constellational thinker. critical scholar. transformative educator.

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The Evolving Task of Protecting Hopefulness

In some ways, I am trying to catch my breath.  In other ways, I am trying to ground myself in my body, to reclaim my mind from what seems like a prolonged dissociation.  This election night was scary for me in many ways.  It was scary for what the outcomes on the national, state, and local levels meant for me and those who I call my kin.  Because so often rhetoric, however harmless folks may view it, has continued consequences for those most marginalized in our society.

As usual, for processing, for community building, I turn to writing.  And one of the things I both tweeted this morning and that I retweeted this evening was a repeated phrase: "protect hopefulness."  This language comes from Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy and the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Stevenson describes four components of effective social justice work.  

First, you must work to change the narrative of the issue or issues you are working on as many people often hold a single story about that particular issue (e.g., those who are incarcerated are inherently bad).  

Second, you must be in proximity to the work or communities you are trying to work with and alongside of (e.g., those who fight for prison reform or abolition must work together to be better informed and not just online).  

Third, we must be willing to do uncomfortable things in the name of progress (e.g., being willing to engage others who do not think like you).  

And finally, what always resonated with me the most of the four, we must protect hopefulness.  If we do not have hope, if we do not believe society can change, the entire impetus for our work is over before it started.  I/we must protect hopefulness because the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness is not new to so many of us, especially those of us whose communities have consistently been marginalized in the United States.  In the face of a fearful presidential election result for me and many others who share my perceptions/reality, this is the phrase that continued to ground my soul and mind in my body, to anchor me in moving forward.

As part of my protecting hopefulness, I will not promote a false equivalency.  Did Hillary Clinton talk about deplorables?  Absolutely she did and despite taking part of it back, the damage and de-humanization was done.  AND, Donald Trump has not walked back on a majority of his rhetoric that talks about Latinx folks, Muslim folks, women, other POC, and even the weirdness of promoting the LGBTQ+ community and yet his VP is not such a promoter.  This rhetoric was met with violence and action that targeted folks regardless if they supported Trump or not.  

Let me be clear.  This isn't me wanting a positive spin out of this.  This isn't me telling folks to feel okay and do some bootstrap-narrative about how we all need to pick up our feelings and move forward.  I am saying for me this is how I am protecting my hopefulness right now and maybe it will have some resonance with you.  

This is my plea to those who voted for Donald Trump:  Many of you, who would say you support marginalized communities, that you were just so anti-Clinton  that you could not vote for her and wanted the outsider to come in and address a broken Washington D.C.  I hear you.  I do.  And.  What I need for you to do is show up and engage the folks who voted the same as you and engage them on their non-support for marginalized communities.  Because while I will not lump all Trump supporters in the same basket, there are folks who truly believe that rhetoric you said was not what you believed in.  Whether or not Trump returns to that rhetoric post-Nov. 8th, go find and engage those folks for me.  For those you are in community with.  Because if you truly do not believe that rhetoric around marginalized communities, it sounds we have some common ground where we can work to bridge this chasm in our country.  Denounce that rhetoric while supporting conservative policies.  If you find you cannot uncouple the rhetoric and policy, then there seems to be a bigger issue at hand and then let's talk between ourselves first.  Let's work together to address the pain of this country that crosses ideological lines AND tease out where some of that pain is rooted in racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, and (hetero)sexism.  

To myself, I am staying committed to humanizing everyone.  I hear the words of Audre Lorde continue to come into my mind, that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" as well as the words of Paulo Freire, that "leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people--they manipulate them.  They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress."  The process of dehumanization is dangerous because as soon as I participate in it to dehumanize someone else, they have the same right to do it to me.  In deep reflection this summer, this past year, it has been important for me to think about my internalized elitism of "getting it," of "knowing more" which must then make me better than someone else.  How there is no we when there is an us because when there is an "us," a "them" gets created.  And as a friend shared with me recently, there is no justice if it's just us and just our way.  So I am recommitting to leading with humanization, curiosity, and compassion.  I will not tolerate ideologies that seek to destroy or marginalize any peoples.  And it is important for me to find the distinctions and seek understanding when those ideologies are not on the table.  Indeed, as Van Jones said on CNN this evening, "if we can't begin to treat each other in a more human way, this thing is going to go from bad to horrible."

Above all, though, there was warmth in my heart this election day evening.  Because I saw something on social media and on my phone that was so important: a reminder of love.  For me, it has never been strange to me to be part of communities that have had to hold ourselves and one another up.  To remind each other that we are loved because systems that were never built for us will never tell us that no matter how long we wait.  Post after post, people reminded each other that they are loved, that they had a place in a beloved community, and that no matter how this election went we will continue to create community for one another.  Because we have to.  This love is going to keep me warm to help warm others, to be present with each other as we figure this out, and how we organize and mobilize moving forward to continue to (re)create space for ourselves locally and nationally.  

If you are reading this, if any of this resonates with you, know that I love you and I'm ready to go when you are.  I'm committed to leading with curiosity, embracing the both/and, and (as John Lewis says) for me to be the beloved community already rather than waiting to build it.

Alex Lange