We need to resist.
I don’t know what exactly this resistance will look like. I’m finishing this column just three weeks after the 2016 presidential election, and like many people I’m still recovering from the shock, grieving the loss, and adjusting to the new reality. I have some ideas, but all of this is still unfolding. I don’t know what exactly resistance will look like. I just know that we need to do it.
We’re humanists, and we’re committed to accepting reality. So let’s take a hard look. The best-case scenario is a serious reinforcement of reactionary, hard-right political power in the United States, and a major upsurge of violent, openly hateful bigotry. People sometimes say open bigotry is easier to fight than bigotry with a slick cover story and a smile. There’s some truth to that: open bigotry is certainly easier to recognize. But open bigotry is also more contagious. Human beings are more likely to believe what our friends and neighbors and families believe, and what our authority figures believe. When vicious hatred and bigotry are proudly trumpeted on every corner and spewed from the highest office in the country, it gains respectability, and it’s more likely to spread.
That’s the best-case scenario. I don’t think it’s the most likely one. I think—and I’m backed up here by many historians—that what we’re probably looking at is the rise of fascism in the United States. I don’t mean metaphorical fascism; I don’t mean “fascism” as a hyperbolic synonym for “stuff leftists don’t like.” I mean real, literal fascism that celebrates nationalism and militarism while stomping out individual freedom.
We need to resist.
Since the disaster of November 8, it’s been hard to find a window between denial and despair. It’s been hard to find it in my own mind, and it’s been hard to find in my work. When I focus too much on how we can fight, how in the past we’ve fought and survived and even succeeded, it seems like an insulting and dangerous minimization of just how bad things are going to be. As my friend Lito Sandoval conveyed at the recent Harvey Milk candlelight memorial in San Francisco, when people say we survived Ronald Reagan, they’re ignoring the huge numbers of people who didn’t. They’re ignoring the people who died of AIDS, of poverty, of police brutality, of hate crimes. People died because of Reagan, and people will die because of Donald Trump. That can’t be ignored or glossed over. Too much optimism seems like denial of reality. At times, when I’m struggling to face and accept this hard reality, it feels like gaslighting.
But not enough optimism leads to despair. Facing the reality of how terrifying this regime is, how dangerous, can easily make us feel helpless, hopeless, and petrified into inaction. It can make us believe that resistance is futile. We need the exact correct balance of realism and hope. The balance is now much harder to get right—and it’s more important than ever to get it right.
Before the disaster of November 8, I used to say that activism took different forms for different people, and that we all needed to engage in whatever activism we were capable of. I still say that. But we’re all going to have to take a hard, honest look now at what we’re really capable of. The stakes are higher: there’s less room for luxury, and less room for error. We’re going to have to do things that are uncomfortable, things that are difficult, things that are mind-numbingly boring, things we’re not good at, possibly even things that are dangerous.
That’s going to look different for different people. If we aren’t comfortable calling strangers, we may need to summon our courage and call our representatives. If we aren’t familiar with the history of resistance movements, we may need to spend some of our precious free time getting up to speed. If our humanist communities don’t do much activism, we may need to press them to do more—and live through an uncomfortable period when we’re not yet very good at it. If we’re not used to talking, we may need to speak up and make waves. If we are used to talking, we’ll definitely need to learn to shut up and listen—especially to the people who are in most danger under the new regime. If we have a financial cushion, we may need to cut back on luxuries and comforts, so we can give more to those who are resisting on the front lines, and to those whose bodies and lives are in most danger now. If we have homes, we may need to open them to people who need shelter. If we aren’t used to street protesting, we may need to come out of our houses and into the streets.
Resistance will look different for different people. But we will all need to step up our game.
We’ll also need to take care of ourselves. And we’ll need to step up our game on that as well. Many of us aren’t comfortable with self-care, and aren’t good at it, but we’re going to have to suck it up and get over it. In a society that holds us in contempt, taking care of ourselves is a radical act of resistance. In a society that wants us weak, keeping ourselves strong is a radical act of resistance. And for the same reasons, we need to take care of each other, and do it better, more carefully, more thoroughly. We need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep taking care of our bodies and our business—while refusing to let fascism be normal.
Some of us know more about this than others. Some of us know different versions of it than others. That’s another good reason to listen to the people who are in the most danger right now. They—we—know how to live with trauma and danger every day, without becoming shattered or numb, without being utterly desensitized or utterly destroyed. Speaking for myself: I’m a woman, I’m a queer, I’m mentally ill, I’m an atheist. I know what it’s like to navigate a world that hates me, holds me in contempt, doesn’t really see me as human. And I know how to turn anger into power, how to turn mockery into power, how to turn pleasure into power. I know how to pressure. I know how to persuade. And I know how to find people I feel safe with when I have no pressure or persuasion left in me, when I have nothing but exhaustion and screams of revolted rage.
I don’t know how to live in a fascist regime. I don’t know how to resist a fascist regime. But I know how to resist. A lot of people know how to resist. We can learn from each other, teach each other. I don’t know what this resistance will look like. I just know that we need to resist. And I know that we need to start now.