The myth of independence is one of the foundational and corrosive myths of American life. On July 4th, 1776, when the US declared “independence” from its colonizer, it did so on the backs of the Indigenous people whose lands they’d stolen and the African people whose enslavement and labor would build the US into the ‘prosperous’ ‘superpower’ that forms the cornerstone of the white American ‘dream.’
When political candidates decry a ‘great American’ past in which people were independent and self-sufficient, the un- and under-paid labor of women, people of color and poor people is the uncounted capital that scaffolds these romantic tales. While the brutality that upheld this order through segregation, vigilante aggression, and police collusion in domestic and racist violence is rendered invisible.
So what is there to celebrate on July 4th for those of us who don’t believe in the American Dream?
Despite these deadly and deadening myths, the truth is, people have resisted settler invasion, the theft of humanity and labor that undergirds the nation’s wealth, and the sexism, racism and queerphobias designed to keep so many of us ‘in our place’ — for centuries. And we have resisted collectively, gloriously, imperfectly throughout. We have leaned on each other (rather than Leaning In), and we have built communities and families based on love and the celebration of all that the dominant cultures would have us despise.
Here is my list of 5 Interdependent Essentials that I’m grateful for, as a solo mother of two, living in the belly of the beast — the Nation’s Capital — where one could argue the myth machine is at its most fevered pitch.
My queer village.
Over the past 4 years I have survived a queer purge from a major ‘social justice’ project; the dissolution of an 8-year partnership; a daunting custody mediation; a raggedy employment path that has involved a mosaic of short term gigs. And all along, my queer villagers have held me up, loved me, affirmed my values and my brilliance, and loved my children wholeheartedly. This interdependent commitment on their part has included:
- Monitoring my mental health and checking in when they thought I was flagging; designating a person in the group to approach me about medication and therapy when necessary, as I am legendarily resistant despite a dance with major depression.
- Checking in with me about my children, who are managing a boatload of changes and doing amazingly well. One villager has made it his job to take them out for dinner periodically without me – this provides relief for me for an evening, and an independent temperature-reading of their well-being.
- Funding. Two of my villagers have a store of resources to draw upon should I be in a short-term financial emergency. I have mostly managed these myself over this challenging stretch, but I have had one villager in particular who has made a stunning contribution to my financial security.
- Being present for my process. I never feel alone. Even when I am isolating — as those of us in crisis or managing mental illness are known to do – I am free to pick up the phone any time of the day or night and be assured that someone who loves me and absolutely wants to be there for me will pick up. This kind of social musculature is the cornerstone of my and my family’s durability.
Throughout this period, I have shared whatever extra I could find with the people in my life who have hit hard patches of their own. I’ve also spent my coins on the most daring justice projects of the moment, which for me includes Black Lives Matter, Not One More, transformative justice work, and the revitalized movement to end child sexual abuse. I have funded projects with queer, trans and people of color leaders exclusively, because these are the projects with both the most promise and the least ‘respectability’ (read: resources) in the mainstream. This kind of redistribution of resources gives me hope, especially when I am struggling.
Love every day. Love everywhere.
- My daughter’s grabby hands, stubborn resistance, delectable hugs.
- My teenage son’s incredibly challenging burning brain; his daily eye rolls, his occasional invitation to sit on the couch so he can rest his head on me and watch a movie.
- That beloved voice on the end of the line, asking me what’s in my day, how is my heart, when are they going to see me next?
- Texts from villagers far away. Silly pictures, life-saving articles, dumb jokes.
- All of it sending the same message: We have faith in you. Keep going. It’s going to get better.
My place in this city and my world:
- The amazing trees in my old school DC neighborhood.
- My neighbors of over a decade, hanging on their porches, waving as I go by.
- Larry my mail carrier who thought this year was my son’s high school graduation and had put aside something ‘special’ for him.
- The nuns in the Catholic worker house down the street, giving me the latest on their peace activism and their gardens.
- The word on the street about the latest crop of candidates for the Neighborhood Advisory Commission. The word on the street, period.
So much theorizing and new work of the past few years has affirmed what I have always known about addiction and trauma and my recovery:
- Addiction thrives in isolation. The opposite of addiction is connection.
- Our genes have captured our history of trauma and express this in various ways. Which brings us back to the mythologies that frame this article. In a nation that denies the overwhelming violence and theft at its founding, there is no surprise that our present day, familial and institutional experiences of violence are also denied and turned into an argument against our ‘grit.’ When I am in community with loved ones who are excavating their histories, claiming the resilience in their stories, and building a healing practice based on those strengths, I am in some of the most profound and liberating spaces of my life.
- Healing is a life-long endeavor. Strengthening our hearts and our spirits is a never-ending process. As a 55-year old with 27 years clean and a bountiful village of loved ones and lovers, I understand now more than ever that while our stories of oppression and violence are unique and distinct, our recovery is a collective enterprise. I cannot do it alone. And after many years of work I can honestly say that the idea of recovering ‘alone’ or ‘independently ‘is unimaginable and horrifying. While the past few years may have been challenging, they have been unfathomably gloriously surprisingly heartbreakingly beautiful. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. (Ok, maybe a few specific wretched minutes, yes.)
More Radical Reads: A Note on Call-Out Culture
Happy Interdependence Day!! Go forth!! Love on your people. We are all the prospects, process, and outcome of our love for each other. Love in community builds power to the people. And both the devastation and rising power of the people are the real stories of life on this sacred land.
[Feature Image: A group of people sit outdoors in the grass talking and sharing food as the sun sets. Source: Pexels,com]