What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics? This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Since last year’s election catastrophe, I continue to struggle with coping. I have increased my contributions to organizations involving reproductive justice, immigrant rights, the environment, peace, racial justice, and progressive electoral politics. I attend demonstrations at least once a month and am involved in more grassroots community and neighborhood organizations. I go to the gym, ride a bike and take a lot of walks in Prospect Park. And, fortunately, I have family and friends and an adorable grandson who always makes me laugh.
What centers me is writing. A few days after the election I was asked to contribute to a collection of essays, titled Nasty Women and Bad Hombres. I banged out a proposal and was somewhat astonished that it was accepted since it wasn’t a proper proposal but a furious rant. I wrote the chapter during the first two months of Trump’s regime and, with one exception, it kept me away from the news. I was writing about ‘Nasty Woman’ Shirley Chisholm when Sean Spicer hosted Trump’s first press conference. In shock and awe but utterly transfixed by the TV and Trump’s blustering lies, I kept banging away about Chisholm, sexual harassment and being an Albany legislator. When the press conference was over, I noticed an empty bottle of Chardonnay next to my computer. Unaware, I had coped with Trump by downing — or self-medicating with? — a bottle of wine. I needed better survival mechanisms. Once I stopped watching the news and began eschewing liquor stores, I found I loved writing about Chisholm.
After I finished my Nasty Women chapter, I started in on my book on the Seattle women’s liberation movement — and this time without the news. Writing about the origins of women’s liberation — our actions, our confrontations, grass-roots activism and joyous discoveries — kept me slightly calmer. In Seattle we organized America’s first — and I believe the only — successful referendum on abortion rights, the first rape crisis center, the first battered women’s shelters and one of the first networks of feminist health clinics. We confronted Playboy playmates, bridal fairs, wet t-shirt contests, as well as racial and gender-segregated job fairs. We organized for day care centers, and joined picket lines supporting unionized and unionizing women workers. We wrote newsletters, magazines, feminist newspapers and countless leaflets. We endlessly debated every possible issue — the Equal Rights Amendment, men, race and racism, welfare, motherhood, vaginal orgasms, ‘who drives the car?’ housework. We worked in coalitions with women of color, and every woman’s group in Seattle spent countless hours discussing the interconnections between race and gender. And we made women’s lives better. As I write, I am reminded what can be accomplished through study, activism and organizing. Even though we are in dangerous times, writing about what I consider to be one of the most profound and long-lasting social upheavals in US history keeps alive a spark of hope. Right On! Write On!
Barbara Winslow is Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender Studies at Brooklyn College and the Founder and Director Emerita of The Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism.