"Fact-check your memory, and bullshit-check your motives."
-Dinty W. Moore (writer, teacher)
"Complacency and cynicism are our biggest enemies."
-Lissa Muscatine (former HRC speechwriter and Washington Post journalist; co-owner of Politics & Prose bookstore in D.C.)
"And they are illusions."
-Michael Waldman (President of the Brennan Center of Justice at NYU)
I spent this frigid weekend non-parentally adulting much more than I usually do. It was a delight.
Yesterday I attended a creative nonfiction workshop in D.C., led by Dinty Moore (founder and editor of the literary magazine, Brevity, amongst other things) and Lee Gutkind (founder and editor of the lit mag, Creative Nonfiction, also amongst other things). Not only did I see in person three friends with whom I mostly interact online (writing groups), but also I felt like a student again, all note-taking, and coffee-drinking, and thinking until my brain ached. I loved every second.
Today, I brought Jack to the first of a series of teach-ins hosted by a D.C. gem, Politics & Prose bookstore. Moderated by Lissa Muscatine, panelists David Cole (the ACLU's National Legal Director), Todd Cox (Director of Policy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), and Michael Waldman (President of the Brennan Center of Justice at NYU) discussed American civil liberties, past and future, in the context of Trump and the 2016 election. (To watch the event, click here.)
Jack was so engaged in the election that I thought he'd be keen on this teach-in. He was not. He did, however, appear to read the entirety of the new DK book about Rogue One while I enjoyed nearly 90 minutes of the panel discussion, so win/win. Bonus: we left with an excellent chocolate chip cookie and a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, yet another book I missed during my own childhood and so am reading now with J.
Both the workshop and the teach-in were engaging and inspiring, and were I made to sum both up with one sentence, I'd say: Find the truth and write about/act on it.
Truth is what happened, what is and/or what is provable. In theory, truth shouldn't be elusive. And yet, because we are human, truths often appear to be mercurial shape-shifters. My memory or yours? The lenses provided by geography, faith, peers, experience. Those things color truths, but do they negate them?
It may appear that truth is so malleable, it may feel that it is, but I believe the truth is always there: we simply (never so simple, really) must acknowledge it. To live honestly, we must support and defend it.
Waldman began by reminding us of the "consent of the governed" condition noted in the Declaration; it is a condition generally considered necessary for a government to be legitimate. Since our founders argued over this, our country has continued to, fighting to uphold the institutional arrangements that protect our democracy and civil liberties.
We have failed at times, refusing, for example, the right to vote to too many for too long.
But what do we do when advances made are clawed back? When the Voting Rights Act that tried to mandate and ensure voting rights for African Americans is gutted, when not one question in 26 presidential debates asked about that backwards movement, when an unqualified man known to cheat others and who has real and substantiated racist claims against him in his past then becomes president? What to do when he then nominates a hyper-Right senator barred previously from judgeship because of racism to serve as the Attorney General of the U.S., a position that requires fair, unbiased judicial ability?
What do we do? We fight.
In the same way many writers struggle to candidly share their truths--knowing that is the way to heal and strengthen and live most honestly--we citizens must now fight to do the same for our country.
"Our concern and anger is only effective if we fight," David Cole said. Previous presidents "only made changes to unpopular moves when people forced it." This is especially critical now, when it's quite possible that the only checks and balances against the incoming administration are us, the people.
This will take loud, unceasing efforts at local, state, and federal levels.
It will take us holding our Congressional representatives' feet to the blazing fire of truth and justice and courage, to demand that they do their jobs which are on our behalf. It will require some of us to run for office because our elected officials are failing.
It will require supporting real journalism and people who work in conjunction with them. We will need to stop falling for superficial, click-bait nonsense and instead be willing to invest more time in real reading and questioning and learning.
It demands that we stop, here and now, false equivalencies of candidates and behaviors.
It will take all of us defending and shoring up expansive societal norms and civil institutions that protect the rights of many versus the desires of a few.
It will demand regular reminders to those who wish to constrict others' rights that "your liberty is my liberty." (-Todd Cox)
It will require us to be brave and stalwart, to expect backlash and to be prepared for it. If we give our consent via silence or inaction, then we are complicit in allowing ignorant, unqualified, mean-spirited, non patriots to "lead" us.
I thought about all of this all day. About how truth is one thing we should all cherish and hold tight to, even when it's uncomfortable. Without norms, without empathy, without a shared commitment to each other, our democracy will crumble. Our country will. Brave are those who work, quietly or loudly, alone or with others, towards a truthful tomorrow.
And then there's Meryl. Please watch her powerful speech at tonight's Golden Globes.