It’s been a wacky, amazing week. I’ve been away from home for the better part of ten days—first in DC for the Women’s March, with a night at home to catch my breath—and then off to a client convening on urban infrastructure reuse parks.
When the march was announced I had a strong sense that I had to go. I didn’t know that there would be a huge sister march in Boston, my hometown, at the point. It just felt like I needed to be in DC and to be counted—with my body.
If feels like I haven’t had the time to really process what feels like a historic moment I took part in—the March itself and the moment of political consciousness in its wake. Detractors on both the right and the left are saying that the march wont do anything, that it was a nice show but it will ultimately be futile.
And I’m finding that I just don’t believe it.
And that choosing to believe that the march wont have an impact makes that cynical view more likely to be true. That said, choosing to believe that the march will have an impact means creating, and actively living an alternative narrative. The march changed things—it changed me. And it puts a burden on me to make that change real.
I am socially conscious, but I can’t say that I’m politically aware. I’ve voted in every presidential election, but my last city council election was the first time I tried to get educated on local politics—state or municipal. I’ve had the right and privilege of voting for over ten years, but a few years ago was the first time I tried to be an educated local voter. And it’s a process. I have a mental frame now that I’ll build out over time; change doesn’t happen overnight.
I knew that if I was going to make this March mean more for me, and to create and live into that new narrative, I’d need to make some changes in my life. And I wanted to write it down and make it public to hold myself accountable.
So here’s what I am doing:
Making monthly contributions to Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York Times. This is something I decided to do the day that Trump was elected—and let slide. I told myself that I was waiting to finish my 2017 budget to add it in. But in reality if something is a financial priority—you pay for it and then figure out what other wants and needs need to shift around it. Overthinking leads to inaction. I also debated for a while (inaction!) about whether to give to ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center (or to the Equal Justice Initiative whose work I also really admire) but ultimately decided that despite the large-scale attack on human rights in general going on in the country—it was important for me to explicitly support racial justice at this time. I’ve also planned to subscribe to the New York Times for some time—they are my homepage! But I hadn’t gotten around to it. It’s so clear just how important journalism is to the existence of democracy and it’s time for me to vote with my wallet.
Practicing democracy by communicating with my representatives. I have had a lot of conversations on planes in the last ten days and in one of them, a grandmother and hunger activist from New Hampshire encouraged me to get active and informed on state issues. I have no clue what’s going on at the state level or what my state reps are doing on the federal level but it’s time for me to pay attention and to start the process of expressing my will—beyond the ballot. In truth, I don’t really know what that means. It will be a process, and that’s ok. I’ve connected with the website The 65 which puts out a strategy and call-your-representatives campaign every week. It’s where I’ll start this week. And I’ll evolve from there. There’s a personal goal and a political goal here, overlapped by a short term goal and a long-term goal. The short term goal is political action. The long term goal is that my eyes are set on the mid-term elections in two years. A lot of damage can be done in two years but the people in power need to know that they will lose their seats if the carnage (and yes I used that word) on the environment, the poor and human rights proceeds with their ok. That means we—and I—wont stop paying attention. And for me the goal is to spend the next two years—and beyond—making myself a more educated voter and citizen.
Showing up—in person. So many people were wowed by just how many people showed up for the Women’s March. And I was so moved but just how kind and courteous the crowd was to each other and people officers, and how intergenerational, racially diverse and gender diverse it as. Showing up in person matters to the heart—and it also just matters. This past weekend while I flew back home from Houston, Copley Square in my hometown of Boston filled up with people protesting the Muslim ban. My best friend Jenica spent her Saturday night at San Francisco Airport protesting the ban and was there until the early morning hours. In combination with the important work of civil rights lawyers in local courts these protests put a little chink in the armor. Showing up in person matters. It is a little inconvenient and those cynical voices say ‘what does it all do’ but what we do with our bodies affects our minds and connects us with other people which reminds us why we do this—for the society we want to live in. What does this mean for me? Being willing to go, being willing to show up. In the big protest but also in the little moments, such as the political salons that my friends have been telling me about—sort of a biweekly coffee clatch to take action together. I spent a lot of time a few years ago trying to have local friends who weren’t just landscape architects or from my religion. What better way to make connections than by practicing citizenship together?
Fueling my spiritual life. I’m hearing a lot of people saying “I’m angry.” “It’s time to get angry.” “It’s time to stop playing along.” And I can’t help but think—political extremism, and anger and the inability to compromise is what got us here in the first place. (Although—in truth what got us here is the failure of political leadership on both the right and the left to make a global economy and an increasingly automated economy work for the have-nots and the have-a-littles.)
So I don’t quite know not just what to do but how to be in this political moment. Is there a strategy for anger today, when I believe that the long game is one of compromise and connectedness? What’s the right stance?
This weekend someone gave me a copy of the book March. It’s a three volume graphic novel that depicts congressman John Lewis’s life as a young activist in the civil rights movement. I think that sometimes the millennial generation looks at the civil rights era and thinks ‘It was so easy back then.’ It seems to our eyes that issues were simpler and things like marches actually worked. But reading this comic, it’s clear to me that issues were just as complicated. There were divides between young blacks and the older black establishment. And the consequences were high—if you stood up and became a plaintiff in a court case your home could be bombed, your family and neighbors targeted—and in a county in which the police would not be on your side.
I also read in this book the importance of spiritual life and conviction. Churches were central to the civil rights movement and not just as third sector home bases for political action but as homes for individuals’ and communities’ spiritual journeys.
A strong moral compass is, I have come to believe, central to how to be politically for me. And a moral compass is not something you just have, it’s something you continually build through an active spiritual life. For me this year it means study and prayer but it might also mean volunteership. I’ve spent the last six years hustling—in an all-encompassing grad school and then building my businesses. I’m finally, thankfully, in a position where it’s all working for now, and it’s time for me to step it up. I’ve been thinking I might want to work with middle-school or high-school aged youth who come from different backgrounds than me—both to mentor and to expand my worldview. And to give myself perspective that my generation will only be part of the chain of what I hope is positive change and progress in the long term.
Jews around the world divide the old testament into sections and read them weekly—completing the cycle yearly. This week and last we are reading the exodus from Egypt. In the beginning, the people don’t believe that God wants to take them out of Egypt. And who can blame them? The status quo is powerful, and faith does not require passive looking on from the sidelines but active participation in building the future you see. A few faithful Israelites take the first steps into the water of the Red Sea before God parts the water for them.
Redemption is not something that is done to us or for us. It’s not something we do alone. It’s something done in partnership with a higher power if we believe in one—and each other.