What Will You Do for Freedom Today?

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Though I’m disappointed that Pennsylvania — where I canvassed often — did not go blue, New Hampshire — where I canvassed twice — most likely did (the close tally is still being counted). But even if Hillary doesn’t prevail in New Hampshire, the good news out of that swing state is that Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in her bid for the US Senate. This was one of two Senate seats (the other being Tammy Duckworth’s defeat of Mark Kirk in Illinois) that flipped to Democratic hands.

Today, Senator-elect Hassan sent a thank-you note to those of us who had donated to her campaign, sharing that every morning at the breakfast table when she was a child, her father (a WWII veteran) would ask her and her siblings the poignant question, “What  are you going to do for freedom today?”

I am feeling that call even more strongly today than I did yesterday morning when I wrote and posted my poem about turning our despair into action. In the dark days to come (and I believe that they will be dark; what David Remnick in his article “An American Tragedy” from The New Yorker says “will cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine”), we will each have to make a commitment to vigilantly do our part for the causes of freedom, peace, and justice. As Remnick concludes, “To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals — that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”

Yesterday and today I have witnessed three variations of grief in my liberal Democratic bubble: what I will call pragmatic, delusional, and despairing permutations (please do not think that these are in any way clinical terms, they are my own).

1. There is pragmatic grief like mine that will serve to channel the rage, a recognition that there is huge work ahead of us, now let’s get to work! My old and dear friend Susan, director of a social justice organization in Boston, wrote a beautiful letter to her children (one in college, the other in high school) about that necessity:

Our young people — and that is both of you — MUST take the ball and become politically involved… My life has been focused on helping those who need assistance. The road for them looks really grim today, and yet I feel stifled as to whether my work and contributions are enough. As a parent, I need to really stress to you how important it is to find your path and use your voices… It needs to be your generation who takes the ball forward. I love you very much and hope that as you move from teens to young adults and into your next phases that you will not sit idly by. The community needs you to step in and make your voice and your time count. (excerpted)

This form of “channeling” grief was also expressed by 9-1/2 year-old Frieda, the grand-daughter of my friends Sandy and Claire, who wrote the following letter of gratitude to Hillary Clinton yesterday:

Dear Secretary Hillary Clinton,

Hello! My name is Frieda and I am a fourth grader in Westchester, New York. Thank you for running for President. You are one of my heroines. I think it was very brave of you to run to become America’s first woman President. If there is no woman President by the time I grow up, I want to be the first. My friends and I agree that you really deserve to be President.

When I woke up this morning and I figured out that you didn’t win the election, I was REALLY mad so I decided to write a letter to you. I’m not disappointed in you, I’m disappointed in the voters. I really hope you will consider running again in four years. If I was allowed to vote, I would vote for you. Again, thank you for running for President.

“We pick ourselves up and fight back…Get out there and volunteer.. We need to be ready to mobilize,” is how Senator Elizabeth Warren framed it in her interview with Rachel Maddow this evening.

2. I have also heard what I consider delusional grief expressed in statements such as “Maybe he put on an act to get votes and he’s not really that bad!” Unfortunately, Trump has riled the most racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic elements who are already feeling justified in carrying out hate crimes. Even if he moderates his rhetoric somewhat, the Pandora’s box of hate has already been unleashed. Not to mention the likely demolition of government-supported social services and safety nets, a repressive law-and-order justice system, the possible loosening of common-sense gun laws, the appointment of right-wing justices to the Supreme Court whose decisions will effect our country for generations: the overturn of Roe v. Wade and  the further devastation of the environment and civil rights. On the international front, things bode no better: from foreign aid and disaster relief, to the Syrian refugee problem, to ISIS, to Russia and Putin, to Mexican and Central American refugees, to Israel (the two-state solution was not part of the Republican platform). We may very well bring the whole world down with us. So much is at risk.

When you choose to mobilize, there will be no lack of issues to get behind in the months and years ahead.

Even President Obama participated in this delusion of a reasonable president-elect in his speech yesterday. Had he only given this imagined version, instead, courtesy of The Gothamist.

3. Finally, there is despairing grief. There is the lesbian couple (daughter and daughter-in-law of a work colleague of mine) who just applied for aliyah to Israel in fear that their marriage will be overturned here in the U.S. There is the frightened 7-year-old boy (brother to Frieda) who called my friends to ask if they would move with him and Frieda to Canada. There is the gynecologist, a student of mine, who came to our Mussar class last night totally devastated and fearful about the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade and what that will mean for his poor, immigrant patients. I could have cut the pall around him with a knife, it was so raw and palpable.

I remember vividly a scene in the frightening 1983 movie Testament about nuclear war, in which the protagonist (played by Jane Alexander) calmly went about her day, even making the bed while knowing that the bomb had fallen and that radiation poisoning and death was only hours away. I picture that scene often when I offer bereavement counseling. There are people who are, of course, thoroughly undone by their losses and pain, and there are others, equally bereft, who keep their structures in place, structures which get them up in the morning and keep them going. So the gynecologist will get through this devastation in his version of “making the bed” — by doing his job, offering dignity and good medical care to his patients, and keeping up with his spiritual practice of Mussar.

My version of “making the bed” will be to help comfort the discomfited/ to participate in the healing of the brokenness/ and with urgency, as I wrote in my poem.

Join me.

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One thought on “What Will You Do for Freedom Today?

  1. How can we best mobilize? At two different gatherings, many ideas were shared:

    Many of us live in an elite bubble, unaware of the discontent, poverty and disenfranchisement in so many others. We need to begin dialogues of compassion, reaching out so those on both sides in order to build understanding and caring.

    If many move to other countries, those most capable of bringing change will be gone. Many feel it is more important to stay, mobilize, and work to bring about positive change.

    It was a revelation when one person commented that, just as 50% of the country is disappointed and upset with our new president, it is likely that the other 50% was just as disappointed and upset when Obama was elected 8 years ago. The difference is that we are the ones who now feel unheard and disenfranchised. How would things change if we acknowledged our fears and the fears of others, our differences, where we can come together for the good of our country, bring the dialogue out in the open.

    Perhaps it is time to repeat the model of the grass roots feminist groups of the 70s, this time starting in local groups with a message of truth and reconciliation, understanding and compassion, finding common ground to bring positive change.

    Once the numbness subsides, it will be time to mobilize and keep our efforts bubbling.

    This is a beginning. I hope and trust the many will rise to the occasion, even in the face

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