to get big
Now that it’s been a few days, I want to check in on how we’re all doing re: Roe. Furious? Despondent? I still feel sort of numb, in part because the reality feels too big to take in — also because we’ve taken it in already. As Ann Friedman wrote, “My dominant feeling is still anger, but lately the rage comes in flashes that punctuate an overall mood that I can only describe as “shrug.””
That shrug seems to be where we’re all ending up, regardless of the emotions underneath. Everyone wants to do something, and then it becomes clear that there’s nothing to do, save for donating on repeat and eventually getting out the midterm vote. Again.
That’s a pretty lifeless holding pattern, especially when life continues to happen in the meantime.
Not to lean too hard on the white guys (actually yes, let’s do that, we need you), I’ve been sitting with some words from Howard Zinn, whose methodology isn’t perfect, but who was nonetheless a stalwart example of living the mission. He wrote:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… If we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Thinking about this last stretch of days as a succession of presents, I realize there has been a great deal of action, however small. I got and gave so many calls on Friday, just checking in on how the news was vibrating in different people. I can’t protest with this healing body, nor does that feel like my calling at the moment, but the folks who needed to did, and through the rest of the weekend, they were generous about creating accessible space for reeling and laughing and communing. Sunday was Pride and wounded jubilation, sparkling even so in the life we get to live.
When you jog yourself out of the paralysis of wondering what to do on a grand scale, you remember that every moment you live is an act of doing. Where I sit today, that means exercising my voting muscles (New Yorkers, don’t forget!). On countless days in the future, it’s going to be impressing upon the men in my life that the “I don’t feel I have a place in this discussion” attitude is underselling and under-serving them. Who knows what else.
That’s not to say that those things are overall enough. (Let’s hear it for — by which I mean, financially support* — the physicians and organizers who are running at breakneck speed to get people the care that they need.) Rather, they are something. Like anything, action is a practice, and training yourself to identify the tiny things you can do at any moment will prime you to continue to find opportunities, big and small.
To be clear about the quotes we’re launching from, Howard Zinn wasn’t a thoughts-will-heal-us kind of guy. He got fired from Spelman for protesting with his students in the SNCC, and as a political scientist he was instrumental in reframing US history around the people.
After being beaten by the NYPD at a peaceful rally in Times Square, he said, “I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. . . The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society.”
You’ve heard that one before. It’s a big vision, and if it ever comes true, it’ll be the result of some very big thinking, acting, and cooperation. In the meantime, when things feel too big, it’s ok to think small. And by going smaller, you can actually get bigger – or at least feel yourself existing. That’s step one.