Diary: ''I'm ready for the fight"

IssueDecember 2016 - January 2017
Comment by Nicole Marin Baena

I had the fortune of being far from home when the election results came in. I’d had a pretty lovely evening, getting shown by a friend around his neighbourhood in Brooklyn and then bussing over to meet my friend Daniel at the place we’d be staying for the next couple of days.

On the bus, a sweet black girl, maybe about six years old, sat next to me and talked about the new house she and her mommy were moving to, and showed me the ‘I Voted!’ sticker she’d gotten from her daddy. Two other women were discussing the election results with each other, which states had already been called. Our eyes met and we talked about our hopes for how this election would go. We got off the bus and wished each other good luck and safety as we started off in different directions.

It was soon after Daniel and I got settled into the living room we’d be sleeping in that I realised that this was not going to go the way I thought it would. I was afraid that it would be a close election, but I did hope Hillary would win it. Even if I hate her and I fear many of her policies, I felt like eight years of Barack Obama had prepared us for a fight with Hillary, and, well, as they say: ‘Más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer.

Almost like the blues

Daniel and I slept fitfully, waking up every couple of hours to discuss new results or other news we’d picked up. The closest thing I can think of to how I felt is a terrible break-up: the horrible stomach ache of ‘Oh, dear God, I don’t want this new reality’; trying to go to sleep with the hope that you’ll wake up to discover that this was all just a bad dream and things are actually totally fine; but then waking up to the same deep-stomach horror, further and further cemented.

I believe I will remember that night forever. Maybe we will all remember where we were.

I felt lucky to be far from home for a few reasons: I didn’t want to deal with the new realities of my everyday life quite yet.

What would my house look like in the morning in a state that went red? What about my neighbourhood, what would the casual conversations I have with my mostly-working-class black neighbours be like now? They were so careful to ask if we had voted and if we knew where our polling place was. What about my walk to work? What would that be like now?

I also felt glad because in my town many of my people were anti-Hillary from the left: an argument I can intellectually understand, but couldn’t bring myself to agree with from a harm-reduction perspective.

(I know this is a whole can of worms, and I’m not bringing it up in the spirit of blaming, just in the spirit of recognising a political difference I’d been avoiding talking about, and didn’t want to have to talk about quite yet. And still don’t, come to think of it.)

Daniel and I were in town to co-facilitate a training that I wasn’t too excited about, and I’d joked a lot about ‘calling in Trump’ if the election went this way, but, in spite of that, I found myself getting dressed, putting on shoes, and walking a mile to the training site.

We didn’t exactly know what to expect in terms of people’s feelings and so we re-designed to allow a lot of space for people to bring in whatever they felt like.

Early into the day I realised that just acting in the service of people’s learning, and holding a lot of compassion for the participants, could give me comfort and purpose.

I feel so proud of the work we were able to do. People learned and practiced and took risks in an environment that felt gentle.

I moved from my numbness, rage, and anxiety into a place of actual excitement. We’ve never gotten a window quite like this one. The right will have all its ducks in a row: president, senate, house, supreme court. I know in my heart they won’t be able to solve the things that are ailing us or anyone else.

If we can be skilful in building relationships and having genuine curiosity about what it is people hope will come out of this presidential term, I believe we will find all kinds of openings to do new, rich work.

I’m reminded of a quotation by one of my favorite photographers, Walker Evans: ‘Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.’

I understand that it’s my privilege talking, but there is no time like now to use it: I feel brave and up to this challenge.

At the same time, I know that these are horrifying times to be an immigrant, or Black, Muslim, queer, trans, etc in this country.

I’m not sure we know how bad exactly things are going to get, but I’m beginning to steel myself for these new realities. I’m also wondering about my own work, which is so much about building the other world that is feeling a little less possible this week than it did the last. How much will it change? How much will my focus and that of the communities I work with have to shift towards crisis response instead of building new futures? We can’t know yet, but I’m preparing.

Some of you know that there have been many times in my life, including in the very, very recent past, where living didn’t really seem like something I should be trying to do anymore.

I think that’s partly why I like that song ‘Guide My Feet, While I Run this Race’ so much: because God knows that if it was up to me to guide my own feet, I would’ve stumbled out of the race a really long time ago. It is divine providence and all of you that keep me here, keep me purposeful, and challenge me to try to be more kind, more curious, more rigorous, and less lazy.

Let’s be clear: these are truly horrible and scary circumstances. But my favorite thing about humans is our ability to manufacture beauty out of almost anything, even (sometimes literally) actual trash.

To my friends who are afraid, to my friends who are angry, to my friends who are numb, to my friends who are still trying to figure out what this all means: I see you and I love you. And I’m ready for the fight.

Nicole Marín Baena lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA.

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