Since the election, maintaining my commitment to power bottoming has gotten harder. I really believe Shannon Sullivan that our task as white people is to learn to love the abject parts of our own communities: the only way we can combat white supremacy is to stop trying to convince ourselves that we are fundamentally, irrevocably different from “those” people, the Bad White People. But when Nazis are marching in the street, it’s hard not to want to do everything I can do disassociate myself from them: make them Something Else. At the same time, I’m scared to death: afraid my kids will grow up in a nuclear winter, that my beloved neighbors will be rounded into an internment camp, that I’ll get raped and murdered by some emboldened alt-right troll. It’s this static at the back of my mind all the time, making it hard for me to think straight: whataboutwhataboutwhataboutwhatabout… I’ll never be fully prepared so I just want to shut down completely and stay home forever.
Fuck that, though. Shutting down is not an option, and there’s plenty of time for sheet cake after I’ve occupied the streets. But I don’t have the resources to face this on my own—in order to show up, I have to remember my own strength, both spiritual and physical. So I’m praying my face off, putting myself in the middle of the community at both my temple and AA, and taking boxing classes. Boxing has been great: it’s an outlet for my anger, I’m getting stronger and more confident, and—best of all—most times I go, it’s all immigrants and women. I feel like I’m part of a secret anti-fascist army, and it’s beautiful.
But last week there was a new guy there who seriously disrupted my feeling of safety and community. He was gigantic: about 6’5”, maybe 240 pounds, and sporting a white guy haircut that was too close for comfort to the Richard Spencer as well as a tank top with the terrifying slogan, “They don’t want me on Spring Break.” Who is “they”? The women you plan to fucking roofie? Yikes. So instead of my usual fantasies of punching Jeff Sessions, I could feel my heart rate rising as I tried to plot out my escape if he attacked me. Is he enraged by my Planned Parenthood T-shirt? We’re in a basement, so all he’d have to do is block the stairs… I knew my fear wasn’t grounded in reality (my classmates were there, the gym owner was right upstairs and would hear me scream), but reality doesn’t help much in these moments of lizard-brained terror.
Because as much as I’m in that class to learn to defend myself, there’s no way I’d win a fight with this guy if he decided to pick one. Seriously, all he’d have to do is sit on me and I’d probably die. So I need another way.
I have this meditation I’ve been doing when I put my daughter to bed: I always lie down with her for about 20 minutes after reading books and singing songs, and as she’s drifting off, I imagine that I create a sphere of blue-white light that encircles us both. And I think: I have this light inside me and I share it with you so you can carry it with you forever. I want to protect her from the horrors of the world, but I know I can’t protect her from everything. What’s more, being a woman in this world is going to get harder before it gets easier, I fear. But what I can give her is this light.
So I tried the same thing at boxing: I stopped looking for a way out and instead pictured a circle of light extended around the whole gym. This calmed me down enough that I could shift my attention to the other woman in the room, challenging her to join me for jump squats and throw downs. Nothing changed in the room, but I felt my fear recede, and that made it possible for me to focus on getting stronger.
So this is what nonviolent resistance means to me. By shifting my attention away from fear, I create space for strength. I notice more, I become available to help the people around me. It’s not that I’m backing away from a fight—I’m changing the terms of the game.
To be clear, shifting my attention to love doesn’t mean shifting my attention to the scary guy in the tank top and finding a way to love him despite myself, despite my needs, despite my safety. I’m still on guard against him, but the bulk of my attention is going somewhere it will do more good: I’ll focus on my compatriots, and on loving and protecting them.
This radical act of refocusing attention is the logic behind Black Lives Matter, and it was on full display this weekend at the anti-fascist counter protest in Boston. Unsurprisingly, most media attention has focused on the unexpected no-show of the hate speech rally itself (only 50 people showed up to defend “free speech,” and police estimate 40,000 counter protesters) and the skirmishes between police and counter protesters. But for me, the real brilliance of the event was the decision to meet up in Roxbury and march two miles through the projects and POC-majority neighborhoods just south of the city. As I waved to the abuelas and grandkids watching from their windows and returned a raised fist to folks on their doorsteps as we chanted “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” I felt like: “I have this light inside me and I share it with you so you can carry it with you always.” This is the antidote I want to be a part of: a group of people putting ourselves on the line for the disenfranchised because your life matters.
Ideally, I’d like to follow in the rabble-rousing, arty steps of ACT UP, maintaining a kind of performative joy as well, because I think that’s key to my own long-term survival. I’m not sure joy is possible when counter protesters are getting gassed by cops—but love and attention for people who are suffering still are. So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be as close to the action as I can be, the terrifying mother who loves this country too much to let it stay this way.