If you can possibly stand it, don’t run away.
I’ll say it again: don’t run.
If your life’s not in danger, if you’re not the one who will be stolen away from your family and locked in a cage next, don’t run away.
As much as you can, don’t look away, don’t make concessions to power, don’t excuse, don’t downplay to make yourself or others feel better.
I understand that you, all the “yous” out there with relative privilege compared to those who are most under attack by the Trump regime, may well want to run. Honestly, so do I. Reading and watching endless hours of news to my detriment, I glean the minute-by-minute updates in the latest chapter of the unfolding nightmare. Thoughts come to me, barely containable, about how the US is a failed experiment in democracy, built on the graves of Indigenous and Black bodies. And I think about the living graves of the prison-industrial complex, and of intergenerational trauma, lacquered onto human psyches through the smothering violence of poverty, racism, and genocide.
I think, where can I go? Where can I escape? I don’t have much money, coming from a working-class background, but I have more money than some. I can’t afford an immigration lawyer to help me build a new life in Canada, but I have graduate degrees and an instinctive knowledge of how to research those tedious questions online. With each new grotesque outrage, each fascist milestone, and the frenzied feverishness of Trump’s violently clamoring, diehard, cultish base, I admit it: I get scared.
Nazis—kidnapped and caged children—”I don’t care, do u?”—killer cops—threats of war—intrusive thoughts of The Handmaid’s Tale (damn why’d I watch any of that show)—mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting.
All of this with a constant, screaming, whiplash-inducing gaslighting: don’t believe what you read, he instructs us with his trademark cocksure narcissism. Don’t believe what you see with your own damn eyes. The media is the enemy of the American people, he whines. Only some people get to count as the American people, of course. That’s how fascism takes flight.
But despite all of this, I’m a white US citizen. It was my ancestors who got this continent into this bloody mess. When I walk through a bougie neighborhood, I think there’s something more amiss about me being there than the cops do, driving by slowly in their patrol cars. I live on the coast, in one of the most progressive-on-paper states in the country. Many of you reading this can think about all the ways you, too, know that they’re not likely to come for you next.
And that’s important. That’s so much, right now. Because if everyone who left out of fear rather than ultimate necessity did, the resistance would be brutally weakened.
What is the responsibility of people with privilege in the face of fascism, you ask? My weary but firm answer is, to hold ourselves accountable.
Do what you can. Put your bodies on the line in protests if you know the police are less likely to attack and arrest you. Make it clear that white suburban soccer moms are as vocally opposed to ICE’s existence as are the undocumented protesters risking their lives to stand up for their families. Make people in power, who think they may be able to seduce you into complicity and inaction with trite words and a smile based on what they think they share with you — make those people deeply uncomfortable. Prove them wrong. Have conversations that leave you shaking, on the brink of tears. Tend to your wounds and your healing and build yourself up again. Then, rinse and repeat.
Don’t become a cog in the wheel — throw a wrench into the gears. Make it difficult for those who run the show to run it as efficiently as possible. Find resistance in the everyday guerilla warfare of losing the documents used to justify harming people. Of standing up on the airplane carrying mothers for deportation, refusing to be another nice white lady, if you are one, taught to go along to get along. Occupy the literal halls of power. Make your local leaders and family members, and community leaders, and colleagues squeamish with having to defend their treason against basic human empathy whenever they’re in your presence.
I engaged in a version of this, somewhat accidentally, during a recent protest against the child cages and Massachusetts’ complicity in failing to pass a state law that would have stopped our police from collaborating with and acting as ICE agents. Through an organic turn of events I found myself with a group of about a dozen people protesting outside a Massachusetts politician’s office. While providing support to vulnerable members of my community who were trying to speak to the politician inside his office, waiting outside in case the staffers followed through on their threats to call police, I engaged in an admittedly heated discussion with a security guard. He didn’t seem to share the opinion that it was his duty to stand up for the rights of all people. His family came first, and he was sure that he was safe from criticism because he “worked for everything he had.”
So did I, I told him. First in my family to go to college. All while also being queer and female. And yet, I told him, we were both white citizens. No one was going to take his kids away from him, I told him. I said, you need to put your own neck on the line so that other people’s necks don’t get cut off.
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I was shaking. He tried to pacify everyone by telling us we shouldn’t be militant in our protest tactics. It was okay if we wanted to express our freedom of speech — that’s what America’s about! — but maybe not so confrontationally. I asked him how he thought women’s suffrage was accomplished, because it wasn’t just peaceable women who talked with their Congressmen until they agreed to hand over power. No, it was civil disobedience, and hunger strikes in prison, and force feedings, and at times even death. Somehow unions then got brought up, and he disparaged them, and I told him they’re not perfect, but they’re better than unfettered 1890s child labor!
Soon after that experience, I joined an anti-ICE protest, marching to the actual facility in my area where they took detained undocumented people. Led by the incredible grassroots group Cosecha, we sang songs of justice in front of the riot police assembled outside to defend the building from us. We customized one song for each police officer down the line, standing there at taut attention with their shields and batons and menacing tough boots, based on the names on their badges. “Whose side are you on, Flynn? Whose side are you on?” the crowd sang as an impassioned plea to a young man with a bright red beard who stood rigidly on guard, yet whose face had one of the only palpably guilty expressions of emotion I could ascertain from any of the riot cops.
I don’t know if I made a difference for those men. I hope I did, but I’m also not naive. I know that we made their day go differently than they wanted it to, than they thought it would. We disturbed their idea that they could “just do their jobs” without having to face the ethical reality of what that meant.
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But this part, too, is crucial: others are watching. Maybe not even the people you’re talking to, who may be too drunk on their own power and need to be voted or protested out. Other people, though, who are good and kind and building up their own reserves to speak truth to power, those people are always on the sidelines. Paying attention to what they see from you. Your standing up may inspire them to stand up. Domino justice.
And yes, donate money if you can to RAICES and every underfunded local community organization you have that’s fighting for the lives of the most marginalized. Register people to vote. Canvass for progressive candidates if that’s your jam. Do all the things you’re always told to do by fellow activists within the structures of a normally-functioning democracy, which we are not currently living in.
But whatever you do, don’t run. Not until you really have to.
[Featured Image: A photo of two people. The person on the left has dark hair and is wearing grey overall shorts. They are holding a notebook and a pen. The person on the right is wearing a ball cap and a dark shirt. They are sitting outside. Behind them is a yellow wall with a mural on it. Source: pexels.com]