Sunday, January 29, 2017

Uprising of Love

I recognize that there are people and communities who agree with many of Trump's actions and stances taken since his inauguration, or at least not completely terrified and outraged by them.  But my community of friends and I are generally beyond appalled and aghast at the fact that Trump was elected and the incredible executive actions he's taken in the mere first week of his presidency.  Since November 9, there has not been a time I've gotten together with friends that this hasn't been one of the main topics of conversation.  We're trying to figure out what happened, what to do next, how to organize, how best to resist.  Last weekend I put on my pink hat and marched with millions across the country and world to protest, to give voice to resistance.  And let me be clear: these types of protests and demonstrations are necessary and must continue.  We cannot be silent in the face of so much harm being done to those with less power, privilege and voice.  

But since Trump was elected, I continue to be concerned that we are missing something.  Those of us who did not vote for him keep asking, Why? Who would vote for this man? How could this happen? What do we do now?  At which point it becomes altogether too easy to villainize Trump voters as hateful, uniformed, unintelligent, or worse.  This doesn't sit easy with me.  It doesn't make sense to me to make that type of generalization about nearly half the population of our country -- it seems like folly.

In this interview with Kathy Cramer, a political science professor from UW Madison, she discusses her book The Politics of Resentment.  She explains, "Now you have liberals saying, 'There is no justification for these points of view, and why would I ever show respect for these points of view by spending time and listening to them?'"  In fact, I think that the answer to the question Why would anyone vote for Trump? is the key to What do we do now?  I think we need to better understand why folks -- intelligent, informed, caring, decent people -- voted for Trump.  To ignore, dismiss, or misunderstand their perspective does nothing but further alienate and divide us.  And the chasm of this divide -- this chasm is where the terrible destruction lives and thrives.

I've been having a hard time putting my finger on this, but then I came across this article, "How to Culture Jam a Populist in Four Easy Steps" by Andrés Miguel Rondón, published again yesterday in the Washington Post, slightly revised and under a different title.

Rondón, a Venezuelan economist, applies lessons learned from failed attempts at resisting Chávez to our current predicament in fighting back against Trump.  He explains, "In one way, Trump and Chávez are identical: they are masters of Populism."  He writes that, "Populism can only survive amid polarization. It works through caricature, through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Pro tip: you’re the enemy. Yes, you, with the Starbucks cup. Trump needs you to be the enemy just like all religions need a demon. As a scapegoat. “But facts!”, you’ll say, missing the point entirely."  Being indignant at this characterization will do nothing aside from reinforcing it.  We must come to terms with the fact that this is how we are being portrayed and perceived.  Again, ignoring or dismissing this only serves to widen the chasm.  Cramer's research supports this as well.  She explains, "People are only going to absorb facts when they’re communicated from a source that they respect, from a source who they perceive has respect for people like them.  And so whenever a liberal calls out Trump supporters as ignorant or fooled or misinformed, that does absolutely nothing to convey the facts that the liberal is trying to convey."

Rondón writes, "It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to actually go to the slums and to the countryside. And not for a speech, or a rally, but for game of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too... That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show they were real. And no, this is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization."  Here we are, two sides divided, entranced by the hypnotic song of the siren, calling to us, telling us we and we alone are the righteous, correct, and just. And we are lured, crashing on the shore, impaling ourselves on the jagged rocks of righteousness. 

This will not get us where we need to go. Don't misunderstand me -- the reporting, sharing of true information, protesting, running for government positions, showing up and being heard -- these actions are imperative and must continue.  But we also must bridge the gap between urban and rural, between liberal elite and working class, between ... you can fill in all the other apt clichés  here.  Cramer shares her experience of researching in rural Wisconsin: "Even at the end of my first visit, they would say, 'You know, you’re the first professor from Madison I’ve ever met, and you’re actually kind of normal.' And we’d laugh. We got to know each other as human beings. That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together."

We cannot continue only stand at the edge of the chasm and shout into the void, letting the wind carry our voices back to ourselves.  We have to reach across to the folks who we do not yet understand and say I want to know you better. Teach me, I want to learn.  

To me, this is an essential part of the organizing that we need to do, and the best way to change Trump's narrative of what ails and plagues our country.  This is difficult work; we are stratified and segregated in our geography, our social groups, our social media networks.  This requires humility and time.  

One of the speakers at the Women's March in D.C. spoke of this movement as an "uprising of love."  This framing struck me in the moment as uniquely powerful.  Fierce love requires that we care, listen, come to understand the perspective of others.  I don't say this lightly. I don't sprinkle it with glitter and fairy dust. I say this because in my experiences as a teacher, a principal, and a community organizer, I have time and again witnessed opposing sides work through their impasse -- almost magically, organically, surprisingly-- by courageously opening themselves up to vulnerability and hearing each other's needs. This is how the uprising of love begins.