Hey! I’m bad at this, but hopefully you’ll forgive me for not being in a place to sit down and write this past weekend. Friday was still in “how long is this going to drag on for” mode, then Saturday came along and we heard about Four Seasons Total Landscaping and the dancing and drumming in the streets began. Things are, probably naively, starting to seem kind of normal today, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on the emotional experience of this past week and the month leading up to/surrounding it.
First, I saw a bunch of exchanges on Twitter about people being too happy, going back to brunch, celebrating imperialism, showcasing respectability politics, etc. etc. I even got ensnared in a few of these myself. At the risk of people thinking I must be infectious white lib lady waste, I really don’t think we should be saying people are complacent if they’re experiencing positive emotions for the first time in what has been 7+ months of a neverending onslaught of shit for most of us. Most of the people “giving up the fight” were never in it in the first place. A friend asked how fellow folks on the left can want a broad movement for everyone, but yet carry such a cynical view of the people. That’s my question, too – it’s not a matter of denying to see why people are angry, hurt, gaslit, and exhausted, or having some sort of Pollyanna-ish view of a person we don’t even like. It’s a matter of looking at how awful 2020 has been for just about all of us and saying, yes, I can take this female Gritty hula-hooping in the street at face value and smile at that, not because I love Joe Biden but because I fucking forgot what it was like to laugh with strangers in public.
I think the left can be dangerously humorless at times and we need to celebrate battles when they’re won – and there was a huge outpouring of activism that made this possible. Getting Trump out was no small feat, and we shouldn’t forget that. The people dancing in the streets were, yes, white middle class people, but they were also people of color, trans people, BLM activists, socialists, and working class folks. I’m not going to tell you to not grieve and be angry. You can even flip out at people who popped champagne on Saturday. But maybe don’t assume they’ve never lifted a finger to advocate for change in their lives, just because they sashayed through some confetti and blew bubbles for 12 hours and then in all likelihood got right back to work. This is where the cynicism comes in – the assumption that everyone who partied is a spoiled trust fund kid who can just hang up political engagement whenever because nothing’s on the line for them. I think we need to be careful with throwing buzz phrases around like “respectability politics” when what we’re talking about is just “not being a dick.” And I’m sorry, but you’re a dick if you assume I have been sitting on my ass eating bonbons since March just because I shouted on my porch on Saturday morning.
As a person who manages other people in a predominantly white and vocationally liberal institution, I can say that a (presumed) Biden victory will positively impact staff morale at a critical time, as we look down the barrel at spiking covid cases, pressure to reopen, and layoffs on the horizon. If the alternative had happened, trying to lift people’s spirits would have felt insurmountable. You can chalk some of this up to naivete or Pollyanna-ism, or white liberal complacency – people may well be overselling Biden to themselves right now – but the fact is, it would have been another crushing blow to folks who have been struggling for well over half a year. I’ll take it, I tell you what. Trying to keep people’s spirits up has been the hardest part of this “new normal” since the spring.
And, look, I’m not going to deny that I’m a little defensive of my relative happiness right now. A little less than three weeks ago, mpow announced its plans to reorganize the college, ask people to separate voluntarily, and most likely engage in layoffs from now until the end of the fiscal year. I’ve been marinating in the stress of others and myself ever since, and right as that news came out, we started to see the covid numbers spike again while conversations about reopening plans for next semester began to ramp up. On the Friday before the election, my darling boy Avey, as mentioned in my last post on here, almost died after a random complication at the vet and I spent two days glued to the phone for updates, unable to focus on anything except last year’s GBBO (ugh, so good). From that frying pan of anxiety, we jumped right into the fire of our fascist president declaring he’d won the election and the early maps looking to back that up. So, when I had a chance to bike around Boston and see people screaming and jumping and clapping and singing on a freakishly beautiful November day, I was eager to take it.
It’s important to make sure we don’t fret too much about other people’s reactions to, well, anything – they are rarely intended to be a personal indictment of any one of us. Everyone is entitled to their emotions, which are not “right” or “wrong.” Everyone is walking their own road. But while the “we need to heal” by hugging Trump supporters bullshit is just a major “fuck no,” I do think it wouldn’t hurt for those of us on the left to let each other hurt, and let each other be happy, and not write people off because they do one or the other when we’re doing the opposite.