As I try to explain to my daughters how Sen. Susan Collins could vote for a bill — the tax bill that was shoved through the Senate at 2 a.m. Saturday — that paves the way to making abortion illegal, increases our dependence on fossil fuels and tells the world that greed should be rewarded, I want to find a way to tell the truth without crushing their spirits.
And when my older daughter was told that the Earth wouldn’t be habitable for humans in just 30 years, I had to pause and figure out my response. On the one hand, that estimate seems a bit too extreme. On the other hand, the crisis is much worse than most of us average Americans understand. As David Wallace-Wellis wrote in New York magazine, “no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.” What should I say?
Or how can I explain that our country has built up what is essentially a new system of slavery where black and brown people are held in prison and forced to work for effectively no money?
Then back to the current leadership and its “shock doctrine” methods, like passing legislation without letting senators read it, with which the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect has found “alarming parallels” with pre-Holocaust Germany. I need my daughters to understand that this is not normal and that we are going to do something about it. All of it.
Our world is in crisis on so many levels, what can I do? And how can I explain it to my daughters?
First, I followed Sarah Kendzior’s advice from last year, who urges us to “write about who you are, what you have experienced and what you have endured” because, as she says in her short piece about surviving the Trump administration, “Authoritarianism is not merely a matter of state control, it is something that eats away at who you are. It makes you afraid, and fear can make you cruel. It compels you to conform and to comply and accept things that you would never accept, to do things you never thought you would do.”
Then, I’m going to help the activists, following a suggestion I saw on Twitter. Of course, I will also call my representatives and let them know my opinions about bills under consideration. I will do other direct action work. But, because I’m not willing to give my everyday life to the work that needs to be done to create a new just and fair system in our country and save the Earth from this environmental crisis, I’m going to help the activists.
I know several people who spend almost every waking moment “in the trenches.” Some are working on immigrant rights, some on grass-roots organizing, and some are simply living in the United States while black or brown. I can buy my friends lunch, offer to watch their children, or find out from them what would make their lives easier and help make that happen.
Finally, I’m going to learn about the work done that is focusing on organizing and solutions, and I will get involved. For example, Naomi Klein’s recent book, “No Is Not Enough,” describes the incredible work done in Canada to create The Leap Manifesto.
The idea is that we need integrated solutions, not sequential or prioritized; we need to do more than say “no” to bad policies. We need to “dream big,” Klein says. We have to allow ourselves to consider what now seems unimaginable if we are going to find solutions to prevent catastrophic destruction of the earth and, here in the United States, if we are going to change our entire system into one that is just and fair.
From the Leap Manifesto: “We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.”
I’m going to tell my daughters about the Leap Manifesto, and we will talk about how we are going to be a part of the solutions. I won’t pretend “everything is OK,” but I will let them live in the hope for a better world.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. Her small business helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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