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Confessions of a lifelong White House protester

Saturday, November 12, 2016 9:23
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(Before It's News)

by Frida Berrigan

Like the rest of the world, I woke up to the nightmare of a President Trump on Wednesday. But the first noise I heard that morning was the laughter of my daughters Rosena and Madeline — that quiet early morning gurgle of giggles that sisters make without even thinking, that delight of being alive and together and wholly comfortable. My son Seamus was still in bed, singing to himself “oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord,” as he played with his pillow and snuggled himself deeper into the warmth.

“They don’t know,” I thought in horror. “They don’t know.”

Our kids — ages two, four and nine — had a lot of fun on Election Day. Rosena voted first thing in the morning with her mom and then got dropped off at the New London, Connecticut polls to vote with us. Our whole family then spent a few hours at the high school on Tuesday morning. We voted and chatted over our Green Party signs in the morning sunshine. The lines were long, the mood was high and the kids had smiles for everyone — probably because we emptied our wallets in exchange for pumpkin whoopee pies, coffee, cookies, donuts and more whoopee pies at the marching band’s bake sale.

After spending too much time on Facebook on Monday night, I thought that people would be mean to us at the polls — blaming us for Trump or hectoring us to vote for Hillary. But that didn’t happen. Civility reigned at the home of the New London Whalers. The pantsuiters and the suffragists and the people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats stood together in the confusing, long lines — and not a single punch was thrown.

In the sunshine of Tuesday morning, it did not occur to me that Tronald Dump (as the kids have taken to calling him) would win. I felt totally secure voting for Jill Stein and Amaru Baraka in the solidly blue Nutmeg State. Going into my voting carrel, I reminded myself of President Obama’s drone warfare in Afghanistan, his broken promise about closing Guantanamo and wiping away the moral stain of torture, his failure to end the war in Iraq, which raged ever more fiercely as we filled in bubbles on our ballots. I girded myself for a third-party-casting-bread-on-the-water sort of vote by recalling the ick and the ill of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office, which were marked by a fixation on a stained blue dress, a tawdry impeachment, the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing, welfare “reform” and his now long forgotten wars. I voted for the Green Party across the ballot despite an admiration for Hillary Clinton’s determined fight and all the awful, hateful poison she had to endure over the course of what felt to me like the longest presidential run ever.

I felt safe and comfortable voting for Stein in Connecticut, but 54,726 people in New London County voted for Trump. Those are our neighbors. So are the 4,797 people who cast their votes for Gary Johnson. I have to hold onto those numbers. I have to ask questions and listen to answers. We can’t just be friends with the 2,225 other people who voted for Jill Stein. Community doesn’t work that way.

Rosena’s eyes got big and round, serious and disappointed, when we told her that Tronald Dump is our next president. And then we tried to explain the Electoral College, the popular vote and how we don’t really live in a democracy, but we lost her attention. We got it back when we returned to the simple: We need to be nice, we need to be courageous and we need to be standing up for people who are vulnerable. That was how sent Seamus and Rosena went off to school on that awful Wednesday morning.

We urged them to be super kind to their classmates and friends, to pay special attention to the English language learners in their classes, to shower their Syrian and Sudanese schoolmates with extra love. “Some of your friends are going to feel like this country doesn’t want them and their families here anymore. That’s what the Trump win means for a lot of people. You have to reassure them that they belong here as much as you do.”

“Not a problem,” our kids responded. “We love being kind,” they reminded us. “Ms. L says Trump doesn’t want her here either, but she says she’s staying!” Rosena said, awed by her beloved teacher’s power and fearlessness.

I wasn’t raised to care all that much who occupied the big White House my family protested in front of so regularly. Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Junior, Obama: Those are the presidents of my 42 years, and I am pretty sure I’ve been arrested at the White House during all but Carter’s tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary Clinton for president, and I can point to the policy and social class similarities between her and Trump pretty well. I even said (more than once) during this election season that the American people deserved a President Trump — the ur-American who represents the kind of naked aggression that the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have seen from us every day for the last decade and counting. I wish I could take back those words and my righteous, leftier-than-thou attitude — now that I am faced with the harsh, cold fact of it all.

While I wasn’t raised to care about the presidency, my kids care. And, it turns out, I do care about who sits in that Oval Office, who signs all those executive orders, who gets all those classified intelligence briefings, who reviews all those drone kill lists. I care about all that Trump has tried to damage and demonize. I care about reproductive rights. I care about immigrants. I care about people who are queer and trans. I care about people of color. I care about people in wheelchairs, who use canes, who live with physical limitations, who are blind and deaf, who work to overcome learning barriers, who struggle to maintain their mental equilibrium and health. They don’t deserve Trump. I care about glaciers and mountains and sea levels and the limits on global temperature increases signed onto in Paris last year.

My friend is an educator, and two Salvadoran sixth-grader boys cried to her, expressing their fears about deportation under President Trump. They don’t deserve him. Our Syrian neighbors don’t deserve him, especially after coming to Connecticut when Indiana (under then-Gov. Mike Pence) refused them entry, following the Paris bombings. Our Sudanese friends — who carved a pumpkin with us and were overwhelmed and delighted by our costume collection before Halloween — don’t deserve President Trump. Their girls are learning English and making friends so fast. They are so cool that Rosena’s whole school is going to want to wear a hijab before the end of the year. None of those kids deserve President Trump. Even those white, working-class voters who were manipulated and played into filling in the bubbles for Trump don’t deserve him.

We all deserve better. And as long as we’re listing things, we also deserve a better political system, proportional representation, clean corporate-free elections, and a real stake in real politics.

But this is what we got. And barring some ghost of Jacob Marley-inspired Ebenezer Trump Christmas miracle, this man with all his hate, bluster, ignorance, greed and grabbiness, will take office in a matter of weeks. What do we do?

Well, so many are already mobilizing. School kids in Berkeley, Seattle, Philadelphia, and all over the country poured out of their schools and business-as-usual to say no to Trump’s hate. Friends in Standing Rock, North Dakota are getting out of jail and heading back to the plains to continue standing for Native sovereignty and the earth. The ACLU has already opened their can of whoop on Trump, threatening to bury the worst of his proposed policies in a blizzard of legal paper. That list can go on and on.

People all over the country are sitting down in small circles, as our family did last night with friends, and asking: What can we do to take care of one another? Where are we going to find the hope to keep going for the next four years?

What am I doing? I’m avoiding the 24-hour-news crawl and the Twittersphere and Facebook, and I am looking people in the eyes. I’m keeping my kids up too late to be with other people in prayer, vigil, marches and meetings. I’m answering every one of their endless questions and reading up so I’ll be better prepared with more concise and precise responses. I’ll go back to Washington, D.C., and I’ll get arrested in front of Trump’s White House (probably in January to demand the closure of Guantanamo, a place Trump promised to “load up with bad dudes”). But I am really interested in keeping close to home, focusing on what’s local and what’s good. I’m opening my front door and my heart. I’m already planning my garden for 2017. It won’t be as big or as well funded as Michelle Obama’s, but I am going to grow a lot of vegetables and share them with my neighbors — even the ones who voted for Trump — because we are all going to be hungry for community in these coming months.

It doesn’t feel like enough. Probably nothing would feel like enough. Resistance. Organizing. Working together. Building something new. We do it to change the world and so that the world doesn’t change us. Right, A.J. Muste?

At 10 p.m. on Trump’s terrible Wednesday of triumph, way past her bedtime, I held two-year-old Madeline, as she screamed and writhed, fighting sleep’s inevitability with a vengeance. She is crying for all of us, I thought. This is where her rage is coming from. She is crying for all the people who had to keep it all bottled up today.

“Thank you for your tears and anger, Madeline,” I said, even though I was desperate that she sleep. I snuggled closer and tucked her blankets in again. She kept on crying. Later, finally calm, she whispered, “You’re a nice mommy. You are nice.” She patted my face and fell asleep.

Yep. The instinctive kindness of a toddler: It was the antidote to heartache. It was the fuel for the fire of resistance. It was the balm to fears and despair. It was the sticking-place for courage. Tomorrow is a new day; greet it with hope and action. I’ll see you out there.

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