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.
My response to the 2017 election has traveled in two opposite directions. The inevitable one was to commit to more political action. So, yes, handmade signs made for marches are piling up in my home – I have one that’s of a melting Earth on an ice cream cone; others with quotes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the courage of women and from Eleanor Roosevelt that the future belongs to dreamers. Surely there are more posters to come, but we’ve saved these because there will likely be reasons to use them – the exact same ones – again.
In addition to the national and global moments of protest, the more enduring political action I’ve initiated has been to become hyperlocal. Some of this is because my locality is heavily anti-Trump: in my voting district, 94% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton. I found this to be deeply comforting in the shock and despair of the aftermath. So, the weekend directly following the election, I swept up the leaves in front of my own building and then went over to help the person doing the same in front of the church on my block. I also now gather with neighbors on the second Sunday of every month, together forming a local chapter of the national feminist anti-racist network Solidarity Sundays whose task is to write and call legislators regarding whatever crisis is currently exploding. Like so many of the Solidarity Sundays groups scattered around the country, ours localizes the directions given by the national group: fighting specific gun legislation in New York State and, even more pressing for my neighborhood, the rise of the Independent Democratic Conference of the New York State Assembly (a group of elected Democrats who caucus with Republicans). My State Senator is one of them, and I’ll be working to kick him out of office in September 2018. I’m finding solace in these concrete, albeit small, steps of resistance that bind me to my block.
The other direction of my resistance takes more effort. My colleague Mark Larrimore identified early on what I take to be a primary challenge and consequence of the election: the colonization of the mind by All Things Trump. I study the arts, a realm of society that Trump cares nothing about and is far down his list of targets (despite the animus he directed at the Hamilton cast, post-Pence visit) – and his ignorance of my chosen interest is indeed of some small comfort. But it’s also easy to feel guilty about thinking about anything that is not a direct response to the dozens of crises the administration has spawned. Of course, some artists are right at the front line, swinging. But many are not. Exactly how is a ballet company to respond? Justin Peck’s 2017 ballet The Times are Racing was the closest a ballet company came to connecting to the chaos of the moment, but most art lives by being both responsive to a moment and far beyond it at the same time. I’m working to achieve the same balance. To continue to be aware of the political day and to think, write, research, and teach about issues that have nothing to do with Trump at all. My survival depends on believing in that world as well.