Hope Shattered, Hope Renewed
Friday afternoon was the highlight of recent weeks; along with most of the West Coast, the choking smog had put us all in quarantine, which meant that my family couldn’t be physically present at their schools, which meant that enough isolation time had passed that my son decided we could all safely meet again. I spent the day cooking and setting up little projects for my grandkids, including digging out those weird Halloween carving tools and picking up some plump little pumpkins for them. The grandkids arrived and all was joyful noise and confusion as they buzzed around, telling me everything they’ve been doing and excitedly rediscovering their favorite Granny-house playthings. As happy chaos reigned, my son got a phone call and drew a little apart to take it. I saw his face change and he said, “I’m really sorry,” in a very quiet voice. When I could speak privately to him I asked if everything was ok and he told me that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died.
In years to come, I suspect that we will hold the moment we learned about RBG’s death the way we oldies hold the impact of the news about President Kennedy or Dr. Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy being shot. For all of us, the shock probably ranks right up there with election day 2016. For several generations of American women, Justice Ginsberg stood for exactly that: Justice. Justice for women became inextricably linked with her work. Her name became a byword for gender rights, her honored nickname a watchword for women. In recent years, as the current regime stripped away as many human rights as possible, she became RBG, Superhero. Little girls wear RBG Halloween costumes (and I bet we’ll see lots of them this year). In a country where human rights and basic human decency are both under daily attack, RBG took on mythic qualities. She BECAME Justice. She seemed to be the last bastion, the only barrier between the American people and the gleeful, inhumane cruelty and relentless destruction of the current regime and its howling pack of rabid followers.
How To Carry On
That’s a lot to heap on the narrow shoulders of one small woman. In turning RBG into Our Hope, we dumped the burden of fighting on her, confident that she would live forever and carry on despite her increasing illness. She accepted so much of that burden, working repeatedly from her hospital bed, as did John Lewis back in July (which seems like years ago), writing his soulful, moving testament from his death bed, reminding us that it’s OUR life work to keep getting in Good Trouble. Just as John Lewis’s ceaseless fight for civil rights did not die with him, but took on new force, so RBG’s ceaseless fight for gender rights does not end with her death. She planted seeds in our darkness, seeds of hope and seeds of strength and seeds of action.
I was heartened to watch as contributions poured into the campaigns of progressive and liberal candidates across the country. Those who can give money are doing it generously, and already some polls are showing positive effects. Not everyone can give money, but we can all give time and thought and energy. In my small community, dozens, maybe hundreds of people are doubling their efforts to contact swing voters, enroll new voters, write and call to elected officials. On Friday evening, I used Resistbot, the speedy little app 50409 to let my own elected officials know that I want them to do everything in their power to block the movement to replace RBG before the election. To do this, you text or use Messenger, putting 50409 in the address box and put SIGN NTFIEZ in the message box. To see the sample letter, write SAMPLE. To add your name, say YES. On Friday, I was signer #6,273. This morning, 901,580 people have signed. You can use Resistbot for many issues and once it knows your zip code, it also knows the appropriate elected officials to notify. Here’s the link: https://resist.bot/
Seeds Planted In Darkness
As I’ve been gathering seeds from my garden, I’ve been thinking about the seeds RBG planted in us all. No matter how strong and wise and learned and passionate she was, she could not transform our legal system alone. She could not change our laws alone. She could not reach and teach every parent and school kid alone. Nobody could. So it’s never enough to mandate changes, we have to learn to live into them, and bring others along with us. I’m seeing and hearing the anger in so many of us, anger and bone shaking fear of what may be coming. It makes me realize how much we were counting on one stalwart yet frail old woman to safeguard our rights and our world. No one person can do that. But many people, working in small ways or larger ways, in small groups or huge ones, can create real, lasting change.
The long days of grey, swirling smog made me feel like I was lost in limbo, out of touch with people and place. Smoke triggers the vertigo that has never quite left me in over a year now. When I went out to water the garden, I staggered blind, in hazy silence. No bird song. No insects buzzing. All sounds were muffled except the mournful foghorns. Though the choking smoke is largely gone for me, I hear from friends in Oregon and California, in Idaho and Montana and Colorado, even in far off New England, that the poisonous breath of dying trees and burning homes is still affecting millions of people. Even without the smoke, it’s still foggy here, and today I can hardly see down the street. I can barely see my way to tomorrow. At least, not alone.
What Gives Me Hope
But! Yesterday, I was strongly heartened to hear Joe Biden asking Senators to uphold their constitutional duty, listen to their own conscience, and stand by their colleagues who pledge they will not vote to replace RBG at this fraught time. I admire Biden for reminding the Senate that there’s no need to create another hostile fight and there’s every reason to remember how to work together respectfully. That gives me hope for our country and our people. So overall, I don’t feel hopeless or helpless. For one thing, Friday was also the day that our Senior Center Inclusion Study Group met to talk about Tema Okun’s thoughtful, provocative examination of 15 major aspects of White Supremacy culture. Our expanding group now includes some 60+ people, from seniors to Highschool students and teachers to participants from our local historic museum and even the art museum (which offers amazingly diverse programing). Hearing kids and parents and grandparents talk about how they are looking at their own lives and assumptions through new lenses gives me courage, strength and yes, hope. Hope not that these remarkable, wise, smart, dedicated, courageous kids will fix it all for us but hopeful understanding that we the people can indeed work together to change our understandings by trying on the equity lens, the gender lens, the queer lens, the visually impaired lens.
Hope we place in others can be a burden and a cop out. If I hoped that RBG could keep the current regime at bay without my help, I was forced to realize that my hope was unfounded. If my hope that younger generations will step up keeps me from action, it is unfounded and unfair. I love that one thing that drew the students to our study group was the desire to help us oldies protest effectively in the time of covid19. When some of us were stuck in lockdown facilities and many of us were not ready to mingle in crowds, masked or not, the kids offered to create car caravan protests with us. They are united with us, and so are many of their friends and families. There are sadly all too many reasons to protest right now but right now is what we have to work with. The good news is that we never have to work or walk alone. Onward!