I met with a group of friends today, to discuss collective actions we might take as people of a similar political mindset- to further our causes, so to speak. Over the course of the conversation, we touched on the Trump presidency- how each day seems to bring a new horror show of some unfathomable thing he has done, and yet his approval rating is on the rise. I read about the wire tap accusations, the deplorable cuts to social programs, the millions of people who will lose health care coverage, and think how is this possible?
My mind sums it up in a simple phrase- strange times we’re living in.
I googled “strange times” quotes. I found this one by Douglas Adams:
“We live in strange times. We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity of infinite recursion and say things like, ‘Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How’s Carol?’ involves a great deal of filtering skill for which all conscious entities have eventually to develop a capacity in order to protect themselves from the contemplation of the chaos through which they seethe and tumble.”
I think it was the reference to “each a universe of our own” that got me. Following the election, and in particular, the Women’s March, I found my universe shrinking. My social network got decidedly smaller as I unfriended people who could not comprehend my feminist leanings. After a season of heated political debate, I entered into a bit of a truce with my remaining Republican friends- let’s get back to posting pictures of our kids, random song lyrics, and occasional tidbits about our day.
And that’s just fine for social media. We all need pictures of baby pandas and “how well do you know” quizzes to round out our day. But following the March, I heard a lot of accusations about “doing something” rather than “just marching” (because being part of a March is not doing something). I did not want to be a person that complained about what I was seeing without taking any action.
Being active can be difficult. I’d love to follow that up with some shit line about “especially for a working mom with anxiety over engaging in social situations.” No. It can be tough for anyone. After the election, I signed up to receive information from countless organizations- Planned Parenthood, Swing Left, Stronger Together AZ, the official Women’s March group, Moms Rising, and more. I was hoping that by signing up for lots of different groups, somehow the perfect way to contribute would just fall into my lap. Instead, I just ended up with a lot of emails I skim or don’t read at all, because it’s just too much.
I don’t want more email. I don’t want to tweet. I don’t want to share the latest article. I want to DO something. A real thing. Something tangible. Something that MATTERS!
The Women’s March posted a call to complete ten actions in 100 days. Seemed like a good place to start. The first action was to send postcards to your local representatives, writing about the issues that matter to you. I will admit, it wasn’t as active of an action as I’d hoped for. But it was easy, forced me to clarify thoughts, and provided information about how to get in touch with my reps for future actions. Done.
The second action was where I ran into a bit of trouble. This action called for women to “huddle”- to met up with other women and discuss possibilities for action. I knew straight away that I did not want to join a huddle of strangers. But I have a ton of friends who have similar political beliefs. Why couldn’t I form my own huddle?
The answer to that question is time. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to carve out an hour and a half slot while working with the schedules of ten women with very diverse demands on their time? I looked at my own schedule of my work, my husband’s work, the kids’ school, chess club, karate, triathlon training, Oscar party, family obligations, two trips, volunteer time, Cub Scouts and decided there was no way I was adding one more thing to the list. No way- and I’m the leader of this huddle.
But we live in the age of technology! Let’s huddle up virtual style! That sounded vaguely pornographic- eww.
I started an online group, invited a few like-minded friend. Some of the women are friends with each other, some of who only know one another through me. The March had provided a format for dialogue. I blazed ahead thinking We follow the format. We determine actions. We complete the actions. Done. World saved. Your welcome.
It didn’t quite go down that way. I have a bit of a, umm, obsessive streak. When I’m into something, I’m INTO it. When other people failed to respond or didn’t respond prompt enough, I read it as a lack of enthusiasm. Which means, I’m not moderating this group well. I’m not being a good motivator. This is never going to get off the ground. I better start about five more discussions to get things really going. Because what everyone wants is someone poking them in the ribs all day long, while repeating “What about this? How about this idea? Huh? What do you think?”
When a conversation finally did get going, I turned into some sort of strange battle ground. One of the exercises within the format was to imagine a world four years from now when my side wins. We were supposed to talk about what changes would occur, what that world would like like. We were given the freedom to dream big so I went for it. I declared I’d love to see a world with free education and health care for all. In that world, teachers would be valued and paid accordingly for their work. Education would be a priority. Healthcare would be a right not a privilege.
After I set my megaphone down, a friend asked “How are you going to pay for that?”
Dammit! I have no idea how to pay for that and we all know that! I was annoyed at her for pointing out my lack of information. We’re supposed to be dreaming- no solving!
After thoroughly discussing my annoyance, I conceded that I might see her point. If I’m going to be involved, I’m going to get asked questions. I need to think about my answers, but also how I want to react to questions. Are we going to discuss or are we here to fight?
The group could not clarify what specific organizations or actions we wanted to devote our time to. Discussion was going stagnant. Then someone suggested “Why don’t we meet face to face, just get to know each other, and see what comes out of that conversation.”
So we did. It wasn’t a huge gathering of friends- only four of us could make it. But four is a start.
First we talked about our families. Then we moved on to how unreal the Trump presidency is. Somewhere along the way we started sharing information and coming up with ideas. One woman had gotten involved with her local Democratic Party, figuring change on the national scale might be out of her reach, but change locally was something she could actually work toward. Another friend wanted to get more involved in volunteering, especially with budgets to social programs being cut. Someone volunteered that one way to influence our particular neighborhoods was to attend city council and school board meetings. Because they are not attended heavily, speaking at them can offer real impact. We shared websites that provide meaningful information. We agreed to meet again, to come to our meetings with postcards to send to representatives, and cans to donate to the food bank.
I left feeling energized- like I was going to DO something. I know for a fact I would not have felt that way without the face to face meeting. I had tried to skip around that part, to lesson the obligation, ease the work- but sometimes, if something matters, you can’t short change it. I knew doing something was important to me, but it took the face to face meeting to clarify some of my thinking.
On-line is great for organization, for information. But what we are missing, not just from our group but from our reliance on technology, is humanity. Just like in the Adams quote, sometimes we need to be forced to say “Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How’s Carol?”
These things that are happening- being more concerned with rising profits than people not being able to have health care- I believe are a direct reflection on our lack of humanity. We have lost the idea of taking care of one another. We’re a “gimme gimme gimme mine mine mine” culture.
But, I believe in the goodness of people. Maybe this election is the motivation we need to figure this shit out, to find common ground. At some point, we have to look over the fence and say “Oh, hi, Ed.” Not texting a smiling emoji or finding an app for saying hello in 300 languages. An actual hi. We need to remember how to be human again.
I am not going to pretend to have the answers. I still don’t fully understand how to pay for healthcare and education (although I have some better information.) But through one lunch gathering, I now have a plan to contact my representatives and get signed up for summaries of local issues. I have a schedule to attend city council and school board meetings, and have a concrete date to prepare dinner for a local shelter. I’d say that’s not too shabs.
We have to talk. And as a anti-social-except-for-select-people-who-get-me kind of person, I hate that. But let’s do it anyway. Why not? Strange times we’re living in. Wouldn’t it be an ironic twist if good ol’ fashioned conversation saved the day.
Ugh, sometimes I hate trying to come up with snappy endings.