On Deeds, Not Words

Today, I’ll be walking, chanting, listening, and generally being with thousands of people like myself—that is, humans who care about one another’s wellbeing—at the Women’s March on Washington. 

In preparation for this demonstration—and for the sister marches taking place throughout the US, and in many cities around the world—many of us felt we had to explain #whyimarch. In various social media sites, on t-shirts, on signs on our office doors, on the posters we’ll carry with us, to friends, to family, to staffers of elected officials on the other end of the phone line—we tried to articulate the many, many reasons motivating us. You know—surely, you know by now—the details. You’ve followed the news, the analysis, your friends’ Facebook posts; you’ve become exhausted by the exhaustive coverage of the seemingly-inexhaustible supply of outrages perpetrated, or threatened to be perpetrated, against the people of this country by its most recent batch of elected officials. 

So very many words, expressing dismay, disillusionment, disgust, hatred, fear, hope, and urgency: we can’t let this happen; it mustn’t happen; it is happening and we have to stop it now (surely we can stop it…what if we can’t stop it??). 

Speaking for myself—well, actually I can’t. Speak, that is. This…situation (crisis? disaster? dystopian tale come to life?) has left me mute. Words that once tumbled onto the page like so many eager puppies, now refuse to come, hanging back, recalcitrant, unbiddable. 

For months before the election, I was feeling a sense of menace, dragging at the edges of my concentration. Through a determined process of distraction, I could keep the dread at bay, though at the cost of the attention necessary to write anything more complex or effective than hectoring work emails. When I woke up to the inconceivable-made-manifest in November, I initially assumed that my shock wouldn’t last. “Shock”?: not even. This has been the stunned, concussing, blankness of being hit by a boy on a swing, leaving you lying on the ground waiting to inhale after all the air has been suddenly crushed out of you. I’ve been waiting to get my breath back ever since, assuming that, eventually, that hysterical tendency, that slight nervous depression, would recede, allowing me to say something, to use my skill, my small reach, to write Important Things about where we find ourselves, how we got here, and where we can hope to go.

Nothing doing. 

Words fail.

What is there to say, after all? 

A person (and I use the term grudgingly) has lied, and connived, and injured, in plain sight, HIS WHOLE LIFE—and is was just sworn in to the highest political office, whereupon he is authorizing the most appalling band of misogynist, racist, queer-phobic, anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, unethical bridge trolls to carry out more lying, conniving, and injury. This should not have happened, and yet millions of people in this country made sure—actively and passively—that it did, that it will. 

Again—you know all this. If you’re reading this, it’s almost a certainty that you and I have read, watched, and heard the same things, and have had the same reactions, and want the same things—namely for these horrible people to sink back into the mire and leave the rest of us to get on with the business of caring for one another. 

But that’s the problem—what can I say to you, that you don’t already know, or fear, or want? You’ve been informed, and persuaded, by better, less tongue-tied writers than me. Anything I say now will be repetition; any agreement that you offer in return will be almost reflexive. The best result I could hope for would be that we would feel some gratifying sense of commiseration, some sympathy, in the exchange—but I can’t move you to believe differently, because you already do, and we already agree.

And look how far that got us. 

Even if hundreds of thousands of us affirm our shared commitment to our progressive manifesto today–what if it’s not enough? It might not be anything to all those we don’t know (or whom we once knew, but have, out of disgust and exasperation, cut from our lives). We couldn’t reach them with the most informed, well-intentioned, impassioned arguments before…because we were never actually talking to them anyway, nor were they inclined to listen (they, them, those people who are not like me, who now want to disenfranchise people like me). All along, when we thought we were reaching everyone, we were only reaching one another—which matters, of course! it counts for something—but which, it turns out, was doing as much harm as good.

Researchers in behavioral science (whose funding will doubtless be on the chopping block next week) have found that once people (regardless of ideology) have adopted a position—about politics, for example, or health—they get perversely, intractably stubborn about accepting information that might change their minds. We get vain about our knowledge, insecure about admitting we’re wrong…and very skilled at filtering out troublesome information, only allowing in what confirms and validates what we need to think is certainty.

It’s very, very hard to change this kind of committed, focused, narrow-mindedness (of which one is never, oneself, guilty). And in this current situation/disaster/catastrophe/dystopian Dark Timeline, even if I could summon the skill to make the attempt, I don’t know where any of us could reach that benighted audience; nor can I summon the optimism that those people—who don’t appreciate being called “those people,” never mind “benighted”—would let their guard down enough to listen. 

That said—or rather, painstakingly NOT said—there are strategies that work. (One feels the need to offer some positive strategy, at least). It’s not easy though—you can’t stay comfortably, non-confrontationally, introvertedly insulated behind the written word; rather, you have to meet those other people, and talk to them as though you and they are not so different, as though you and they want and need the same things. I know. Right now, I’m still so…angry, hurt, and frankly terrified, that as soon as I start to mentally rehearse any kind of exchange with the other, I become instantly speechless, wordless even to myself. To be honest, what comes most easily right now is a desire to hurt back. 

I know that we can’t allow ourselves to give in to those impulses. I’m sure it’s important to think positively, to be forgiving and compassionate, to have faith, and hope, that reason will prevail…I’m sure that’s the right frame of mind to be in—and what I know I’ll share with the people around me today, all marching out of our shared need for safety (above all), freedom, reason. I’m quite sure that this will be only the start of a larger movement. 

I really hope we can save one another. 

Why march? Because words have failed, and we are moved to ACTION. Why march? Because, on this day of all days, how else, where else, can we begin?

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