Sitting here on the eve of the election I wonder how I am going to make meaning of the election results on Wednesday morning, for myself and my daughters who are 8 and 6 years old. They’ve been very upset about Trump’s predatory language and behavior towards women and girls and have asked me several times, “Are we are moving out of the country if he wins?”
Over the weekend, between my texts through Color of Change PAC’s text-a-thon and get out the vote calls for local Oakland measure JJ to protect renters, I pushed away the nagging question of how I am going to explain all of this to myself, let alone my kids.
Of all the parts of myself, organizer, movement-builder, friend, community member, it is my role as a mother that forces me — often against some really strong instincts — to be my best self.
As I mother, I have to ask myself the questions: Whoever wins on Election Day, what story can I tell my kids that grounds them in the vision and hope of what’s possible when our communities organize and care for one another? How can I support them to feel safe and confident in their bodies? How can they feel the freedom to be ALL of who they are and whoever they have yet to discover?
No matter who wins, I want my kids to understand that this isn’t about one woman, or one man, but about making sure that our communities lead all of us towards the values, systems and policies that create healthy, caring, thriving communities.
In the face of the hatred that was unleashed during this year’s presidential campaign, how can my kids and our communities declare our values of love, and taking care of each other no matter who we are, as MoveOn.org did so beautifully in their campaign to Vote Love.
I realize that I can tell them how our communities have gotten in touch with the vibrant values that connect all of us — love, care, community, and the right for all of us to be our whole selves.
I know that my daughters will remember the women of color-led actions that my kids and I took off work and school to be a part of, with hundreds of powerful women across the country taking part in actions to say “GOP Hands Off Me!”
In Oakland, a few of us — many of us parents, several of us not — sought to craft an action that we could bring our kids to, that could shore them up, and shore ourselves up, in a sickening moment for feminists of all genders. All of the organizers came together on our own time, yearning for an action that did not let the ugliness of Trump’s words and attitudes towards women and others get inside us, an action that would lead with hope and allow us to declare our vision.
Borrowing from both Michelle Obama and Arundhati Roy, our action’s theme was “When they go low, we go high… Another world is on HER way.”
Just a few days earlier, Michelle Obama had delivered her pivotal speech in Manchester, New Hampshire where she said in compelling, personal words that “enough is enough.” She repeated her call and response that is now a hallmark of her speeches: “When they go low, we go high!” This phrase exemplifies what I teach my children all the time. How can you call on your best self when you are angry at your friends on the playground? When some boy doesn’t let you play tag because he says girls are too slow, how do you stop yourself from straight up smacking him on the head — though that might feel righteous and appropriate in the moment — but instead create your own, more fun game of tag so that he asks to join your game. When your girlfriend hurts your feelings, instead of also talking behind her back, how can you both connect, say sorry, repair the harm, and see that you are resilient enough to be hurt and come out stronger in the end?
The small ways that our kids practice choosing their best selves allows them, and us, to choose our best selves when the stakes are much higher. Choosing to be our best selves isn’t about being nice and compliant, because that would be a dangerous way to teach our daughters to be in the world. And, like most things, it is not about the “performance” of being our best selves all the time. It is about always asking the question, “What does being my best self mean and look like in this moment, in this context, under these conditions? And how do we forgive ourselves for our mistakes and learn?” The practice of asking the question allows us to have the space to be our most grounded and most strategic selves too.
As ugly as this election was I was heartened to see so many of us seeking to bring proactive hope and love to our work, an effort that will carry us forward in whatever lies ahead. In the words of Scot Nakagawa,
Rough as the road ahead is likely to be, we need to lead with joy and optimism. The first job of activists is to inspire people. Winning or losing is not all that’s at stake. The key to victory lies in how we answer the question of who we will become in the process of struggle.
No matter who wins, no politician or political party is going to make the kind of changes that our communities need. As Tammy Johnson proclaimed at the Oakland action,
Another world is indeed here because we we will WILL it to be.
We will have health care that provides for us all
We will have liberation schools for our children
We will have communities that embrace all of us no matter what country we come from, no matter who you are, no matter what we’ve done.
We will make this country, this nation, the place we where we live and love a TRUE beloved community.
Arundhati Roy tells us, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing,” letting us and our children know that another world is already here, inside of us, and in the beauty of what already exists in our communities.