By: Lessa Leigh
2016 may be remembered as the year where the wheels came off, where illusions were shattered, where the jackboots hit the concrete with resonating force. In the run up to December 31st, many were eager to shed the taint of disappointment, sadness, and fear. Who needs a year where all the beloved radical misfits die, and the class dunce becomes Leader of the Free World?
Make no mistake: 2016 was a game changer. Yet, even knowing that time moves forward relentlessly, people seem to have forgotten that the fight will gain definition and momentum in 2017. There have been too many self-congratulatory posts on social media. The impulse to take a breath and sigh in relief is understandable. It’s human. We survived. Go Team Us. It’s precisely these sentiments that we must ruthlessly purge from our narrative because they present a trap.
We are entering uncharted territory for our country. While we’ve seen the rise of fascist and authoritarian regimes around the world before, we held the quaint notion that we were immune to such forces: after all, we’re Americans. We’re a country founded on liberty and freedom for all, and our government is designed to have checks and balances to prevent demagoguery. The standard logic is that it’s impossible for us, with our clever electoral and Constitutional protections, to succumb to anything other than what was intended for a democratic republic.
PLEASE. STOP. THINKING. THIS.
It is a lie to believe that we are somehow safe in our country of laws and American ideals.
It is a lie to believe that because we have “good” jobs or food on our table or a roof over our heads that we are okay.
It is a lie to believe that our institutions will protect us. They may, but we cannot count on it.
It is a lie to believe that Americans will band together, despite ideological differences, and fight against tyranny. We may, but there are too many who see opportunity where we see coercion.
It is a lie to believe that our libertarian or progressive or anarchist values will triumph simply because we are “good people.”
If we are to survive what is coming, we must view ourselves with a clear lens. We must know where we are weak, where we are vulnerable, where we have work to do. We must also know what we are willing to sacrifice, from our comforts to our ideals to our lives. We must be willing to fight, to engage, to encourage, and to listen. We may be only granted one or two avenues to wage an assault on the opposition, and we may be required to join with those we’ve previously disdained.
What we will need is message discipline, courage, and a willingness to be fluid in our approach. Tyranny encourages rigidity. Fascism plays on emotional responses. We may find ourselves eager for respite, and in the name of “self-care” retreat into indulgences as a way to drown out the cries of those struggling. It’s a privilege many of us hold, and it’s one we must use sparingly. As Jamie Kalven says in this interview, others, who have lived through totalitarian regimes, warn about the dangers of becoming “internal emigres…[who] live one’s life wholly in the private realm, enjoying the company of friends, good food and drink, the pleasures of literature and music, and so on. Privileged sectors of our society are already heavily skewed that way. It’s a real danger at a time like this. If we withdraw from public engagement now, we aid and abet that which we deplore.”
Mr. Kalven’s warning resonates because so many of us can retreat. Our smugness comes directly from financial comfort and a lack of imagination. We’ve cocooned ourselves into chrysalises of our own design and even when we are discomforted in some way, whether by an annoying boss or an unexpected illness or a traffic jam, we can modify everything else to ease our pain. If we are to survive, we need to embrace each other as brothers and sisters in arms. Each one of us needs to find one issue that we will not ignore and pursue it. Each one of us has to demand nothing less than the truth from our elected officials and our fellow citizens. Each one of us has to forego polite silence as a tool of violence. Each one of us must stand firm against a potential onslaught of intimidation, ridicule, and abuse.
Welcome to 2017. If the horror show that was 2016 caused you surprise, you have no excuses now. Drain the dregs of warm champagne, finish off the leftover caviar, and face this year unafraid and determined. The resistance is waiting for you.