Inspired and Hopeful

Isaac Hollander McCreery, 30 August 2016

As August has come and gone, many people in my community are traveling. My house is quieter sometimes as my housemates leave, but usually there are guests here staying with one person or another, and they more than make up for the absences. The end of summer has brought many, many new faces around, from as far away as Japan and Italy. I hear almost daily stories about lovely time spent with friends and family.

I also hear a constant refrain: a moratorium on conversations about Trump. Yes, the candidacy of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—more and more literally by the day—garners many reactions, but inspiration is one that I feel in myself that I rarely hear from others. Not that I’m inspired by Trump, but because his candidacy is such a wild turn of events, and this wild moment inspires me to do something.

Let me back up a moment. I have learned a lot already as I’ve come to know Seattle and built a life here as an organizer. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to reflect on my own life as I’ve spent more time talking with others about their lives. I’ve been reflecting on how I made my way from a morally confused high-schooler grappling with my own existence to an even more confused, Rand-touting Objectivist (I blush); to a heartbroken, raging feminist, after seeing my own masculinity tear apart a relationship I loved; to where I am now, an ex-software engineer pouring my life into community empowerment. Here’s the thing that sticks out to me most—both in my own life and in the lives of those around me: it is only really possible to confront deep fear and despair, and to feel hope, when consideration is accompanied by action. In other words, real acknowledgement of the political reality of our world comes hand-in-hand with doing something about it. Sure, there have been many times when I’ve considered the political reality of, say, climate change or mass incarceration and not taken action to go along with that consideration. But in those situations I—we—always stay removed in a sympathetic, rather than engaged, role. I have only ever touched the bottom of my own pain, that place under my heart, right near my diaphragm, and resurfaced, out of breath but still alive, when I have felt that I am part of a community that can—and will—make a difference.

So this is where I’m coming from when I say that I’m inspired by Trump’s candidacy. His ascent to legitimate GOP candidacy has shaken the establishment, both the right and left, and stirred up emotions, including fear. I can’t resist calling on Yoda for expert testimony:

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

But there is another way, of course. After Yoda pulls Luke’s ship out of the swamp, Luke exclaims, “I don’t believe it!”

“That is why you failed,” Yoda responds. Belief leads to hope and hope to action—and action reaffirms belief and hope. Here is the choice, then, in Yoda’s terms: fearful disengagement or hopeful action. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Almost three years ago, Professor David Orr delivered a lecture at Oberlin College that I railed on the administration for misunderstanding:

This is no time for complacency […] There is such a thing as too late […] Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.

Orr was talking about climate change and mass pollution, but his words stack up well against the Trump candidacy too. Professor Orr’s words rang in my head for weeks afterward. And it is that fact that means we can’t remain fearfully disengaged.

There are about a thousand things any one of us can do. But there is something now that I want to ask you to do now. It takes almost no time, something we all have too little of, but it does take money, something that many of us have too much of.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network that organizes white people to oppose racism, which disproportionately harms people of color, but it harms all of us [1]. White folks need to stand alongside people of color in a movement to build the world we want to see. This year, SURJ is taking on an unprecedented national grassroots project to delve into white people’s own stories about race and racism, harness white people’s emotions—fear, anger, and others—around Trump’s candidacy, and convert those stories and emotions into active anti-racist allyship. SURJ has been piloting a new program this year called “deep canvassing”, which does exactly that. Canvassers go door-to-door, but open with questions that encourage people to articulate their own stories and experiences around race and racism. It encourages us white folks to connect deeply and powerfully to the ways racism against folks of color also harms us. This fall SURJ will be taking lessons learned over the last six months to get out into white communities and canvass against Trump and for a broad-base movement against racism. [2]

So let me be the first to invite you to join in and support this work. I’m inspired by this wild moment to take action against Donald Trump, and I see the fight against his presidency, coming in the same moment as the Vision for Black Lives, as an important catalyzing moment for building a broad, grassroots antiracist movement in the U.S.

Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up, so let’s roll up our sleeves!

[1] When I think about how racism harms me as a white person, lots of things come to mind. Racism segregated my city: a history of racial covenants in the North End means almost all of my neighbors are white, meaning I live in an unfortunately homogeneous community. Racism props up a system where disproportionate numbers of youth of color get locked up for no good reason, which also robs me of the opportunity to have those people as part of my community. And, racism has taught me deeply held stories about my own racial superiority that—despite my best efforts to resist them—persist.

[2] You can read up on deep canvassing in this article by the New York Times or this article in Bloomberg.