For several years after spending the majority of the months of the year, for a few years, living in a rain forest with people who did not speak English, I developed these habits: When I was warning people of an imminent danger (something about to drop, a car about to come too close, etc.) I would say “Keba!” Or, if I was out in the wilds with someone and I saw a snake, I’d say, “Keba, Nyoka!” Neither was effective in the American context, but the reactions were burned in to my head. They were burned in because in the rain forest there was no way to get the kind of help we Americans are accustomed to (like doctors and urgent care facilities and such) and there were some mighty impressive deadly snakes. My brain rewired. “Careful” became “Keba!” and “Look out for the snake!” became “Keba, Nyoka!”
The other day, at the beginning of March, I woke up for the first time in years without a sense of urgency as I grabbed my cell phone to check my email. I woke up and did not check my email even before I was fully out of bed. I checked later, and when I did, I was specifically looking for two or three emails from colleagues, about the HOA meeting later that day, or about a letter we needed to send to a guest speaker at an upcoming forum, or some such.
What I was not looking for, for the first time in years, was a news alert announcing that Donald Trump was dead, for one reason or another.
I stopped caring so much if Donald Trump died in his sleep on January 20th, about noon. I still care. It would still be nice, since he is still a threat to the entire world, and especially the United States. But his dictatorship is over, and the reckoning has begun, and I’m thinking he will have a hard time running an effective campaign for president from within Wallkill Prison.
I think that what I’ve been experiencing could be called PTSD, of a sort. Having experienced PTSD (following acts of terrible violence and/or maiming) I have to say it doesn’t feel just like that, but maybe there are different versions. And, maybe I’m still experiencing it. Maybe we all are still getting over Trump and, likely, that is going to take some time. Or, if not getting over, maybe growing used to the new situation where Trump is not the dictator, but still a boogeyman in the background along with the Proud Boys and other White Supremacist insurrectionists.
I say Wallkill, but maybe it would be Sing Sing. Sing Sing would be good.
Anyway, I’ve only spoken at length to one person who was in the Capitol at the time of the January 6th Republican Insurrection. He is a mild mannered guy in politics who had worked hard to get around party divides, and bring people together around issues of common concern. But after the insurrection, when he realized that it was the Republicans in the Capitol that were hoping for mayhem, destruction, and even death, even helping make it happen, he has had something of a Come to Jesus moment. I was there with the proverbial Jesus long ago. I stopped trusting Republicans way back, and my disdain has only grown, and I have railed against the “independent thinker” meme for years. (That’s, like, “I don’t vote on party lines. I look at the issues, then chose the candidate based on their stance on the issues,” said by someone who usually doesn’t vote.) January 6th did not change my mind at all. This person is, I think, likely to experience some really serious PTSD, having actually been in the building, to hear the screaming, the gun shot, the exhortation to remove identifying pins else be captured by the enemy that has breached the breaches…
I recommend that folks examine their own PTSD or quasi-PTSD — which may be mild and it may be strong, but is likely to be at least somewhat hidden — to see if there are any demons that need to be held down in the bucket until the last bubble floats up.
I have taken solace, and kept some degree of strength and sanity, with a particular idea. First, an idea that I don’t like, by way of contrast.
This is the domino or Ponzi idea. You and I decide that the best thing to do is to vote for a particular candidate. So we each get ten people to agree, and then, they get 10 other people to agree, and so on. If I do this with a particular idea here in Minnesota, within fewer than 7 iterations, I’ve convinced twice as many people as actually live here (including babies) to vote for my candidate! That won’t actually work, wont’ actually get past the first iteration.
A version of that is the domino effect. I push over one thing, it pushes over the next thing, and so on, until finally all the things are pushed over (figuratively). That doesn’t even work very well with actual dominoes. The reason why there are YouTube videos of it actually working with dominoes is that if you get this to really work impressively, of course you take a video of it!
Here is what I do instead. Imagine a heavy ball, like a bowling ball, suspended on a long chain from some object high atop the thing. It is motionless. Now, stroke it with a strip of 34 pound (heavy weight) paper. The ball will hardly move. But if you wait for it to ever so subtly move back to where you stroked it, and a little beyond, where it is about to swing once again in the away direction, and stroke it then, the next swing will be a tiny bit father. If you keep doing that, the heavy ball on the long chain will eventually be swinging so far that it will be hard to stop, certainly unstoppable with a strip of paper.
And that is what I do every single day, and it is what I’ve been doing every single day since Trump was elected. I was doing it a lot before, but every single day, sometimes multiple times, since then. Probably 5,000 strokes since November 2016.
Of course, I do things like send an email or make a call to an elected representative, or give 50 bucks to a candidate, or spend an hour on a phone bank, etc. But I like to do somewhat bigger strokes when I can. Like write a letter to the editor for my local kitchen-stop paper, that might get read by, I dunno, 100 people. I employ messaging skills to make that letter a little more effective, and I make sure it gets around on social media. Stroke, stroke, stroke, right there. Or I help organize 100 people to write an email or make a call. Or I recruit or help train a new volunteer who is going to go at that suspended ball in their own way. Tonight, three of us spent a couple of ours on a zoom with a hundred folks helping them craft excellent comments in support of a regulation that will increase the use of electric cars.
It is very important to pay attention to the timing and direction of each thing. Just doing something to feel good about it may not be ideal. Doing just the right thing at the right time can move the bowling ball. Real live activism requires less precision than the actual bowling ball stroking, of course. At the same time, we can calculate the exact effect of the paper stroke but with real live activism we are often shooting in the dark.
Anyway, every day since the day Trump was elected, through his inauguration and eventual departure, I have been pushing the heavy weight just a little bit at a time, enough that I know that I’ve moved it. I can not say that every act has had an effect, but I’m certain that several thousand, together, have.
Oh, and I should say this: There are a few million of us.
Of course, there are always the federal prisons. I hear Yazoo City is nice.
Anyway, this is not done. The future is dangerous and must be paid close attention to. Keba! Kazi yetu haijakamilika.