March On

I don’t take the time these days to let in much emotion. On a day-to-day basis, I feel fine. I am fine. My immediate life is not too visibly touched by the ravages of the coronavirus and Trump’s reign of terror. I worry about others who are more directly in the line of fire, mostly with a sense of numb horror. I channel that horror into a kind of grim determination, signing up for another phone bank, donating again to the food bank or ActBlue. Mostly I maintain an even-keeled numbness, aware of how much energy I put into keeping feelings at bay so as not to get overwhelmed by the grief and rage and despair lapping at the edges.

It’s the exact opposite of how John Lewis lived, and lives on even in death. Beaten almost lifeless countless times; arrested more than 40 times; leading a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House at age 76 demanding action on gun legislation in the wake of the Orlando massacre; embracing the tens of thousands of young activists pouring into the streets after George Floyd’s murder–John Lewis never succumbed to despair, nor did he stray from the principles of non-violence. The day of his funeral, the New York Times published a piece Lewis wrote just before he died. It’s an homage to today’s protesters and a call to action. It’s a testament to how John Lewis keeps on giving, even in death.

There have been many homages to the civil rights icon himself in the last few days. I read some, heard snippets of others. But I took the time to watch President Obama’s eulogy in full. I needed the piercing of numbness I knew his presence and his words would bring.

Watching President Obama is a heartbreaking balm for the soul in the midst of Trump’s unending and crass malevolence. I, like millions of others, miss him every day. He knows that he would never have gotten where he is without John Lewis. As he delivered the eulogy, he did not mask his grief and anger. Nor did his grief and anger overwhelm his grace and buoyancy of spirit, his ability to lift us up.

Most compelling was his direct linkage to John Lewis’s lifelong work for racial justice and what is happening now, including how often might crushes right. Until it does not. Describing the scene in 1965 Selma, President Obama said, “I imagine initially, that day, the troopers thought they’d won the battle . . . Except this time there were some cameras there. This time Americans saw—bore witness to—black Americans who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans.”

President Obama helps us see that a nonchalant cop’s knee on George Floyd’s neck is today’s reincarnation of Bull Connor, that federal troops in Lafayette Square and Portland wield the same bloodying batons; and that voter suppression tactics, including sabotaging the post office, echo poll taxes and unpassable tests about how many jelly beans are in a jar. “John Lewis devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we’re seeing circulating right now,” President Obama said. “As long as we have breath in our bodies, we have to continue his cause. Everybody’s gotta come out and vote. . . We can’t treat voting like an errand to run if we have some time.”

And then: “You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.”

President Obama concluded by saying that Lewis “could not have been prouder of this new generation. John, these are your children, they learned by your example.

Thank you, John Lewis and President Obama. And thank you to all those now rising up and persevering in the fight for justice, whether grief-stricken, enraged, grim, weary, exuberant, numb, and–dare I say?–hopeful.


Ever since jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, setting off an era of fear, the notion of piloting and who’s at the controls has become a subconscious motif in the American psyche.

George W. Bush was at the helm on that fateful day, and it defined his presidency. His record as an actual pilot in the Texas Air National Guard presaged his performance as commander-in-chief: put into the position through dubious means, a spotty service record, and, most catastrophically, neglecting his duties, this time by failing to take pre-9/11 intelligence warnings seriously. President Bush then dragged us into the disastrous Iraq war and presided over the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

Another plane crash closed out the Bush Administration. Just days before President Obama’s first inauguration, US Airways Flight 1549 lost engine power shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport. Captain Chesley Sullenberger brought the stricken vessel to a safe landing in the Hudson River, then he and his crew calmly and professionally guided everyone to the wings of the aircraft to await rescue.

Captain Sully’s maneuvers heralded a new era. His cool, calm demeanor found its twin in President Obama, who rescued the country from economic collapse. A man who also took his job seriously, he guided us for the most part skillfully and without fanfare through perilous times.

As the Obama presidency drew to a close, two of the most unpopular candidates in our history vied to replace him, and again flight metaphors emerged.

“Let me put it this way,” a pilot I know remarked right before the election. “I think they’re both idiots. But at least Hillary knows how to fly a plane.”

Instead, we have someone totally unqualified about to step into the cockpit. In just a few days, cool-as-a-cucumber President Obama must hand over the controls to his opposite—an erratic, uncouth ignoramus governed solely by ego and self-aggrandizement. The contrast was starkly illuminated by President Obama’s graceful farewell address followed the next morning by Donald Trump’s snarling and incoherent press conference.

After the election, it was common to hear people—including President Obama—say that we should wish for Donald Trump’s success.

“Do you want him to fail?” asked a man I met who was pro-Trump because he was anti-choice. “After all, if you got on a plane, would you hope that the pilot would crash?”

Actually, I would hope that the pilot knew how to fly a plane.

But the question is a trap. Of course I do not want Donald Trump to drive the country into the ground. But his “success” means not only rewarding a bully with the bully pulpit, but destroying the progress of the Obama years. Trump and his enablers are taking direct aim at healthcare, reproductive rights, education, environmental protection, economic and racial justice, immigration, women’s, and minority rights, and so much more. So no, I do not want him to succeed. Besides, I do not see a man in charge who will guide the country safely—Trump is busily appointing people who are intent on hijacking the missions of the departments they are supposed to lead. His is shaping up to be a crash-and-burn administration.

Like it or not, we are all on this airplane now. Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.



Heartsick. That’s how I feel on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed, “I have a dream.”

My dreams are less inspiring. Last night I dreamed that my husband, his parents, and I were hiking in the remote countryside. Amid the beauty, we chanced upon secret military preparations for an airstrike against Syria, planes and boats amassed for war. Even though we had not come to this pastoral setting as intruders or to make trouble, we realized that we were likely to get arrested. My husband and his parents were unafraid, wanting to make a stand against armed conflict. I just wanted to get away.

My bedtime reading before falling into the sleep that produced this dream consisted of two fine articles: Rhea St. Julien’s, a writing acquaintance whose work I admire, and Patricia Williams’, a legal scholar and Nation contributor. St. Julien writes about what it is like to field constant compliments about her young bi-racial daughter’s mocha skin and gold-flecked afro, the bright happy-talk obscuring penetrating issues about race that nobody wants to address. Williams writes about how Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot to death by George Zimmerman, somehow became the one on trial in a courtroom saturated by tropes about gallant white men guarding against presumed-to-be-dangerous black men.

George Zimmerman sought trouble, and got away with murder. Trayvon Martin stood his ground, and paid with his life. In my dream, we also stumble into trouble not of our making, and are seen as intruders who must be gotten rid of. Standing our ground, or fleeing—which is the wiser course? I’m lucky that I can escape, in my white skin, facing down the menace that dreams are made of simply by waking up.

As I write this, President Obama, the man who embodies my highest aspirations and hopes and who now looks to be leading us into another foolhardy Middle East conflict, is speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate King’s speech.

I want to stand with the President, but can’t, because of Syria and the whole mess of dashed dreams. I want to stand against his foreign policy, but won’t. I do not wish to abet those who have not literally castrated and strung up this black man, but who have conducted a political lynching by delegitimizing him, hamstringing his vision and policies, rendering him impotent through sheer vitriol and obstruction. Just as an unarmed black teenager was somehow transmogrified into someone who deserved to die, our mild-mannered, thoughtful, centrist president has been contorted into the dangerous, dark other who must be thwarted.

My parents were lifelong civil-rights activists who moved away from the South before my older brothers became infected by overt racism. They worked tirelessly in the North to end housing discrimination that was every bit as hateful as the commonplace usage of the N-word they’d fled.

My parents also staunchly opposed the Vietnam War. They knew what it was like to revere their President for his domestic vision, and to break with him on foreign policy. I wish they were here now, not only to see a man they would have loved become President, but also to teach me how to carry on when faith flags.

I suppose it is something—quite a lot, really—that an African-American man has been elected twice as President of these riven United States. Just as it is something that many people at least delight in rather than revile a little girl with brown skin and golden curls. But there is so much more that lurks beneath the surface—war in the bucolic landscape of my dream; disillusionment in my reverence for my President; deep undercurrents of white-hot hatred despite real progress on race.

I would like to march, to take a stand, but I do not. I would like to embrace the progress we’ve made, and work hard to fulfill promises not yet met. Instead I lament, I mourn, I turn away from the world in crisis to the bright, happy-talk world of hair care and inconsequential blogging. In doing so, I turn away from despair, but also from hope, from determination.

I need a rally, a March on My Dispirited Soul.

A Week to Remember

Janine, my writing friend and guiding light of Write On, Mamas, keeps us inspired and productive by providing a constant stream of encouragement, writing opportunities, and writing prompts. This week’s was to write at least 100 words on Things I’d Like to Remember from this Week. Here’s mine–what would you like to remember?

Rainbow flag

I want to remember that this was a great week for Marriage Equality, with a conservative-dominated Supreme Court overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowing same-sex wedding bells to resume ringing in California. Supreme Court Building

I want to forget that those bells are still not allowed to ring in 37 states, and that the same Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act just the day before.

I want to remember that wanting to forget is no solution. Neither is opting out through demoralization. But I will probably resort to both.

Chimney emissionsI want to remember that this week President Obama took steps to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, and that he will probably disappoint me by approving the Keystone Pipeline in a few months.

I want to remember that staying committed through disappointment is a hallmark of maturity, and an absolute necessity for marriage, parenthood, friendship, and good citizenship.

I want to remember Wendy Davis in her pink sneakers preventing for a brief moment the erosion of women’s reproductive rights in Texas.

Wendy Davis's pink tennis shoes

I want to remember the miracle of Nelson Mandela, and that a good life comes not so much from miracles as from character and hard work.

Nelson Mandela

I want to remember that progress is a process of lurching back and forth.