT AMERICAN SLAVERY?
TAKE THIS SHORT QUIZ FROM THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER.
The intersection of racism and misogyny is explored from diverse angles in Nasty Women, an anthology compiled by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding. Following an election in which 53% of white women voted for the current president while 94 percent of black women voted for his opponent, the authors discuss how American women can work to find common ground and forge unity. "Strong, thoughtful, and angry voices,” says Kirkus Reviews, “ring out for resistance, empathy, and solidarity,"
Such essays may inspire us, but what do we do with our passion for change?
Amanda Litman won’t hesitate to offer this suggestion: Run for Something, which is the name of her new book and her organization, which recruits and supports young, diverse progressives running for down-ballot office. Republicans, she points out, have spent years inserting themselves into seats on school boards, city councils, and every other decision-making body. Worse, legislators on both sides of the aisle have failed us so often, in such distasteful ways, that until recently, most progressives were aghast at the very idea of setting foot in the political quagmire. Which is one of the reasons that in 2016, more than 40% of state legislative races were uncontested. We’re just standing by and letting incumbents walk into office again and again. “Our elected officials are, by and large, a sea of old white men who don’t actually represent the diversity of this country,” Litman says. In brisk, no-nonsense style, she lays out the details of how to run a successful campaign (she’s worked on many). “There are half a million elected officials in the United States. Why can’t you be one of them?”
WINNERS IN 2017 ELECTIONS SHOW FRESH NEW FACES AMONG THE "SEA OF OLD WHITE MEN" WHO HAVE DOMINATED US POLITICS FOR SO LONG.
Not ready to run for office? To be honest, I’m not either. But a year ago, it became clear to me that I had to do something to help turn the tide of madness sweeping the country. I began meeting with leaders of progressive organizations and asking them what they were doing and whether there was hope for real change. These conversations were so inspiring they became a series of articles and videos, and sparked the idea for my new book, Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. Doing my research, I’ve learned that while millions of Americans are highly motivated, many are struggling to find practical ways to do something genuinely useful for the cause. The book describes dozens of progressive organizations that are actively recruiting volunteers, and includes contact information so you can sign up with them right now.
What are you passionate about? What drives you most insane about this administration? Corporate greed, misogyny, racism, voter suppression, erosion of LGBTQ rights, gutting disability protections, ignoring the rule of law, efforts to undermine our belief in science and in truth itself ... or simply the knowledge that 45 holds the nuclear launch codes? Is Armageddon right around the corner, as those magazines in the supermarket suggest? I don’t think so. But then, I’ve been surprised a lot lately.
One thing I do know for sure: as progressives, we are numerous and strong enough to change the course of events in our country — but only if we show up and actively engage in the process. Books like these can inspire, motivate, and point us toward volunteer opportunities; the next step, the one that matters, is up to you. Whether you live in a red state, a blue state, or abroad, there is important work waiting for you — online, on the ground, or wherever you choose to take your stand.