Thoughts on the pace of progress

The last two weeks have been horrific and traumatic. A white terrorist killed eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women, in what was undeniably a racially motivated hate crime. A man with unlimited access to military grade weapons killed 10 people in a grocery store around the corner from a good friend’s house in Boulder. The Grand Ol Party of white supremacy and voter suppression passed a bill in Georgia so heinous that it makes it illegal to hand a human being a bottle of water. And now we wait with nauseous dread to see if any sliver of justice will be awarded to the family of a man who was killed in daylight, on film, under the knee of a police officer.

You’d think, after all we’ve been through, we’d have arrived someplace different from here.

Because it sure as hell feels like here is exactly where we were 13 months ago - afraid to send our kids to school not because an airborne infectious disease might kill them and their teachers, but because an unhinged man with a gun might. Fighting GOP voter suppression laws before the will of the people rejected fascism through free and fair elections. Dreading yet another verdict that rendered Black lives and bodies and futures meaningless.

You’d have thought after the mishandling a global pandemic that has led to the death of 550,000 (and counting) American lives and the catastrophic dissolution of the American economy, the party who fumbled and fell and failed us over and over wouldn’t still be deciding how and when and where we vote; how and when and where we buy weapons; who we “other” and mock and oppress and ultimately kill.

But, here we are.

Thrust right back into the fears and anger and anxiety and sadness of all the things that used to make us scared and angry and anxious and sad before a global pandemic and year-long quarantine did.

And it’s fair to wonder, as a friend on Instagram did after I recently posted about donating to Everytown - “What’s changed? I’ve been donating to Everytown since Newtown and what’s changed?”

I’m sure many of you have felt the same heartsunk helplessness, whether about gun violence or reproductive rights or voter suppression.

Here, again. No matter what I do. No matter how much money I give. No matter who I vote for.

So first, before I tell you my thoughts about why you can only linger there for a hot minute, let me say that you are not alone. I feel this too - less so now, but in the early days of my activism and political work that doubtful little jackass saying “see I told you so - nothing’s ever going to change so just GIVE UP!” was always lurking around the corner. A snotty nosed little brat, a “nah nah de boo boo” bully who taunted me and then ran away without offering any ideas about what else I could be doing to make the pace of change go faster.

And even though that asshole is not doing anyone any favors, he has a point.

How the fuck can you, can all of us, work so hard for something, for so many years, and continue being faced with the same crushing disappointment? Are we doing it wrong? Or is it just not worth our time?

And then we remember, in shame or solace, the wisdom of our elders, who fought way longer and way harder and had way much more to lose with every blow. We remember their many beautiful metaphors, Martin Luther King Jr’s words about the moral arc of the universe, and how its long and it bends. Not a sharp right turn, but a weight hanging heavy on the end of a branch, slowly over time bringing it down to the earth.

To understand why this branch just won’t snap, even under the weight of 81,283,098 voters and hundreds of well funded social justice organizations being propelled by thousands upon thousands of activists and organizers, we have to really understand what’s holding it up to begin with.

This is a carefully designed game of eternal whack-a-mole - bans on abortions over 6 weeks over here in Ohio, the New (Old) Jim Crow voter suppression laws down there in Georgia, a gun safety bill that was voted down by Republicans just weeks before the shooting in Colorado. Underneath the plastic top all the moles are connected and working together to achieve their ultimate goal.

Unlimited, unchallenged white male power.

And in order to achieve that, they have one very clear tactic that they apply to everyone who isn’t white and male and straight and cis.

To exhaust us. To deplete us. To make us say, in their absolute wildest dreams these words: “Nothing’s changed, so I might as well stop trying.”

To turn over our power and let them have theirs, unchecked.

That’s what those dirty disgusting low rent fairground rodents are trying to do.

People for centuries have been whacking THESE SAME GODDAMNED PATHETIC ASS MOLES and they haven’t stopped popping up. So yeah, I hear you. Where’s the fucking funnel cake, I’m over this.

The fair is full of other interesting shit, like ferris wheels and corn dogs and carousels, things that don’t require engaging in this unending madness. So why should you waste another minute doing it?

Here are my thoughts on why.

You shouldn’t walk away yet, because look. Look at these moles. They have been whacked on the head so many times that coils are sticking out of their matted fur. Their eyes are hanging out of their sockets, the music has stopped playing, and the greasy haired guy running the booth is wearing one of those “I pooped today” shirts you can buy at, and only at, the Atlantic City boardwalk.

They are on their last leg. I know that people way older than us thought that a long time ago, but you can just see with your own eyes now - this thing don’t have much life left in it.

And though it can feel like Groundhog Day (rodent pun intended) there actually haven’t been that many of us whacking them for all that long.

And by “us” I mean white people.

Remember how there’s that other stuff that distracted you at the fair? That stuff hasn’t been, and still isn’t, available to many many folks who bought the same ticket as you to get access to this rinky dink side show. While you had your sexy moment with Mark Wahlberg on the roller coaster, people of color had to spend a good potion of the day whacking the moles in order to get out of there alive, or without shackles on their feet.

Some of us have been actively engaged in the dirty grimy exhausting monotonous work of fighting the moles for a long time now. Some of us have been consumed by it, made it our life’s work. For some of us it’s meaningful and rewarding. For others its draining and depleting.

But no one doing the work wants anything more than for other people to pick up the mallet and start whacking too.

That’s the one and only thing that will wear these moles out faster. Not just a donation to Everytown after a shooting. But a commitment to staying in line and doing the work all the other days of the year.

So what does “the work” really mean?

It means your money. It means deciding how much you can give so that you can feel it in your life; not how little can you give so you won’t. It means deciding that having quick goods or a cheap flight or your favorite brand of hummus is not worth more to you than another human’s freedom. It means investing in the businesses and dreams and projects of the anti-moles.

It means your time. It means figuring out the causes that matter most to you and your heart, and finding the organizations fighting for them, and then signing up to receive their emails, actually reading them, sharing their content on social media, doing what they are asking you to do, reaching out to them and asking “what more can I do?” It means reading and reading and reading some more. It means taking seminars and classes on antiracism and social justice that push you, challenge you, scare you.

It means your energy. It means knowing your energy, using your energy, and conserving your energy. It means knowing how to engage with power and purpose, and when to not engage at all. It means making this a priority; it means making this THE priority. Not a thing you do, but the lens through which you do all things.

It means changing your question from “why has nothing changed?” to “why have I not changed?”

Because all of us - even the most pure abolitionist activists I admire beyond words - can change more, bigger, truer. Not just DO more. But deepen our commitment in ways that continue to push us past our edges.

And now I hate to tell you this, since you’re all jazzed up in line to whack these sad ass moles. But when these moles die there will be a new and improved booth, with even fancier rats, made by Halliburton’s rebranded company. (Bullihurtin?)

Frederick Douglass said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” We aren’t doing this work to achieve something and dust off our hands and be done. We are doing this to move somewhere new. With our minds, our hearts, our legislation, our leaders, our lives. That’s why we call it The Movement. It’ll never stop, be still or end.

If the whacking of the moles feels too depressing, or too aggro, here’s another metaphor that helps me when the pace feel glacial and the schoolyard brat is taunting me yet again.

We’re on a ladder. The ladder is progress. Sometimes we’re moving upwards, sometimes we’re stuck still.

But the ladder itself is never ending. I’ll never get to the top and I know that. Often the rungs look like the EXACT SAME rungs I just climbed a week ago, a year ago, 10 years ago.

But they aren’t. No one has ever climbed these same rungs before, and no one will again. When someone joins the ladder brigade and starts climbing they don’t start at the bottom - they join us where we are.

And we keep climbing, rung by rung, not to get closer to something, but to see better. With every step, the view opens up. We open up.

It doesn’t feel fast as we’re climbing, but once you’re on the ladder you know that every step takes you somewhere new.

And no other ride in the park promises that.