When Rich and I moved to Ohio as newlyweds, one of his more brilliant ideas was partitioning the attic over the garage with a wall of bookshelves that concealed a hidden door. You climbed the stairs, entered Rich’s cozy den, and then — abracadabra! He would swing open the center bookshelf to reveal the secret chamber (which was, prosaically, used for storage). Naturally it was dubbed the Anne Frank room, and when showing it to friends, we’d remark, “And the great thing is, if the Nazis ever invade Ohio, we’re all set!” And the idea was so preposterous, so absolutely-never-going-to-happen, that everybody would laugh.
That idea doesn’t seem quite so laughable now. As all the world knows, Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and white supremacists marched openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday. The guy arrested for running his car into the crowd to kill and maim was a big fan of Adolf Hitler. And after the president’s lukewarm, belated, obviously forced, and soon retracted criticism of these hate groups, it’s clear they feel emboldened and ready for more.
“I think there will be more violence like this in the future to come," said Justin Moore, the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of the KKK. "I'm sorta glad that them people got hit and I'm glad that girl died. They were a bunch of Communists out there protesting against somebody's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."
America’s a very scary place these days. And for German-born American citizen Eva Melusine Thieme, it contains all too many echoes of the past and the era she calls “the biggest disaster in world history, the one my parents' generation felt forever ashamed of.” She’s always admired the French Resistance and wished people in her country had spoken out while there was still time to change their future.
When I wrote an article called “Where Were All the Good Germans?” Sine posted a comment about how easy it is for good people in an authoritarian environment to find themselves committing acts of greater and greater evil. She ended with, “And that is why I'm busy knitting pussy hats with my daughters these days:-)”
Knitting is a family tradition. Sine (as she’s known for short) learned the basics at school, but it was her grandmother who inspired her. This year, after joining in the Women’s March, Sine decided it was time to teach her daughters how to knit, and the three of them spent countless evenings working together in front of the TV. “We watched the entire Gilmore Girls and started in on Downton Abbey,” Sine told me. They sent me two boxes of hats for our protest marches in Seville. Most of us expats had never seen an actual Pussyhat before and we were thrilled to feel like part of the team.
Sine’s story is a great reminder that Resistance work comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, it’s a family-based effort. For many, it involves grassroots political action groups such as Indivisible, PAGE, and the Women’s March. But with the new administration working to marginalize so many of its citizens — basically the 69% of the population that doesn’t happen to be white and male — there is so much more to be done. To me, the work of the Resistance embraces any organization fighting for the rights of women, people of color, LGBT citizens, immigrants, refugees, and others now at risk of losing income, services, social status, and even the right to vote.
For instance, I recently learned about Kat Calvin and her organization Spread the Vote, which she founded to counteract voter suppression. Some 31 states now have laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification before casting a ballot, and 21 million American citizens — mostly poor, black, or Latino — don’t have IDs and find it difficult to obtain them due to lack of formal birth certificates, endless paperwork, long distances to offices issuing IDs, and up to $75 in fees. Kat Calvin refuses to let any of this be a barrier. Her organization reaches out to the disenfranchised and helps them obtain valid IDs so they can exercise their Constitutional right to vote. And by the way, she’s looking for volunteers.
Friends tell me, “I call my representatives, but living in a blue state, what’s the point? I wish there was something real that I could do!” There is! Each of the videos in my series Women of the American Resistance includes links to organizations doing great work. But I’ve realized more is needed to help people find their place in the Resistance. So in the weeks ahead, I’ll be compiling information about organizations where volunteers are doing vital, interesting work. If you know of one, I want to hear from you!
Sine has marched and written postcards to her representatives, but her biggest contribution to the cause is knitting pink Pussyhats. To her, they represent the precious freedom to show dissent in public and the solidarity first felt by millions during the Women’s March. If we learned anything from what Germany experienced in the 1930s, it’s that we need to speak up sooner rather than later. As one protest poster put it, “I can’t believe I am still protesting Nazis.” I guess the good news is that we still can.
This video is Episode 7 of my ongoing series Women of the American Resistance. You can view the complete series here on this website, on YouTube, my blog Enjoy Living Abroad, and American Resistance Sevilla; many episodes appear on Americans Resisting Overseas and other social media sites. Feel free to repost this video or link to this content. My goal is to tell the world about these remarkable American women and the work they're doing to help fix the mess we're in.
Karen McCann is a bestselling author whose travel tips and adventure stories have appeared in Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, and Lonely Planet. She is a founding member of American Resistance Sevilla.