Eight years ago, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.
Today, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.
Spoiler alert: they aren’t the same things.
I was warned as an undergraduate in teacher school, that I’d watch the pendulum swing back and forth throughout my career. They were talking about educational policies and trends, of course. But nothing could have prepared me for the whiplash of my first ten years of teaching, going from Bush, to Obama, to Donald. If a time traveler from the future had tried to warn me, I’d have never believed them. I don’t even fully believe it in the present.
My foundation has been shaken in so many ways, it feels more like walking on jello. I’ve found myself rethinking values and beliefs these last several months that I’ve never had reason to question before… And maybe that part’s not such a terrible thing. Maybe it’s good to shake out dusty old beliefs now and then, and see if they still fit.
The one that’s been the most surprising and omnipresent for me–unity.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many church talks and lessons I’ve sat through on unity. I’ve given a few of them myself. It’s one of those easy, warm and fuzzy topics that doesn’t raise too many questions. It’s a defining characteristic of Zion. I live in a country with unity embedded in its name and its original motto. So unity is a Good Thing, right?
Or… maybe not. Maybe not necessarily. On deeper reflection, I’m finding that unity is actually value-neutral. Was there ever an evil dictator that didn’t rally their people with cries for unity? In every story ever told, both fact and fiction, weren’t the bad guys just as united as the good guys? Unity brings strength, but it doesn’t necessarily bring good. It can be dangerous.
It turns out, unity isn’t my priority right now. I don’t see it as a primary goal. My goal is goodness. My goals are right, light, love, and equity. If we’re working for the same goals, then unity will be a natural consequence, and I’ll welcome and embrace it. There’s room for different methods and approaches, as long as we’re unified in purpose. It’s a large tent and the doors are wide open. But I won’t move the tent.
For months now, I’ve seen people cry for unity as a coded way to say, “Be quiet. Sit down. Stop rocking the boat. Keep your opinions to yourself. Accept what is, and support it.” I absolutely can not, will not. Not now, not ever. Of course, seeing as the majority of the country feels similarly to me, I’m actually standing united with plenty of people. I’m not just united with a bigger crowd than the other side, I’m also united with a much more diverse crowd that actually reflects “real America.” (I have no idea why the extremists on the far right keep referring to themselves as “real America.” Their demographics simply don’t support the claim.) But you know what? It doesn’t matter. If I’m the last person left in this tent, I still won’t be moving. My conscious won’t allow it. I’ve been taught all my life to stand for what’s right, even if it means standing alone. I prefer to stand united with family, friends, and neighbors, but I’m not afraid to stand alone.
I’m trying hard to figure out how to remain civil, friendly, and kind with those who won’t stand by me. It’s not easy; I’m still working on it. It isn’t the goal for me right now either, but it’s a goal. Most people deserve civility, friendliness, and kindness most of the time. But there are lines I won’t cross just to make other people comfortable. There’s ugliness, lies, ignorance, hate, and misguided fear floating around so prevalently, and I can’t let it all go unchallenged and still call myself a moral person. I won’t call evil, good, much less great. I won’t call factually incorrect information, your truth. I won’t call hate and fear, patriotism. I will be civil, polite, and kind, but I won’t be untrue to myself and my values.
My students taught me an idiom once, El que anda con lobos, a aullar aprende. In English, He who spends time with wolves, learns to howl. (I’m sure there’s an equivalent idiom in English, but the Spanish one is what’s coming to me right now.) We have to be careful about who we choose to unify with. It’s never been a secret who’s waving the Donald flag and fueling his fire. That train has been loud and proudly staffed by white supremists, male chauvinists, actual Nazis, and Donald’s bestie, Putin, since day one. I shouldn’t have to clarify this, but–those are the wolves. Unify with that crowd? Not if there were a gun held to my head.
Asking me to unify in support of an administration that shares none of my values, is asking me to betray myself. Asking me to unify in support of an administration that I consider a threat to American values, is asking me to betray my country. I won’t.
I will not support an administration whose goal is to take down public education. Not only because it’s my livelihood, but also because I believe in the concept of education for all, not education for profit. I believe our society depends on it.
I will not support an administration that rejects freedom of religion. My own religious ancestors were persecuted by the United States–violently chased out. I know deep in my bones what our country is capable of when we let our fear of difference override our reverence for the first amendment. I will not silently watch as my Muslim students and their families, who came here seeking safety, are put on a registry and a target slapped on their back. I will not accept their family and friends back home being barred from joining them.
I will not support an administration that is actively seeking to take health care away from millions of Americans. Less health care means more death. Obviously the Affordable Care Act still needs work. Obama could tell you that himself, and has. But repealing the act entirely, bloodies our hands. (Not to mention, after my livelihood as a public educator goes away, what healthcare options are going to be left for me, a disabled American?)
I will not support an administration that puts the oil guys in charge of environmental policy. I plan to live on this earth for a long time. I’d like for the generations that come after me to be able to live on this earth. One of the earliest lessons I can remember being taught as a child at church is that God created this beautiful world for us because He loves us. I still believe that, and I believe in taking the best possible care of this priceless gift.
I will not support an administration that demonizes immigrants. Crime and terrorism are entirely different issues than immigration. This administration promotes fear of those who have been most victimized by crime, violence, and terrorism, telling us that they’re the problem. As the wealthiest country in the world, we’re not doing our fair share to help, support, and welcome the most vulnerable. I’ve yet to meet a family who came to the US looking for free handouts. All I’ve ever seen is desire for opportunities to learn, work, and contribute. And I know an awful lot of immigrant families….
I will not support an administration that oppresses, victimizes, and objectifies women. Rape and sexual assault aren’t funny and aren’t excusable. I will not shoulder shrug away the very language that normalizes a culture where it’s terrifying to be out and female. Although my views on abortion are too complicated to be accurately described as either pro-life or pro-choice, I can most of the time say that I’m pro-women’s healthcare and anti-abortion. Reducing access to healthcare and preventative birth control has never failed to increase abortion rates. I can’t support it.
I will not support an administration that is anti free press. Look at any dictatorship past or present, or just read any dystopian novel–when the government controls what you know about the government, democracy is dead. That’s why our founders gave us the first amendment.
The campaign that got us into this mess began with the promise of a wall, and they’ve been building walls ever since. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again now–it doesn’t matter whether the literal, physical wall is ever built. They’ve already succeeded at building thick, tall, deeply divisive walls. They’ve manipulated our carnal instincts to otherize since the beginning. This administration has never been about unity; they promised divisiveness, and now they’re delivering.
If unity is what we want, first we have to tear down those walls, and that demands putting a stop to the wall builders. It doesn’t work to tell people they need to support a divider in the name of unity.
I can’t predict the future, so I have no idea if we’ll beat them. But I know there’s no force on earth that could convince me to join them.