Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Doing Something

Increasingly, I ask myself why I’m not marching on DC. Why I’m not calling my representatives and heck everyone’s representatives every day, urging them to come to their senses.

I ask myself why I’m not doing something. Why I’m not doing more.

What I do will never be enough. The current of hatred and willful ignorance is strong, and even if I dedicated every waking (and sleeping) hour for the rest of my life, I will not turn the tide.

And also, I know that my PTSD is a huge barrier. I don’t like big groups. I become overstimulated and overwhelmed easily. I am fearful of many everyday things, and often just getting up and feeding myself is the best I can do.

I do believe that we all have a role to play. And that there are different ways we can do something.

My son and daughter-in-law were visiting recently, and we talked about this. How does someone who struggles with physical or mental illness, who is busy holding down multiple jobs and raising children (to be clear that isn’t my situation), who has social anxiety or even agoraphobia, help?

My son pointed out that if all I can do is provide food to people who are in need, that may free up some of their time or energy to in turn make improvements in their lives. If I feed the activists (as Alice Waters did, knowing that while marching wasn’t her thing, she could provide a gathering place and good food), that will be one last thing they have to worry about, freeing them up to do their activism. If all I can do is stuff envelopes for twenty minutes twice a month, that still means that more people will get the mailers calling them to action, and could reach that one person who just needed one more reminder.

I’ve been mulling over these thoughts and conversations. So far only mulling them over. I am busy, after all. And the world does exhaust me, after all. (That’s sarcasm – because all of us can become immobilized with the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t.)

Tonight my neighbor saw me giving nutrients to my very sad tomato plants, and came over. He is from Mexico. When his young adult son came from Mexico to stay with him for a few months, one of the first tings he told me was the story of how his son was a U.S. citizen because he’d been born here, even though he had spent most of his childhood in Mexico.

It saddened me to wonder how many times people had been nosy or downright mean, for him to learn to lead with that.

Why should I care whether or not his son is a U.S. citizen? Why is that even my business? But no doubt Pedro (not his real name) is far too familiar with people making it their business to be in his business.

He told me that he’s been trying to sell his manufactured home here at the trailer park. (Brief lesson: RVs or trailers are made to be mobile, while manufactured homes, even though they initially came in on trailers, are meant to stay put.) He has sent half a dozen prospective buyers to the park manager, to apply to stay at the park.

(If you haven’t yet, please watch John Oliver’s episode on mobile home parks: They are odd places where yes you do own your home, but the park gets to decide who can live there, like with an apartment.)

All prospective owners were turned away. When Pedro asked the park manager, he was told that they failed their credit checks. But he would not provide any documentation to that affect. And then told Pedro to stop sending these people to him because he was busy. He felt increasingly frustrated because he communicating clearly in English is a struggle for him. I said something wishy-washy about these being tough times, and he responded clearly saying he thinks the manager doesn’t like Mexicans. At this point I was inclined to agree. And heck, everyone who doesn’t loudly advocate for diversity is suspect these days.

Just to put it in perspective, on top of how increasingly dangerous it is to be black or brown in this country, he is unable to sell his home because of this discrimination.

He came over to share his story, and to ask if I knew how to contact the owner of the trailer park. I was pretty sure I had that information, so I told him I would come over when I found it.

A quick search at home and I had the information he’d asked for.

I thought of him going to the owner, angry and in a financial predicament, struggling to express himself. But whether expressed directly or not, there would be the implication of racism impacting the manager’s behavior. How would the owner react? Chances seem good that he would react with defensiveness and verbal aggression. At the least, there is a chance this is how it will go.

I felt a flutter of anxiety. I didn’t want to do what I knew I must do, and I ran through the excuses in my head.

I walked over to Pedro’s home a few steps from my own, and handed him the paper with the phone number and address. I pointed to where I’d written my own phone number and told him I could go with him. I said more firmly, “I’ll go with you.”

He said he really wanted to go with someone who could speak both languages, and mentioned that he could bring his nephew. I agreed. And then I said, “bring your nephew. And if you also want someone else, if you want a white woman there, I’ll come too.”

I don’t know if he’ll ask me. But I hope in a very small way my offer made him feel a little less vulnerable to the machinations of a white-centric population. And if I do go, while I will be terrified to do so, I also know that in the moment I will rise to whatever challenges it brings. And then most likely will come home and cry. Or crawl into bed for a week. And that’s if things go well!

I want to be really, really clear that am neither asking for, nor want, recognition or praise. If I think I deserve cookies, I can bake them for myself.

Think about it. We live in a society that was designed by and for white people that has always, always vilified and kept down people of color. It is the very least I can do to be his advocate in a system not of his making, in a system designed by my people to keep his people at a disadvantage. It is the bare minimum.

The reason I’m sharing this is for another reason. For all of us who want to do something, who feel increasingly distressed that we aren’t doing something, and who have a long (or short but significant) list of challenges to being more active, please try to think creatively.

There are ways all of us can help. All of us. (And let’s be real, I guess what I mean by all of us is all of us white people. Black people and brown people are not the ones responsible for white supremacy, so they shouldn’t be responsible for fixing it.)

Ruminate on the countless ways that something you could do could help shift the dynamic even just a little bit. Let this dilemma, the dilemma of being one mere person in the midst of this terrifying time in our history, stay in your thoughts. This way you will be more likely to see a place where you are the right person in the right moment to do something.

I know it may sound silly to some, but tonight was a big deal for me. I put my monumental distress into one tiny action. I pushed on my fear to make one small gesture. It was a big deal for me. And now I know that I can do it again. And again.

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