I’m so sorry.
I’m sorry, because I know what this feels like. The moment you realize the world isn’t really on your side. The moment you’ve been devastated to find that every value you hold is fragile, and that your rights and freedoms cannot be taken for granted. The first time you feel truly afraid–afraid you or someone you love might come to harm, or that you might lose something precious.
I know what that feels like, and for as frustrating as it can be sometimes that others don’t–that they exist in such a privileged bubble that they can’t understand what I and others go through–I would never wish something like this upon them. I don’t wish privilege away from people, I only wish more upon those who don’t have it. So I extend my hand to you, you who are now realizing the pain of being on the ass end of the system, and I say: I’m sorry, and please take comfort with those of us who have been here.
Some things you should know:
First: Know that there are other people who have been hurt like this over and over again; betrayed by their country, their fellow Americans, their entire lives. We have had varying degrees of hardship, and have already recognized our places in the spectrum of privilege. It is your turn. You will be welcome in this fight for all of our rights, but know that in joining us–we who have been fighting for decades for what few freedoms we do have–you must have an open mind. You need to hone your skills for compassion, to learn to swallow defensiveness, and to take your own initiative–do your own work–to educate yourself.
Not everyone will be as nice as me, nor should they be expected to be. I’m not sure even I will be able to be so nice in the future. This is your responsibility, and it is also your great honor, to be humble, thoughtful, loving, and open-minded. If you get corrected, it is important you take it in and keep on going. Learn from your mistakes, and be willing to be wrong.
It has never in your life been so important for you to be on the right side of history.
Second: There will be people you respect who are wrong about things, or who do things you can’t understand. That is okay, but it is also important to be watchful. Normalization is dangerous–call out what you see. You may have to take some risks. It’s okay…you won’t be alone.
Especially if you’re a person of privilege (which I imagine you are if this article is applicable to you, but if not, congrats on making it this far before having your heart broken), your voice calling out others with privilege matters. Everyone else has been shouting about this shit for all of time, and so few people listen to us. But your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and even media and government officials might actually listen to you, so speak up, and highlight the overlooked words of others. Be brave. Your unique positions, talents and connections are more important than ever.
Third: Learn how to exist in fight mode. Believe it or not, it is possible to expect danger around every corner, be on the lookout for it, fight for that atmosphere to change, and still live a live full of love and joy and beauty. Ask a woman. Ask a person of color. Ask a Muslim. Some of us will probably be willing to teach you how, but to be honest with you, most of us learned naturally. And we’ll probably all be learning how to deal with anything new that gets thrown our way.
Fourth: Hold your friends close. You’ll probably learn who the real ones are now; cherish them. Note that “real friends” doesn’t necessarily mean someone you agree with on everything, but it probably does mean people who aren’t hateful, who are willing to change for the better, people who don’t take the pain of others lightly.
Fifth: Hold onto your ability to feel shocked, appalled, horrified, furious, devastated, and heartbroken. It’s so easy to get exhausted, and to stop being shocked. When you feel that exhaustion start to sink in, take a break. Take a bath, take a nap, listen to some music–whatever you need to do to care for your soul. And then get back up and keep going. Hold those human emotions dear–they’re one of the things they will try to take from you. And it will be easier than you think.
Sixth: Take heart, and hold to your courage. Listen to music and read poetry for inspiration. Don’t be shamed out of doing the right thing. Remember this won’t be easy–if it were easy, more people would have helped the Jews, or the Armenians, or the slaves. But there will be a place for you, if you’re willing to take it.
Seventh: Listen, absorb, help, and learn. There is so much being put out there for you to better understand what we’re dealing with and how you can help. Seek it out. Follow people with different perspectives on social media, and retweet or share them. Read articles and blogs and books and poetry and newspapers, listen to podcasts and music, learn your history, hear people talk. Go to rallies, protests, strikes and vigils, if you can. Form a union at your workplace, if there isn’t one already. Talk to your friends, family and coworkers about politics (politeness will just screw us all over; it’s time to ditch it and actually engage). Donate to organizations that will need it, if you have the means. Volunteer your time, your hands, your home, your belongings, and your heart if you are able to. Talk to your peers. Vote, if you still have any confidence left in it, especially if you can vote for third parties and really help build the left. You really can make a difference.
If you want to talk about anything, my comments are open to you and so is my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please share what’s important to you, how you’re feeling, what you want to do to help, or any suggestions for me or other people as well! We shall overcome!