I’m sure we’ve all heard the cliche “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Since the election, there has been no shortage of doomsday scenarios, most valid and worth heeding. We need to be vigilant when it comes to–well, everything now. Hate crimes are on the rise; the environmental movement, after scoring a big win with the Paris climate accords, is preparing for the undermining the Trump administration promises; world leaders, nervous, are leaning on President Obama for reassurance about what they might expect from an uncertain Trump presidency; public education is threatened with Trump’s nomination of charter school and voucher advocate Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary; Trump is packing his cabinet with noted white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, “business associates”, and just about anyone else patently wrong for the job. So much for “draining the swamp”. I tweeted the other day that Trump is the middle finger on America’s backhand. We’re probably going to look back on these days as some of the most tumultuous in our lives. Hold on tightly. It’s going to be a wild ride.
I don’t want to be another messenger of pessimism, though. I am naturally a cynic and have to fight every day to lift my head up far enough to glimpse sunshine on the horizon. So I’m going to do that. Prepare to be encouraged. If you’re in the market for something dark and brooding, read my poetry. (Just google my name and “poetry”.)
Three years ago I learned about a guy named Bernie Sanders. Ever hear of him? When Bernie decided to run for President, I was one of the first to sign up for everything I could attend and do–phone banking, canvassing, attending rallies, adorning my person with myriad Bernie 2016 propaganda. Anyone who wanted to talk about Bernie found me a willing proponent. I never considered myself an “activist” before that. I assumed that term was reserved for hard-liners who get themselves arrested protesting oil pipelines and clear-cutting forests. I still don’t presume to place myself in their camp. They are far more noble than I. But an activist I was, and am, in the general sense of the word. Being a part of that political revolution naturally introduced me to others equally passionate about improving the political and social landscape. I looked Hope squarely in her stunning azure eyes. Do you know what she looks like? Like millions of people standing on the right side of history with a genuine love for this country and their fellow Americans. Like never rolling over when the odds appear insurmountable. Like getting up and dusting ourselves off because we have the inspiration of our forebears inside us. Like the winds of fundamental progressive democracy blowing at our backs. I saw kindness. I saw enthusiasm. I felt high on the realization I was leaping out of my comfort zone to engage in the process that affects honest egalitarian change. I felt proud to live in a country where I, a lowly high school English teacher and poet, could be even considered an instrument for that change.
But Bernie did not get nominated. Frustrated, feeling undermined by the establishment we felt we were taking on, most of us heeded our mentor and threw our support behind Hillary Clinton. Our activism, our voices, forced her to respond, and led to the most progressive democratic platform in modern American history.
Now we’re here. Election season is over. Trump will be our president. Ugh. How could all that enthusiasm, all that energy have gone to waste? What did we fail to do?
The answer is: nothing. I don’t mean everything went perfectly. This election was a referendum on the establishment, on both sides, and the Democratic Party did plenty wrong ignoring Bernie and failing to go all in on his political revolution. But because of Bernie, because of the political revolution his supporters fomented, there are millions more now part of a political process they–like I–never imagined being a part of. They–we–did nothing wrong. In fact, from the grassroots paradigm, it couldn’t have worked any better. Just last week, while touring the CNN studios in Atlanta, a colleague turned to me and said, “Remember a time when no one knew or cared about a president’s cabinet? Now everyone cares.”
That’s right. We care. We’re paying attention. That’s a silver lining. We tweet, we call our lawmakers to remind them we follow what they are doing, and let them know when they disappoint us. We email them and the newspapers. That’s a silver lining.
Now is not the time to duck and hope it all goes away quickly. It won’t. The effects of Trump’s decisions–or, rather, Pence’s decisions, since he is going to be the one pulling the strings behind the scenes–will reverberate for generations. But we have come too far to grab our ankles now. If we truly love this nation; if we believe America is already great and wish to keep it so for our children and grandchildren, we have an existential duty to keep swinging. Join your local Democratic party and inquire about how to become a precinct committee chair. This will ensure progressive candidates get on primary ballots so we reshape the party from the inside; or, run for office yourself. If neither of those options interest you, at the very least, show up and let your voice be heard.
Bernie isn’t going anywhere. I promise you, he, Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison, and others in the Progressive Caucus, will scream louder than we’ve ever heard. Our voices must join theirs. As Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He was, of course, referring to our revolution with Great Britain, but we are now entering another trying time. Let’s not look back on these ensuing years with regret.