Years ago, I wrote a YA fantasy novel which featured a fierce young shepherdess, named Saga, who was fighting against a powerful misogynistic regime. The novel never saw the light of day, probably because that girl was everything I’ve always dreamed of being; smart, powerful, fierce. She was the kind of character who starts out good and just gets better, which doesn’t always lead to an exciting read. But there was one scene that even now I thrill at thinking I wrote. In it Saga ranted about everyone treating her like she’s nothing. An older woman responds, “If you’re nothing, why are they so afraid of you.”
I repeat that line to myself a lot lately, because looking at the country right now, it’s easy to despair. The executive orders, cabinet nominees, and votes in Congress keep coming so fast and furious it’s hard to know what to tell senators and representatives to act on first. I feel like I need to call everyone, every day, and tell them to just say “NO, … no, no, no, no, no.” Knowing this is meant to overwhelm us doesn’t make it any less overwhelming.
The more I read and study, the more I see that this has been coming on for years. The election brought it to the forefront, but conservatives have been framing the discourse and creating their own linguistics for fifty years. From attacking voting rights, gerrymandering districts, to fighting for tort reform, they’ve been creating a system that favors themselves for decades. While Democrats have been trying to work with them, Republicans have been stacking the deck in their own favor. It feels hopeless. But I don’t think you stack the deck against a weak opponent. I think, you stack the deck against an opponent you fear you can’t beat any other way.
Look at the polls. The majority of Americans support women’s rights, civil rights, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, and immigrants’ rights. Most Americans are pro-choice and value the 1st Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion, speech, press, and the right to protest. Over a million people marched nationwide for the Women’s March because they believed in women’s rights. Spontaneous demonstrations arose to protest the Muslim and Immigrant ban, because most of us believe in the words on the Statue of Liberty, “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Reading This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-First Century, by Mark and Paul Engler, I realized that despite the last election and the Republican majority in Congress, the American people have been moving toward a more progressive stance for decades. Protest movements, from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s to Occupy Wall Street, to movements for LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights, to the Black Lives Matter movement, or all those working to protect the environment, have all brought issues of equality, justice, and the environment into the forefront of America’s conscience.
Mark and Paul Engler’s history of protest movements shows that these groups have brought the concerns for justice, protection, and preservation out into the open. They’ve also historically experienced backlash. Even while gathering previously silent supporters, undertakings for justice also mobilize those who are against these concerns. There are always those who will push against movements for human rights and environmental concerns, but many more will agree causing public opinion to shift in favor of these causes. The percentage of Americans who are pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-environmental concerns, indicates these movements have garnered more supporters than detractors.
So, here’s how I think we need to look at the current day. The White House and Congress are fighting against the growing tide of Americans who support human rights, preserving the environment, and giving all people equal opportunity. This is their backlash against the American people and the future of justice and equality that we are choosing. This is their last hurrah. We can believe they have the power and that the odds are against us. Or we can realize they are throwing everything they have at us because together we are unbeatable.
No matter how hard it is to believe some days, we can, and will, prevail, if we stand together and hold firm for the America we believe in – a place of freedom, democracy, rights, and opportunity, a country where we care for each other and the planet.
By Priscilla Berggren-Thomas