I woke up this morning feeling pretty sober.
I’m delighted about yesterday’s retaking of the House. That was required. We had no other choice. Having a check on this president is essential for our survival. We stopped the non-stop onslaught. We have not, however, stopped the threat. By winning the House yesterday, we earned the 2 years we need to do the work required to stop this lawless presidency and get some damn reasoning and order back into our government. We’re not there yet. We’ve only earned the opportunity to do the work.
I’m very serious about that language and it’s the language we should all be using. This is an opportunity to do the damn work we haven’t been able to do for the last 2 years and we didn’t do back in 2016. Now is the time to apply the lessons learned. Now is the time to choose new ideas and strategies. Now is the time to be a different sort of people applying new and different strategies that will move the needle.
Today, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to listen to this short story by Karen E. Bender. It’s the perfect thing to listen to today. It’s the perfect message for today and tomorrow and the next 2 years. It’s 30 minutes of your time and it’s important. Listen to it while you’re washing dishes or doing your holiday crafting or enjoying a moment during the baby’s nap time today. Listen to this story and hear the message. If it resonates with you, send it to your friends. I just bought Karen’s book today. I can’t wait to share this story with my students.
The next thing I want you to do is return to the table. I want you to go home for Thanksgiving and sit across the table from some folks you’ve been tuning out. Choose to show up for the conversation, however it might go. I want you to start shopping at the farmer’s market two towns over. You know the one: the one just at the edge of the country and the ‘burbs, where the Trump signs never went down. I want you to start shopping there. I want you to start getting coffee there and having friendly conversations there. I want you to listen to the stories, choosing to speak and laugh and be. Presence matters. Showing up matters.
Here’s why I’m asking for this: we get our ass kicked on the margins during elections. Sure, we get the population centers, but we always seem to campaign in the places we feel comfortable. We don’t like campaigning in the rural areas. We don’t show up there and we have decided we “don’t know those people” or we write them off as “absolutely red” with no chance of hearing us out and therefore we don’t even bother. We also don’t show up in the poor urban places, either. We show up when we want something, but we don’t show up for them during the other times of the cycle. The Republican party owns the margins. They own those low-population teeny tiny country districts. They own the “outer ring.” They only own it because they show up there. They eat there, sleep there, share pie and pancakes there, baptize their babies there and get married there. Because they know those places, they know exactly what to say and how to stoke fear there. To Republicans, those marginal spaces are full of people they understand and therefore people who they can manipulate. It’s too easy. We’ve made it entirely too easy for them. We’ve made it so easy that passed 2 major tax-cuts for the rich, plan to completely gut essential safety-nets like Social Security and Medicare, and yet they spent the entirety of their campaign talking about immigration and nobody on that side blinked. If you’re a limited-income citizen living in a rural town with one doctor and you’re sick, that campaign was a travesty and you don’t even know it because all you can think about is brown people a few thousand miles away. It’s powerful because it’s unbelievable. We let them do it because we don’t know that small-town citizen. We’ve never shown up for them. We don’t know where they live, we don’t know where they work, we have never shown an interest in their well-being. Why should he trust us when we say this is bullshit?
And the other reason why I’m asking is because of the kitchen table-gap created by this. We’re separate and unequal, Dear Reader. We live in two worlds. We speak wholly different languages and we’ve become dependent few people (or networks) who have become the translators. That’s bullshit and dangerous and it’s kicking our ass. Integration matters: not just for race, but also for ideas. So yes, that’s why I need you to get back to the table. You can do this without normalizing hatred or justifying bad behavior. I want you to get involved in more local things. Get on a board of something. Join a group of something. You might want to consider going to church (you can find a flavor that works best for you. I promise. We did it.). We have to fill in this gap and the only way to do it is to show up and sustain our presence in the places where we’ve retreated.
And we women, especially, have work to do. Because there is a small cohort of women in this country who seem to have an outsized influence on the rest of us. If you hang out with middle-class/upper-middle-class educated white women between the ages of 40 and 60, you have very important work to do. This is what we have to say to them: don’t vote thinking about your today, vote thinking about your daughter’s tomorrow. Vote keeping in mind that your daughter needs equal pay so she can earn enough money to support her family. Vote keeping in mind that your daughter needs protection from abusive men at home and in the workplace. Vote keeping in mind that your daughter needs quality healthcare for herself and for her children. Don’t vote thinking about your today. Vote thinking of your daughter’s tomorrow.
This can’t be a message that plays out “above our heads” in the national conversation. This has to happen at dining room tables. At kitchen islands with wine in hand. At the sidelines at the soccer game. At the kitchen sink washing dinners after Thanksgiving dinner. The conversation should be between women, controlled by women, and fully about women. And frankly, white women, you need to be brave enough to start this conversation and sustain it. Make it about you because it is about you looking beyond the comforts of your (and your husband’s) today and instead looking toward everyone else’s tomorrow.
So here is the real talk: if you’re a liberal white women who loves reading my blog, I want you to put away your hat and your pins and your postcards and I want you to pick up a bottle of wine and start inviting your friends over. I want you to stop talking and start listening. I want you to share stories and be serious and expand the worldview of the people in your life who you don’t always agree with. I want you to repeat after me and make it the thesis of your work for the next 2 years: it’s not the comforts of our today, it’s about our daughters’ tomorrow. Black women, Asian Women and Latina women seem to get this. Ya’ll have to do the work and only ya’ll can do it.
We have work to do. It starts small and it’s going to be uncomfortable because it has to be personal and intimate. There is room for more protests and rallies and investigations and bigger stuff, but the work that’s going to move the needle, the work that is going to get us a better world, is the work on the margins. You live on the margins, Dear Reader. The margin is your living room. The margin is your dining room. The margin is your kitchen counter. Who are you going to invite there?
And to be clear, I’m not asking you to chip away at the person who is never going to be moved. I’m asking you to start talking to the people you know only on that polite surface level. The people you’ve never thought to ask, or the people you don’t talk to about serious things because “it’s just not polite” or “it’s crossing a line.” And I’m not asking you to jump in feet first with politics. I’m just asking you to expand and blend your circles. Knowns and unknowns. I’m asking you to listen and absorb and observe. I’m asking you visit the marginal spaces and see what you can see, learn what you can learn, know what you can know. By doing so, you’ll teach a little something, you’ll grow a little way, you’ll expand the worldviews of others, and you can make a difference.
If we learned anything from last night, we learned that margins fucking matter.
Margins fucking matter, Dear Reader.
The work is on the margins.
We earned 2 years of work to do.
So take up freedom’s plow, Dear Reader, and get to work.
I’ll see you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.