Post-Election Power

This is a guest post by the director of Seattle Historical Arts for Kids, Shulamit Kleinerman:

I’m certainly experiencing the horror, panic, and rage that I think is entirely appropriate to tomorrow’s event. It seems abundantly clear that bad things that we can’t even imagine yet are going to happen — both to us, and to others in our names, which may be even worse. I’m not an optimist by nature. At the same time, to my own surprise, for the last few days I’ve been feeling almost physically buoyed, elated, by a sense of our capacity to survive and take care of each other.

medieval-musiciansI love that Saturday’s marches are women’s marches, because these two months for me have been all about reconnecting with my amazing women friends, one of whom is on a plane right now to visit. I love that the students in my city are walking out, and I am filled with hope by the young people I know, by their intelligence and their total lack of bullshit. I’m thrilled to think that some of the young people around us are feeling radicalized in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime (not even when my middle school friends and I used to protest the Gulf War every Saturday morning of that winter, which now seems so innocent a time, when there was such a thing commonly understood as “the news,” the era of Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, when the teachers could roll the TV cart into the common area at a middle school to track what was happening and there was probably a more or less apolitical choice of network channels). I love that we are learning where we had fallen short of our democratic ideals and that we can aim higher because we get it more now. American democracy has only ever been partial, in both senses of the word.

I spend most of my time working with beautiful art from pre-Enlightenment Europe, and it gives me some thoughts about this. Many centuries of people have put up with vile behavior from those who govern. The ones who didn’t die early and brutally, who couldn’t save the ones who did, kept living. They kept practicing their crafts and making babies and making art, and that’s why we’re here. This is still true today in, oh, most of the world, right? We are not so special. Maybe the peasants could have revolted sooner than they did, but we understand that they were weighing their options and chances and responsibilities individually every day. Like them, we are subject to history. Some things (the global scope of destructive superpower, the vicious and irreversible reach of certain weaponries and industries) seem very much worse now. Other things seem better, maybe, at least for many of us. I am keenly aware of the richness of my life, professionally and personally. I’ve never enjoyed it so much as I’m enjoying it all right now. “Enjoy” seems like almost a sacrilegious word, but I am loving it. I think our past heroes may have said a few things about how the strength to resist comes from these places.

Also, we get to have new heroes. Even in the last few days now, for every awful thing happening, there is someone speaking out whose story we discover for maybe the first time. Every horror can be matched by another right action. We can watch those actions and we can do them too. In one way our powers are being viciously curtailed, but in another way, the context makes our actions more meaningful than they were before, which is another kind of power to embrace. That’s my hope, anyway. Bring it on.