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Democracy By a Thread
On Power, Community, and the Outcome
The anxiety dreams are fast and furious these days. In one, I am late to a party. It is being held in the house that I lived in as a teenager, the last one where my parents’ marriage was still a thing, the one where the man who molested me lived just five minutes away and was a frequent visitor to our home.
Now, though, in the dream, that home is my home. I have torn down the old one and rebuilt something else. It is a combination of old and new, something that isn’t perfect and isn’t entirely my style but is nonetheless all mine and, in many ways, more than anything I’ve had before.
I am planning out the food and such for a housewarming party when folks start to arrive– old friends who I haven’t seen in forever, and new ones– but I am somehow unprepared. I have no makeup on my face and I’m still in a nightgownish dress, and time has gotten away from me.
I race around trying to get myself ready, but all the rooms are moving– nothing is where it’s supposed to be, and I can’t even find the bathroom where I put the cosmetics, nor the closet with my own clothes. It’s ok, my guests are forgiving, but before I’m even done folks are already leaving, and everyone had a nice time, but have I even had a chance to say hello?
My guests have taken care of themselves, because I was not able to take care of them. Everyone is left to their own nourishment, and to their own survival.
Nothing is as it should be, or where it should be, and yet we carry on.
Watching the January 6th hearings is akin to watching a video of a car stuck on train tracks moments before a crash over and over, knowing what’s coming and anticipating the horror, and yet somehow finding that it is always worse than expected.
It’s the anticipation of the violence, and then the violence, over and over again, that makes it so hard to watch.
And the more the details emerge, the worse it gets.
Yesterday, we learned that Twitter knew people were going to die at the Capitol on January 6th, but did nothing to stop Trump’s use, and the use of all his white supremacists followers, of its own platform to organize their violence.
We learned that the chaos and insanity of Trump’s narcissism turned the West Wing into a screaming abusive household in the days leading up to January 6th, as some clung to the rule to law and others took Trump’s hand, happily complicit, and leapt off a cliff into seditious, violent, white supremacist conspiracy.
We learned that the man himself, when confronted with the boundaries of what our legal system would allow him to do to stay in power, decided on violent overthrow of the entire U.S. government instead.
And it's not done yet– either in terms of testimony or in terms of trajectory. Next week, we get to learn about his minute-by-minute conduct on the day itself.
It’s the sickness of it that I find the hardest to take, the nausea of my own trauma response to someone that crazy, someone with that much power. Anyone raised by an abusive parent will recognize it, but on a national scale? With that much authority? It’s unspeakable.
In the aftermath of each new hearing, I find myself asking, when I consider the potential outcome, what is the point of this? Not in a snarky sort of way, but with actual consideration. What are we after?
Eighteen months on from the January 6th insurrection, and yes, of course, sunlight is a disinfectant, but truly, what is it that we want from this, and will it make any damn bit of difference?
Since January 6th, and in 2021 alone, nineteen states passed restrictive voter bills. Gerrymandering has run rampant, empowered further still by Trump’s malicious misuse of the 2020 Census. Court battles to preserve the right to vote for Black, brown and indigenous voters are meeting with a mixed bag of results.
Just a few weeks ago, just after Roe fell, the Supreme Court announced that it would review a case out of the Supreme Court of North Carolina captioned Moore v. Harper, which, if decided in favor of the legislature, will allow any state to throw out voting results that they don’t like and substitute the legislature’s will for that of the voters– a case that will be decided no later than the Spring of 2023, and is a harbinger of complete electoral collapse.
Moreover, when we consider the meat of the hearings themselves, it’s radically apparent that the DOJ has been unwilling to sink its teeth into the true organizers of the insurrection, to investigate and prosecute them with any noticeable vigor whatsoever.
Still more specifically, even if the hearings result in further criminal referrals to the DOJ, and Trump is indicted, tried and convicted of seditious conspiracy– a prospect that is outrageously far from certain at this point– other white supremacist leaders are lined up right behind him, already engaged in conduct that is flat-out fascism.
Ron DeSantis has signed bills requiring academics to register their political views with the State, in direct violation of the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom. Trans kids and their families are fleeing Texas after Greg Abbott signed a law requiring prosecution of parents providing gender affirming care to their kids. Roe has been overturned by the Supreme Court thanks to Trump’s trifecta of appointments of right-wing ideologues to the Court, and states are going further still to try to prosecute abortion seekers and providers and incarcerate them, criminalize abortion drugs, and even ban contraception. Mass shootings continue daily, most often perpetrated by radicalized white supremacist men.
What saves us then, as a nation, about these hearings? Even if the worst of what we suspect to be the case is true, even if Trump ordered the Proud Boys to find and kill his Vice President and all the so-called RINOs, for instance, and gleefully cheered on the violence from the Oval Office, will it change the trajectory of fascism in America? Will it assure free and fair elections going forward? Will anything change?
In some sense, the best one can hope for is that the two obstreperous democrats who refuse to end the filibuster decide, for once, in the aftermath of these hearings, that democracy is worth it, and vote to bypass the filibuster and pass voting rights reform.
That, I suspect, is a pipe dream in this environment.
Indeed, the idea that we will be able to fix what ails this nation, let alone in time for the next election cycle, let alone in time to backstop fascist collapse, is pure fantasy.
Nothing is as it should be, or where it should be, at all.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been reading up on mutual aid, and pursuing strategies for community survival in the face of the complete collapse of American democracy.
Now, this is not to say that voting is pointless, or that we shouldn’t continuously organize to push this administration and all our leaders to take bold, decisive action in the face of fascism. We should. Scant results in the exercise of executive power in recent weeks show that pressure has some effect on this administration, albeit not much.
But also, we must deal with the reality that democracy is hanging by a thread. We must understand that our chances of saving it grow slimmer by the minute. We must grapple with the fact that absent a full reckoning with the history of this country that brought us to this moment, in all its ugliness and all its genocidal violence, we will never heal nor recover as a nation, and chances are solid that the nation may not survive this moment at all.
And so, we must try to nourish ourselves, to care for one another, to care for our own survival. It is the only moral choice, and we must do it in every way possible, even if we believe we are unprepared.
Because of who I am, I search for solutions. And recently, in so doing, I came across an incredible interview with Dean Spade, the professor and well-known mutual aid organizer and activist.
This quote slammed right into my chest.
I don’t know where this is going. None of us know where this is going. It’s not looking good, but what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing? Being fully alive, being with other people, being in it together, taking risks, being really, really caring, [and] learning to love people even if they annoy me. Learning deeper love. Having that move me more, feeling the pain and grief of loss with others instead of just being alone in my kitchen with the headlines, feeling like I need to numb out and turn away towards celebrity gossip or something. It’s like how do I just be deeper in this life, despite the conditions? And because of the conditions. I think that’s how I’m trying to navigate it.
…I feel like I have a lot of conversations, literally every day, [with] people who are like, they’ve given up on some level, but it’s often that they’ve given up on themselves. I’m like, how much bolder could you be? People who are like, I’m afraid of getting in trouble, I’m afraid of taking more bold action. And it’s like, we all are instilled with those kinds of fears by living in a society, going to schools, being in families. Is that the end of the story? Or does anything make you feel braver? When was the time when you were courageous? So thinking about how could we all be more bold in our actions? How can we be more bold than what we could imagine? If we’re in pain about something, how could we go from that pain to also being like, what do I wish was in place?
If democracy is hanging by a thread, in other words, how do we respond?
How do we become the safety net for one another when those charged to care for us will not?
Do we take that one thread and weave a web that holds all of us, feeds all of us, catches all of us when we fall?
Or maybe, we let the whole thing drop, tear the whole thing down, build something new, perhaps not perfect but nonetheless ours, a combination of old and new, and more than anything we’ve had before.
Perhaps, in the words of the poet Antonio Machado, we set about making “honey from [our] old failures.”
If the hearings expose to us just the latest incarnation of America’s hatred for itself, its willingness to sabotage this experiment, its uncanny capacity for wrath and self-destruction and violence and murder for the sake of white power, well, perhaps this is the moment, then, to let it go, to choose to do it differently, to be better to each other than it has ever been to any one of us and many more than some, to engineer our own survival in the intimacy that community and love and connection across all that has been used to divide us could provide.
Perhaps we decide to save ourselves.
Nothing is as it should be, or where it should be.
And yet, we can engineer our own survival. We can abandon that which we have been taught to rely on and instead go deeper into our relationships with others and communities that nourish us. We can choose to be bold, to imagine better, to transform our pain and trauma into courage, to love each other, maybe for the first time.
We decide, now, in collective, how we survive, what future we build.
We decide what real power looks like.
We decide how we carry on.
This summer, join us in a monthlong program designed to build community, engage in mutual aid, regulate through trauma and take action, called The Road to Hope.
Class starts July 22, 2022.