From Stories to Resistance


A Six-Day Walk Through the Alps, Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir by Emily Witt
A Six-Day Walk Through the Alps, Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir
by Emily Witt

My response to the incoming Trump administration fluctuates between rage and terror. Staying in the range of rage feels more useful. Fear can lead to paralysis and actions that are protective and defensive, rather than challenging and offensive. I want to be on offense.

In that stance, I’m calling back my original adult rage as a woman, when I first began to understand how patriarchy and male domination shaped not only my life but the course of human history. Men’s subjection and ownership of women has done nothing but harm, though the men in charge would argue that this statement is meaningless because men controlling women is how the world should be organized.

To which I would say, “Not true. And fuck you!” Yesterday the Trump transition team sent a memo to the State Department, asking for information “outlining existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.” Should we be worried? Hell, yes. State Department employees are and so am I. 

I’m also pissed and returning to my feminist roots to shape my fury and dig in against the coming assaults by the Trump administration on reproductive rights, gender equity, body autonomy, public benefits and a living wage, because keeping people poor and dependent hurts no one more than women and their children.

In that spirit, my most recent collage is from a the NY Time Style Magazine article on Simone de Beauvoir, an early feminist. The Second Sex was one of the first feminist books I read. Beauvoir’s analysis of women’s oppression and gender as a social construct influenced my thinking and put me on the path to my career working to end violence against women.

Battered women’s and rape crisis programs began by women telling each other their stories of violation and abuse. Out of these stories a movement of resistance was born, because listening to each other helped women understand they were not alone, they were not to blame for violence perpetrated against them, and they could organize to support each other in getting out from under the control of abusers.

Now the stories emerging post-election are essential to the resistance against the intolerance, greed and autocracy we see coming as Trump and his cronies take over the most powerful positions in our country. Listening to stories of frustrations and wrongs and triumphs will remind us we’re not alone, we’re not to blame for the violations of our human rights and that we can organize to support each other and push back at attempts to control us.

Here are three stories I’ve heard recently.

The day after the election, a second grade boy in North Carolina was inconsolable and couldn’t stop crying. He was afraid when he went home his parents would be gone, kicked out of the country.

A woman in West Virginia left her house early on election day to be sure she’d have time to vote before having to be at work at 9:00 a.m. When she got to the polls she was told her home was no longer in the district for that polling place and the location where she could vote was 40 minutes away. Some of her neighbors were also there and unable to vote. When they asked why they hadn’t been notified of the change, they were told a notice had been published in the paper — as they found out, a tiny notice on an inside page. The woman never got to vote because she couldn’t afford to be late for work.

A young man whose family had voted for Obama talked to his father after the election and it came out that the father had voted for Trump. When the son asked how he could have done that, the father wavered and said he’d thought he’d vote for Clinton but he didn’t agree with all of Clinton’s policies. Finally, the father admitted that when he got in the voting booth, “I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for a woman for President.”

Feminist anger as fuel. I’m ready to blast off.




Kindness On Top


President Obama is a kind man. You can see it in his eyes. You can see that he loves other people, that he can love women and children without threat, to himself or them. He’s not afraid of other people’s personal power. He’s not afraid of powerful women. He’s not afraid of much I don’t think.

I’ve been frustrated by some of Obama’s choices (tackling health care before climate change, not fighting dirty enough to counter the obstructionist Republican Congress) but I also have deep admiration for his intelligence, resolve, patience and kindness.

There’s no kindness evident in the administration Trump is assembling. One nasty person after another has been nominated for the Cabinet — misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes, billionaires with no compassion. Already people around me are longing for some sign that those who’ll be making decisions for all of us, our next leaders, care about something besides themselves, their rich friends, and tearing down protections for people “other” than them — women, LBTQI people, brown people, black people, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, refugees.

Is this what we get because a black man who is kind and trustworthy has been President?

My series of collages to make sense of what’s happening in national politics continues. Last night I again used Obama’s face and words, from an interview in Rolling Stone. His eyes — kind eyes, compassionate eyes, brave eyes —  kept looking out from the weave of words.

There’s a message in those eyes, a message President Obama spoke to all of us. “There’s no benefit that’s derived from pulling into a fetal position. We go out there, and we work. And we slog through challenges, and over time things get better.”

So let’s get to work and make sure we get kindness on top again.


Fewer Words, More Seeing


How do you see the world? Through a liberal or conservative lens, fundamentalist or progressive, Democrat or Republican? Which bubble are you in? What frame do you use to organize your thoughts about what’s happening around you, which for me right now is focused much more than usual on national politics.

I can’t turn away from national news and neither can most of the people around me. For much of my adulthood my knowledge of political machinations has hovered at the periphery of my life. I’ve known what’s going on — the Republican shutdown of the government in 2013, opposition to Obama’s ACA, the Supreme Court’s recent rulings in favor of same sex marriage and affirmative action and against abortion restrictions in Texas. But political news hasn’t been at the center of my attention for much of the day every day.

Now it is — Trump’s election, reactions to his lies and hyperbolic assessments of his victory, his increasingly scary and bizarre cabinet picks, breaking news about Russian hacking and pressure on Electors not to elect Trump — are at the dead center of my attention. I check the news as soon as I get up and before I go to sleep and during every break I take during the day — Twitter, NYTimes, Washington Post, clicks through to CNN and Slate and Newsweek, Huffington Post and Politico. I read at least a dozen opinion pieces a day. While I run or drive or walk I listen to the 538 and NPR Politics and Show About Race podcasts. There’s a constant feed of news into my brain, almost none of which is good, and the opinions about what has happened, what might happen, why what happened happened, and what each of us should do about it all is overwhelming.

After a dose of online reading I usually come away feeling like everyone is telling each other how to see the world. But everyone is doing way more talking than seeing. There’s an overload of words meant to convince each other who to believe, who to understand better, which bubble to try to penetrate, your own or someone else’s.

I’ve turned to words myself. Besides the political reading I’ve done in the last six months, probably more than I’d done in the previous ten years, I’ve been writing and talking about this election and its outcome for months now. It’s time for something beyond words.

The most comfort I’ve found in responding to the election of Trump and my fears about living in an increasingly authoritarian, white, male, Christian controlled world has been literally weaving the news, revealing the fractures in truth we’re living through.

I started with the Sunday, December 4 NY Times, ripping strips of the paper, printed with news of Trump and responses to his decisions and actions and Tweets, then weaving the strips into a collage. I’ve since done five more collages with newspapers and magazines and the last one is my favorite — Barry Blitt’s drawing of President Obama on the cover of The New Yorker with text from David Remnick’s article.

Finally, a way of expressing how I see the world right now that doesn’t need words. Cutting and ripping and weaving and gluing shreds of news is calming.

If I can’t stitch the truth together out of what I read and hear, I can at least make something that shows the truth I see.








Rape Culture in the White House

Women listening to President Obama campaign for HIllary Clinton in Ohio Photo from The Atlantic
Women listening to President Obama campaign for Hillary Clinton in Ohio
Photo from The Atlantic

So remember when people finally started to get it about sexual assault? Women students spoke out about college administrations not only not supporting them after reporting assaults but trying to silence them. Stories of sexual assaults at top notch prep schools exploded in the news. Then Donald Trump’s taped remarks about grabbing women by the pussy and forcibly kissing them came out in October and finally everyone was acknowledging and naming sexual assault.

And remember when we thought a man who bragged about touching women however he wanted because he was rich and could get away with it could never be elected President?

Yeah, not so much anymore.

Last Wednesday morning Kellyanne Conway spoke at an event in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. A young woman, a high school student, asked Conway how she could rationalize working for a man who’s been accused of sexual assault and who seemed to admit to it on the tape.

Conway paused. Was she thinking about this question, this forum, as an opportunity to push back against rape culture? Could she frame this in a way that acknowledged how inappropriate unwanted sexual touch is (she called Trump’s language in the tape “disgusting” when it broke in October) without undermining Trump? Of course not.

She was getting ready to scold the young woman for bringing up this tired old argument that was “said probably tens of thousands of times” during the campaign. Really, who cares about sexual assault now?

“Women are tired of the same argument and the same thing you are presenting to me right now. I’m glad that people looked at [those attacks] and said, ‘You know what? That’s an argument that will not create a single job in my community, not bring back a single of the 70,000 factories that have been closed, will not deter one member of ISIS from doing their bloodletting here or anywhere else in the world.’”

Conway then went on to deride Hilary Clinton for not getting more votes from women. She did beat Trump among women voters, 54% to 42%. According to exit polls 94% of black women and 68% of Hispanic women voted for Clinton. Yes, 53% of white women voted for Trump, but that figure was largely driven by non-college educated white women who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, 62% to 34% for Clinton.

There are many, nuanced reasons for how women voted, which are well articulated in “Women Aren’t Responsible for Hillary Clinton’s Defeat,” in The Atlantic. But some of it is what women expect. When you live steeped in rape culture, bragging about grabbing pussy may not seem like that big a deal, or not a big enough deal to not vote with your party.

Or your husband. Several times while canvassing for Hillary David and I knocked on the door of a woman listed on our sheet. No man’s name. Just hers. When a man answered and we asked for the woman the man said, “She doesn’t want to talk to you,” and shut the door.

But back to Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump and rape culture. My hope, when that Access Hollywood tape exposed Trump’s misogyny and objectification of women, was that the national conversation about sexual assault would continue. That this was another nail in the coffin of rape culture.

Instead a room full of young people were told that jobs and factories and terrorist attacks are more important than accusations of sexual assault. Is that because if there’s no rape there are no jobs and factories and terrorists will attack us? We can’t push back against rape culture and improve the economy and be safe?

No, that would be admitting we live in a culture that normalizes rape. When women are scared and disempowered they’re more likely to vote for men who think they have a right to control them. Kellyanne thinks we should keep it that way.

How Did We Get Here?


Advice for liberal coastal elites in coming to terms with Trump’s election has been abundant, mostly to get out of our bubbles and work to understand Trump voters. The articles are everywhere, in newspapers and online news sites with links all over social media. We’re advised to consider who are these sister and fellow country men and what do they cherish, what do they fear, what are their lives like? How did they feel so marginalized that electing a blatantly sexist and racist man was okay?

Then there are the counter opinion pieces, by those of us horrified by Trump, that suggest rural, economically stretched and dissatisfied people try to understand us. After all, we did out vote them by now over 2.5 million.

I’m taking another path and I recommend it. Everyone in this country who lives with white privilege (e.g. you’re white so you can get away with a whole lot more shit than people who aren’t) should try to understand those who don’t. What is life like for black and brown people in this country? What do they cherish, what do they fear, how has being marginalized affected them?

Early this fall, as I watched way too many Americans run with Trump’s permission to be overtly racist, I began to be very afraid for people of color. I wanted to understand better how racism affects politics in our country, how it’s stayed glued to the every institution in our society, and what that feels like for people of color. I know the white liberal view of what’s going on. What’s the view of black and brown people?

So I made a commitment to get as much of my cultural input as possible from black and brown people through books, podcasts, movies, performances, periodicals and newspapers.

I’ve learned a lot, been challenged and dismayed and gob-smacked by brilliance hearing and reading about the everyday experiences of racism in your face as a black or brown person, the constant pressure of not being white, which makes you not right to too many people in some fundamental way. Like some white guy in the priority seating A section of a Southwest boarding line who asks a black woman, and no one else, if she’s in the right line. Or a man who spits in the face of a Latina teenager and tells her to get the hell home as she marches peacefully in NYC in the week after the election. Or white teenagers who chant “Build the wall” at the brown students in their school.

There are also stories of celebration and fierce resistance to diminishment, black and brown women and men who keep speaking truth to power, who don’t let up in pushing up against the bullshit barriers, as scary as it is to walk around in our country with skin that isn’t white.

And it really is scary. Listen to the stories, read the books. Start with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and then Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Listen to the podcasts Show About Race, Another Round, and Code Switch. To me, it’s a privilege to get to listen to black and brown people talk so openly and frankly about their experiences and frustrations and victories. You can laugh along with two very funny black women, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, as they riff off each other on Two Dope Queens.

Go see the movie Moonlight, “a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love.” Watch the TV series Atlanta, creation of writer and musician Donald Glover.

Then when you’re wondering how white people can hang on to such openly racist attitudes, people who really do want to limit voting rights for black Americans, people who proudly declare their belief that white people are superior, people who quietly let subtle acts of racism swirl around them every day, read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

The novel opens on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and the unflinching depictions of slavery are both barely believable and completely make sense. Acknowledging how the wealth of this country was built by and on the bodies of black people being inhumanely brutalized by white people is a first step in understanding how we got to where we are today. We have a long and horrible history of racism and obviously still have a lot of work to do to undo centuries of harm.

Forget about understanding the people who voted for Trump. Understand the people who’ll be hurt by those votes and what underlies the forces that will hurt them. Starting to fully acknowledge the deep legacy of racism in the U.S. will help you understand how someone who wants change in Washington DC but doesn’t consciously hate black people could vote for Trump.

Let yourself feel the injustice of that legacy and think about how you’ve benefitted from it. Think about how you can help untangle the knot of racism that permeates and poisons our culture.

Education is a first step. Click on some of the links above and see where you end up.