Despite knocking on doors, making phone calls, and donating for the mid-terms this past year, I won’t even be here for the election: My husband and I are leaving tonight for New Zealand, our ballots safely delivered to our county’s registrar last week.
Since we’ll cross the international date line, I’ve been joking that we’ll be able to let people know on November 7 (Kiwi Time) if it’s safe to wake up, or whether everyone working so hard to turn red seats blue needs to drum up more votes while they still can (USA time).
But this election is no laughing matter. The Demagogue-in-Chief stokes fear and anger while his fans cheer his brutality and his Republican enablers stand by. Democratic enthusiasm is high, but voter suppression in red-dominated states is alive and well.
A couple of days ago I came across an essay by Ady Barkan that pierced through the rage, despair, numbness, and grim determination I’ve known too often in these past two years. Barkan is a progressive activist who was diagnosed at age 32 with ALS just a few weeks before the 2016 election. As he puts it, ALS “ would rapidly destroy all the connections between my brain and my muscles, leading to complete paralysis and death, likely in three to four years. Three weeks later, our world was turned upside down a second time, when America elected a racist kleptocrat to the White House.”
Barkan describes the paradox posed by his medical condition and his life’s work:
Like many people suddenly confronted with agonizing loss, I looked for answers in Buddhism. Pema Chödrön teaches us that when the ground disappears beneath your feet, the solution is not to flail around in a desperate attempt to find a handhold; it is to accept the law of gravity and find peace despite your velocity. Leave the mode of doing and enter the mode of being. Accept things as they are, rather than yearning for them to be otherwise.
Such radical acceptance is in tension with my identity as a movement builder. Activism is precisely about not accepting the tragedies of this world, but rather on insisting that we can reduce pain and prolong life.
As Barkan rapidly loses his strength, his mobility, his ability to feed himself, and—soon—his speech, he has thrown himself even more vibrantly into the fight, traveling the country in his wheelchair, speaking to elected representatives and ordinary people, even getting arrested as he protests tax cuts for the wealthy and champions a radically humane vision of what America can be.
“Focusing on the moment and immersing myself in the task at hand has been my salvation over the past two years,” Barkan writes.
He’s encounterd much cynicism, but also much hope. Citing Rebecca Solnit, Barkan reminds us that “hope is not a lottery ticket that can deliver us out of despair, but a hammer for us to use in this national emergency—to break the glass, sound the alarm, and sprint into action.”
Barkan goes on to say that voting is not enough, that we must all be the organizers and heroes of the moment, for our communities and future generations. Few of us will be able to match his level of commitment. Yet every action matters.
November 6 is almost upon us, and voting is the necessary action right now. Make sure you vote, and that every person you know who is concerned about the national emergency brought into sharp focus by Trump’s election does, too. A great resource is Vote Save America.
November 6 is the date President Obama was re-elected. It is also the first birthday of my friend’s grandson, whose smiles and baby-deliciousness and cheerful oblivion have sustained all those who love him, inspiring them to work hard to make the world a better place. It’s an auspicious date.
Barkan, too, has a young son. Imagining the world Carl will inherit keeps him moving through the dark times of his own dwindling life and the threat to our beloved country:
I can transcend my dying body by hitching my future to yours . . . We peer into the future and hope that our children’s children will grow up in a more just and equitable society.
That is the country I wish to come home to from New Zealand, not one that deepens my horror and grief.
Let’s make this November 6 another hopeful and auspicious date.
Be a voter, save America.