8 Inspiring Americans On How They Will Make The Next Four Years Matter

I didn’t get any sleep on the night of 8th November, 2016. The buzzy fizz of casting my vote for the first-ever female presidential candidate on a major party ticket began to go flat early in the evening, when states that were supposed to turn blue went red. By midnight, I was stress eating pizza and verging on meltdown when my partner decided he’d had enough and left the living room.

“Things will look better in the morning,” he said, and I believed him, because the truth is that they usually do.

But when the first streaks of sunlight hit the wall, I was still sitting on the couch, trying to reconcile my intended reality for that morning with the actual reality of the new day. All the coffee and golden retriever puppies in the world could not have worked magic on those first few hours. I was devastated. Twelve hours before, my dream still had a heartbeat. Now it was officially D.O.A.

Eventually, I put on pants and walked my sniffling butt to the subway to go be a snotty mess alongside my coworkers and everyone else who felt defeated and afraid, but had no other choice but to soldier on. "The world only spins forward," Tony Kushner wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, which is about another time in our nation’s history when it seemed like things were going to seed. That line is more than two decades old now, but it still seems perfectly suited to this moment we’re all stuck in. No matter whom you voted for, your politics or beliefs, the colour of your skin or socioeconomic status: There is nowhere to go but into the future. And, while it may look different from what we hoped or dreamed or predicted with pre-election polling data, we’re all spinning forward. Together.

With that in mind, Refinery29 pulled together perspectives on how to be in the world right now from writers, thinkers, activists, and advocates who have some worthwhile thoughts on where we go from here. Consider this required reading on the subject of how to live your values — not just in the next four years, but always.

Veronica Chambers

Remember Everything Michelle Taught Us

Veronica Chambers is the editor of the new anthology: The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own.

In the days since November 2016, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about a classic hip hop song called “Letter to the Future” by the late, great rapper Heavy D. In the song, Heavy D raps: "The world today is in a very difficult situation / And we all know it / Because we’re the ones who created it / What’s wrong with our future?"

For a song that was released more than two decades ago, it remains sadly prophetic. But what consoles me is that Heavy D goes on to assure us that we can overcome any challenge. After all, he reminds us — "Picking cotton was hard, but we did it together." It is such a powerful statement. As we say goodbye to the first African-American president and First Lady, the Heavy D song reminds me that there’s a strength in Black culture that will be important for all Americans as the new administration takes the reigns. We know a thing or two about thriving even in tough times.

That same sentiment was echoed recently in a landmark episode of the TV show Blackish. The character Dre, played by Anthony Anderson, tells his white colleagues, "Black people wake up every day believing that our lives are going to change, even though everything around us says it's not. I’m used to things not going my way. I'm sorry that you're not, and it's blowing your mind."
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The truth is that, over the next year and beyond, a lot of things are not going to go our way. I’m horrified at the swiftness with which the incoming administration is working to repeal Obamacare, as if millions of Americans being unable to retain health care is a way to "make our nation great."

But while so many of us are devastated to see President Obama and Michelle Obama leave the White House, I remain hopeful the legacy of these past eight years will hold us in good stead.

During Michelle Obama’s televised exit interview, Oprah Winfrey asked the First Lady, "What allowed you to stand in your truth and find your way?" Mrs. Obama replied, "Being a grown-up... I’ve been in the world. I’ve worked in every sector, and you don’t do that without coming up against some stuff. You know, having your feelings hurt, having people say things about you that aren’t true."

"Life hits you, so over the course of living, you learn how to protect yourself in it," she went on. "You learn to take in what you need and get rid of the stuff that’s clearly not true." This is what this moment will demand of us — to be grown-ups. We will have to stand in our truth and find our way. We need to know that when life hits us — and for many of us, the hits will be hard — we can protect ourselves. We must learn to take in what we need and get rid of the rest.

Anne Lamott has said about grace, "I do not understand at all the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us." I would say that also applies to the Obamas and their eight years of service to this country. They met us where we were as a nation, but they did not leave us where they found us. They brought to the office an incredible mixture of intelligence and excellence, patience and creativity, warmth and grace. From “When they go low, we go high” to Michelle's landmark speech in New Hampshire, when she spoke on Trumps’ comments about women and said, "I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I’m sure that many of you do too, particularly the women. The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts."

And yet, the marvelousness of Michelle Obama is that she not only gave us her wisdom, she also shared with us her joy. She brought so much light and laughter to her role: Mom dancing with Jimmy Fallon, carpool karaoke with James Corden, shopping at CVS with Ellen DeGeneres.

We’re going to need to mirror that joy in the year ahead. We’re going to need to laugh and go on larks and dance it out. We’re going to have to wake up on the hardest days and we’re going to need to find the joy — that’s going to be part of our job now, too.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Be Your Sister's Keeper

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a writer, activist, and the founder of MuslimGirl.com.
When I ran track in high school, I used to love knowing that my mom’s sneakers had dug into that exact same circle of dirt when she was my age. I’d look up at the bleachers and think of the stories she used to tell me about hanging with her friends during practice, listening to ‘80s music, talking to cute boys — living the American Dream.

I have always thought it is remarkable that I attended the same schools as my mom — from kindergarten through graduation — given the fact that she is a displaced refugee from Palestine.

Conflict ejected my maternal grandmother from the Middle East way back in 1948; after that, she bounced between countries before ultimately immigrating with her little daughter (my mom) to America. They settled in New Jersey. Mama grew up like any typical suburban teenager of her generation.

But people are often surprised to find out that, unlike me, my mom never chose to don a headscarf. Much like me, though, she did become the definition of a Jersey girl, with the accent to match. But despite the fact that I grew up here, and that my mother grew up here — that we are American women with American roots — it became clear to me after 9/11 that there were still people in this world who don't think we belong.

My fellow first-generation children of immigrants understand the feeling of detachment — of floating between different worlds — that coincides with being a resident of diaspora. But the oceans my parents crossed and the challenges they overcame just to create a life for us are not only a testament to their strength. Their journeys are threads in the immigrant legend, as old as this country itself.

My mother married my father not too far from her hometown — which was remarkable, too, given that he had immigrated from Jordan to the U.S. only several years before. My dad left everything he knew and arrived to New York City when he was just 26 years old, with nothing but a few hundred dollars in his pocket, to embark upon one of the most American stories known to man: surviving the concrete jungle.
Fast forward a couple of decades. I’m in my 20s, stomping around the same corner of Thompson Street where my father held his first American job — sweeping up a convenience store — and I’m now trying to stretch a dollar to make an unlikely entrepreneurial pursuit called MuslimGirl.com happen. The website I launched from my high school bedroom in New Jersey has since become the largest Muslim women’s platform in the country. And these days, for the first time since our inception, we’ve had to produce a “Crisis Safety Manual for Muslim Women” just to survive.

Here is the truth: Right now, it’s hard being a Muslim woman in New York City. Yes, even in an urban jungle as diverse and liberal as this one.

When the national conversation turned to the dark topic of banning all Muslims from immigrating to the U.S., once again I began to feel a stark fear about stepping outside of my home, worried about becoming another victim of a hate crime. Every day I learn of another Muslim woman who has chosen to take her headscarf off for fear of persecution. My friends and I regularly text each other, “Are you safe?” whenever a Muslim-related topic hits the headlines and starts trending again, which, over the past year-and-a-half of this election cycle, seemed to be almost around the clock.

When I think about my life — growing up in a world that uses the words “Muslim” and “terrorism” synonymously — I remember the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far: For those of us on this side of history, all we have is each other.

I remember the feelings of isolation that led me to start MuslimGirl.com in search of other girls who were going through the same things as me, and gaining an extended family along the way — both Muslim and non-Muslim girls, alike. If I didn’t have friends who created a safe space for me to turn to when the bullying in school got too rough or another person insulted my dad’s accent, I’m not sure how I would have survived.

These days, I not only have a support network, but even more so a sisterhood of Muslim women and allies. They are the ones who send me that “Are you safe?” text, or remind me that no one will be “registering Muslims” on their way. In the moments that I grow tired and my voice becomes hoarse, these protectors stand up for me, whether it’s checking their own people over microaggressions or drowning out trolls on Twitter who want us to be silent. We are all our sister’s keeper.
Bettina Inclán

Don't Forget, Ivanka Is One Of Us, Too

Bettina Inclán is a political strategist and writer who specialises in women's issues and outreach.

Our nation is holding its collective breath as we enter Inauguration Day. Those who voted for Donald J. Trump are holding their breath with eager anticipation, built up over years of waiting for a total outsider who is willing and able to totally disrupt the Washington, D.C. system. Non-Trump voters are holding their breath for essentially the same reason: We are stepping into the unknown. There is no political blueprint for what comes next. But as I watch President-elect Trump officially become our next President, I’m optimistic. Why? One reason: his daughter, Ivanka Trump.
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As someone who has worked in politics my entire adult life, I understand the unique and powerful opportunities available in the White House. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that provides unparalleled prospects to address some of the nation’s — and the world’s — greatest challenges. It would be a missed opportunity for Ivanka, even as an unofficial member of her father’s administration, to pass up such a game-changing opportunity for involvement.

And while I know people are divided about the role Ivanka Trump will play these next four years, instead of focusing energy on what she will or won’t, should or should not be doing with this time, consider asking yourself and the women around you: How will we spend our time to make the United States a better country under the incoming administration?

Ivanka is taking responsibility for the role that she’ll play — we should all take a line out of that book and put our actions to work for our values in real life. She is poised to become a powerful leader in our nation’s capital — and that is a very positive thing. Having a woman like her — an accomplished millennial, a successful businesswoman, and a young mom — as a voice in the White House is a major plus, for this or any presidential administration.

A common theme throughout this past election (and sadly for generations) is that women, particularly young women, have been underrepresented in government at virtually all levels. We need to encourage more people like Ivanka — new faces — who can offer different perspectives to serve our nation. I have followed her “Women Who Work” efforts for some time, and she is passionate about many of the same issues I am passionate about — including female empowerment, paid family leave, female entrepreneurship, equal pay, and helping working moms.

But a person — a woman — could spend a lifetime writing blog posts and speaking at conferences, and still not have the impact on women empowerment issues that a few years at the White House could provide. Many people spend their entire lives trying to enact change. Now Ivanka will have the power to be that change. Her priorities can already be felt at the White House and on Capitol Hill: Donald Trump has begun talking to legislators about family leave and child care proposals — issues that would not likely have been high on the list if Ivanka were not advising the president-elect; issues that for far too long have not received attention from our nation’s leaders.

Ivanka’s influence is also helping shape the people advising the White House: Dina Powell, a well-respected leader in women’s empowerment in the workplace, will serve as assistant to the president and senior counselor for economic initiatives. Dubbed “Ivanka’s woman in the White House,” Powell — an Egyptian-born, Dallas-raised, Arabic speaker — has received bipartisan praise for her work thus far and is set to be a powerful figure in the new administration.

During the election I had my own concerns about Trump’s candidacy, and wrote about them from my perspective as a Republican strategist, a Latina, and a mom. But one thing I made clear is that whoever won the election, we must accept the results and the electoral process. Trump won by the same rules applied to every presidential election in America’s history.

I worked for the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney against Barack Obama, but goodness knows that when President Obama won, I prayed for his success. When I disagreed with him, I made it known. But he was my president.

As of January 20, Donald Trump is the president leading all of us. Now, my only concern is how I can support my country and its new leader. Personally, I am hopeful his daughter’s presence will help bring some of the issues that often get swept aside into the light. If Ivanka Trump can do some good in Washington for women everywhere, then we should be championing her presence there, while also working to do the same in our own communities. Women of America — if not us, then who? And if not now, then when?
iO Tillett Wright

Redefine The Breakdown Of "Us" Vs. "Them"

iO Tillett Wright is a writer, activist, photographer and the author of the memoir Darling Days.

Okay, the unthinkable has happened. The hot-tempered reality star with the golden elevator and trigger-happy tweeting thumbs is coming into the most powerful position in the free world. We have handed a drunk teenager the keys to America's Nuclear Party House, he gets to stock the Supreme Court fridge, and crash the Foreign Policy Ferrari. We will watch as he tries to grab Planned Parenthood by the pussy, chuck millions of immigrants over a wall, and turn the prison system into his own private fight club, while we're left scrubbing Swastikas off middle school bathroom stalls.

In a way, it makes sense that this happened. Trump is a divider, and we humans are weak to the temptation of something to hate. We love a good rush — to get worked up in the defence of our way of life — and we also love to pretend that this hasn't reliably happened throughout history, humanity being pied piper-ed away from civil decency by the indelible smell of freshly baked fear. Rwanda, Bosnia, World War II: all atrocities with wheels greased by campaigns of dehumanisation.

The propaganda is "us" vs "them." "They" are all a certain way, which is not "our" way, and therefore, "they" have to be stamped out before they wipe us off the map! And did we mention that "they" are subhuman? Cockroaches, rodents, deviant scum. Send "them" back to where they came from.

Wait...

I stepped onto the TED stage in late 2012 a jittery mess. I'd only ever given one hour and a half long public ramble before, and I was stressed about cramming years of ideas into a clean, 18-minute manifesto. I was freezing and sweating at the same time.

I was there to tell the world about a project I had been working on, called Self Evident Truths. For it, I had set out to photograph several thousand people in the U.S., all of whom identified as anything other than 100% straight. My intention was to humanise a community that was legally discriminated against; at that point, I had photographed 1,700 people across 15 cities, and had discovered that people were moving away from identifying as simply "gay" or "straight." They felt more true to themselves with nuanced definition of their identity. I was going to use the story of my unorthodox upbringing — identifying as a boy and dating both genders — to illustrate my points.

I got through my 18 minutes without peeing my pants and went back to my canapés. Then 2.5 million people watched what I had to say and everything changed. I realised I would have to expand my goal to 10,000 faces, shoot in all 50 states. When I was finished, I wanted to take this massive document of a community to America's great centre of protest art: the National Mall.

Four years later, I'm at 9,804 faces, from every state in this nation — and everything has changed again. I wrote a book about my story, and I realised that despite my accepting upbringing, I had been ignoring an essential element of my selfhood. I was still, at least partially, what I had been since I was born — a boy on the inside. As I traveled the country, speaking to auditoriums full of students hungry for answers, I found myself unable to clarify some of my own. People wanted to know: Am I transgender? Will I transition? What pronoun do I use? What does it all mean? I inched my way toward "he/him/his", but all I could really tell people was what felt right that day, until finally I made the switch to “he/him” officially.
As it became clear that Donald Trump was actually going to take the Oval Office, many liberal people were overcome with a feeling akin to the flu — myself included. The only thing that picked me up off the tissue-littered floor was a slew of emails and text messages from friends and collaborators, relighting the fires of activism that seemed to fizzle in recent years.

My phone has been exploding with emails and invitations, groups of concerned friends forming around a need for togetherness. Many of them are women who are interested in gathering groups of women. Some of them don't know that I am using male pronouns. Some of them do, but don't know how to handle it. Am I still invited to sit at a table of women gathered to discuss a positive impact on young girls? Are my 23 years of womanhood time served enough to qualify my input to the discussion? Are my people still my people?

In my original TED talk, I asked where discrimination draws the line. Where does straight end and gay start? At what point are you no longer entitled to the legal protections of a heterosexual? How gay do you have to be? All this exploration later, I find myself in the same conundrum: Where do we draw the gender line? Is it at pronouns? Or at my breasts? Am I still gay? Am I still allowed in lesbian spaces? I do have a vagina. At what point is this divisiveness more constraining than it is empowering?

Looking back at the last few months, so many people are wondering what "we" ("we" as in: the liberal-minded among us who draw the line at corruption, sexual assault, and outright racism residing in the White House) could have done differently. I’ve watched great minds of my generation double down and entrench themselves in their belief systems, convinced of "our" rightness and "their" wrongness. "We" are sane. "They" are dangerous and must be stopped.

Wait…

What divides "them" from "us"? Whatever happened to nuance? Are "we" not just as capable of lumping people together under the banner of the threat they pose to our way of life, and trying to stamp "them" out?

Trump did not invent the tornado of vitriol, nor the pack mentality. He simply paved the way for unfounded conspiracy theories to ensconce us like ethnocentric dust storms, because he encouraged us to divide and simplify. He awakened an ever-present tendency in ALL humans to reduce each other's beautiful humanity to tweet-length summations.

So, on Inauguration Day, and every day thereafter, I am calling on all of us — “free-thinking,” “liberal,” and “conservatives,” alike — to re-examine how we categorise and dismiss people. I am asking us all to spend some time contemplating the dangers of generalisation, and the horrors that follow when we strip people of the details that give them humanity.

Will we survive a future through the long lens of assumptions? I doubt it. Will we now, in the face of these coming four years, lose ourselves in our online echo chambers and start Twitter wars with the people we disdain, never coming to know them beyond their outermost layers? Or will we begin to dismantle the myths by getting to know each other? There ceases to be an “other” when we embrace the fact that everyone is an other to someone else. Everyone’s shadows house someone else’s life.

What better moment than right now to take a flashlight and see what beauty lies in the unexplored corners?
Anita Sarkeesian

Understand The Untapped Power Of Technology

Anita Sarkeesian is a writer, media critic, and the executive director of Feminist Frequency.
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After the election of Donald Trump, I was asked by numerous media outlets to speak about Trump and GamerGate in the same breath. Initially, part of me wanted to reject the comparison as trite and absurd, along with the very notion that something that happened in a comparatively small industry could be held up alongside an event that will impact the lives of every American, and many around the globe.

And yet, despite my initial impulse, the connections are undeniably there: I’ve been seeing them for months and just didn’t want to say it out loud, as if my words were a magic spell that might conjure forth a sinewy darkness.

As my friend and colleague Dan Golding tweeted, “How depressing, infuriating, and otherworldly it is to realise that video games were the canary in the coal mine for the politics of 2016.” Our experiences navigating cyber-mobs have familiarised us with this particular breed of hate. It’s a deeply entrenched, vitriolic, organised hate. I used to refer to GamerGate as a large-scale temper tantrum, because if the death and rape threats hadn’t been so terrifying, their behaviour would be analogous to that of a 2-year-old child not getting the toy he wanted. Trump similarly appealed to deep-seated notions of entitlement and privilege — mixing in fear-mongering, racism, and misogyny through the scapegoating of marginalised people — meanwhile offering no solutions for the real problems facing so many Americans — problems like unemployment, low wages, a lack of health care, restrictions on basic reproductive rights, and police militarisation and brutality, among many others.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of GamerGate is that the industry remained silent. As their customers and fans continued to attack women and marginalised people, the major games publishers, developers, and much of the games press refused to acknowledge and condemn the horror that was sweeping through gaming culture. By the time a few of them did speak up, it was too little, too late; so much damage had already been done.

Much of the same could be said for our current politicians, many of whom are acting as if Trump’s rhetoric is simply politics as usual, when everyone in this country knows it isn’t. His racist tirades are the stuff of fascism. His boasts about sexual assault are anything but lighthearted “locker room talk.”

Since the dawn of the internet we’ve been lamenting, celebrating, blaming, rejoicing, thanking and criticising our hyper connected culture for quite literally everything. The elections went well because of the internet; the elections went poorly because of the internet. Kids have short attention spans because of the internet; underrepresented communities have a voice because of the internet. People get harassed because of the internet; people can organise against harassment because of the internet. And now, of course, fake news circulates because of the internet.

Technology is not neutral. It can be used to advance social justice or to promote oppression and maintain the status quo. Many of us have been fighting for years to create safer online spaces. We’ve been working to create a large-scale cultural shift where all people are free to engage and participate in our online world without fear of threats, intimidation, or harassment. But when the President-elect of the United States is someone who regularly uses Twitter to attack everyone from his political opponents, to journalists who are critical of him, to other global powers, what intensely contradictory messages are being sent?

Trump, much like the figureheads of GamerGate, often skirts the Terms of Service of social media sites to avoid being banned. Rather than spewing explicit threats himself, his words incite and encourage unpredictable hate from his followers. Within moments of the election results we saw a spike in hate crimes across the country; just a month after election day there were already 1,094 reported hate crimes in the United States. Think of how many go unreported.

And let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the only problem with hate speech is the manifestation of physical violence that follows: Hateful discourse in the social sphere represents its own form of violence. Progressive activists and scholars have long documented the emotional and mental effects of this kind of aggression. It is not an exaggeration to say that the continual denial of one’s humanity, of one’s right to live and exist safely, enacts a tangible punishment upon the recipient. While some people who post hate and threats on social media may never intend to act on their threats, they do intend to make the recipients fearful. And sometimes, through the sheer weight of their numbers and the awful intensity of their vitriol, they succeed. They don’t need to escalate to physical intimidation. They have achieved their aims merely by typing words on a keyboard.

Many people woke up on Nov 9, 2016 feeling horrified, scared, and lost. Uncertain about what to do next, but with a newfound sense of resolve. They’ve been awakened to the fact that progress isn’t a moving sidewalk that carries us all collectively forward on its own, that we have had to fight every day for what little we have earned, and fight even harder to hold onto those gains. As a nation, we have fought enormous battles in the past and this is yet another. I will be in the physical and digital streets, fighting for the humanity and dignity of all people. I hope you will, too.
Shanelle Matthews

Draw Inspiration From The Resilience Of The Oppressed

Shanelle Matthews is a writer, organizer, and the Director of Communications at Black Lives Matter.

Early last Friday morning, I was on my way to Union Station in Washington, D.C. The Capitol was unusually sleepy. My Uber driver, nicely dressed and freshly shaven, asked where I was off to. "New York," I told him. He said he planned to visit the city in the spring but hadn’t made it there yet, since moving from Ethiopia some years ago. I suggested he go soon, because the Trump administration could make even little things like a visit to the Big Apple more difficult for many of us.

"Yes, it’s scary," the man behind the steering wheel said. "But everything will be okay."

Well that’s not true, I thought. But he was clearly holding onto his optimism, so I kept my opinions to myself. The thing is: Believing everything will be okay depends on your frame of reference. America’s obsession with money and power is predicated on some of us getting what we need, while many, many more live dangerously on the margins, or even die.

But sometimes optimism in the face of all that can be a survival mechanism, and one sure sign that things might be closer to okay than not okay is the prevalence of social movements and the people within them — including movements like Black Lives Matter.

Movements serve as a gut check to a country’s moral underpinnings. When the people rise, it’s often in response to a need that has gone unmet. The people who do the rising — the organisers, parents, teachers, the grandmothers, and countless others — take on the additional and dutiful job of demanding a fair and just society for us all. And in the case of Black Lives Matter, for Black people specifically.

Movements are fuelled, in part, by a profound desire for dignity. The dignity of hugging your family tightly and far away from border walls, detention facilities, and plastic jail partitions. The dignity of earning enough so that you don't have to choose between groceries or medical care. The dignity of making the sovereign decision to affirm your gender and transition to become the best, most exact version of yourself. The dignity of practicing your faith openly and dutifully, absent of hate, shame, and death threats. The dignity of parenting your children well into adulthood — and the dignity of traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York for a visit without worrying about what trouble you might encounter along the way.

Many of us have seen firsthand the ravages of conservative fundamentalism, anti-Blackness, and prejudicial legislation and policing. We know that everything won’t be okay. The only way we can successfully advocate and organise against policies expected to come into play with the incoming administration is by being radically honest — about death, about deportation, about disenfranchisement.

But knowing that everything won’t be okay doesn’t absolve me of my duty to inspire. My role in the Black Lives Matter movement mandates that I find the hope and make it visible.

I don’t have to look far. Last year tested the collective resolve of our movement in unimaginable ways. Still, like clockwork, on January 1, Black organisers planted their feet firmly on the ground, held their heads high, thrust their fists toward the sky, and went to work. I was reminded — as I had been many times before — that inspiration can always be found in the resilience of those who have the most to lose.

In uncertain times, we’re eager for signs of stability: family, friends, safety, and feeling dignified in who we are and in what we believe. Everything will not be okay. But when I go back to the things I know to be true for sure, I’m reminded we are better, and more okay, because of the people who are still willing to lay their lives on the line, so that one day we can all finally experience what it’s like to be free.
Donna P. Hall

Put Your Energy Where Your Values Are

Donna P. Hall is the President & CEO of the Women Donors Network, a community of progressive women donors who invest their energy, experience, and philanthropic dollars toward building a more equitable world.

America is entering a new era, starkly different from any that have come before. Under this new administration, our values — from reproductive freedom to rights for immigrants — will be under constant attack. Many are left wondering what we can do, not only to survive but to turn a dire situation into one we can be proud of as a nation.

At the Women Donors Network, we believe the answer lies with the people. A majority of Americans voted against bigotry, xenophobia, and the unhinged rhetoric of the 2016 political election. Now we must double down on our support of women, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, and people of colour.

This election showed us that, despite the setbacks we fear, there is a path to advancing progressive values going forward. It showed us that it is possible to ultimately achieve democracy’s real purpose: to truly reflect the beliefs of the people in it and to have power proportional to our representation.

With the swearing-in of the 115th Congress, our nation marked even greater progress toward that ideal: Nine women of colour, three in the Senate and six in the House, took the oath of office, bringing the current total to 38 — the highest number in U.S. history. The group includes new voices such as the first Indian-American, and only African-American woman, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA); the first Latina Senator, Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV); the first Thai-American Senator, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL); and the first Indian-American representative, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

We take inspiration from their personal stories and know that they will bring various backgrounds, cultures, and interests of their communities to bear on their work in Washington. But these women need to hear from us and know that we will fight for progressive values and protect the most vulnerable among us. Reflective, engaged activism can be an alternative to those who believe our best days are behind us.
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How? By confronting hate and intolerance anywhere it shows up. That means getting involved in local government and participating in local city meetings; it means bringing friends along with you. It means calling and visiting your representatives at their offices to hold them accountable to progressive values. It means more people running for office. And if you’re able, it also means investing dollars in community organisations on the ground.

Our network refuses to look to the past to find cynical solutions to our nation’s challenges. Instead, we are working to build on hope for our future. We’re building on a 15-year track record of funding strategically by listening to the needs of communities most affected by injustice, by supporting a range of strategies that centre on movement-building, and by elevating the leadership of women and people of colour.

In December, we launched The Emergent Fund in partnership with Solidaire, another national progressive donor network. The Fund will empower historically under-resourced movements to be ready to fight back against immediate threats to marginalised communities.

Our efforts will be guided by an Advisory Council made up of donor activists and leaders from the communities most affected by the current moment, including Cristina Jimenez, the leader of United We Dream, which has been mobilising to protect “Dreamers” from deportation. Additionally, the Emergent Fund makes it possible for any individual American to participate in strategic philanthropy in this critical moment.

Getting through the next four years will be no small task. But I see hope clearly outlined in the smaller, less glamorous victories. Our focus cannot waver. Together, we must get organised, be engaged. We must stand ready to push back — and push forward — whenever necessary.
Arlene Goldbard

Never Give Up Your Hope

Arlene Goldbard is a writer, speaker, consultant and cultural activist whose focus is the intersection of culture, politics, and spirituality. She serves as Chief Policy Wonk of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

We can’t be certain of what lies ahead — but for people who care about equity, justice, and love, foreboding is the flavour of the day.

No doubt there will be setbacks during the next presidential administration. But our greatest obstacle isn’t Donald Trump: It’s the risk of internalising a self-defeating voice; of allowing ourselves to be overtaken by fear and self-doubt; of believing the propaganda claiming that because our aims can’t be realised immediately, that we should surrender them altogether.

We can overcome this through art and culture. No, seriously. Every time in U.S. history when the ordinary forms of connection and communication have failed us, artists have shone a light on the stories shaping our lives. Now, using artists’ capacities for insight, imagination, improvisation, and innovation, we all have the power to thrive in a dark time.

I serve as Chief Policy Wonk (yes, we get to pick our own titles) of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture — not a government agency, but a people-powered action network of artists and allies inciting creativity and social imagination to shape a culture of empathy, equity, and belonging.

January of each year, we invite people to take part in a civic ritual we call the People’s State of the Union (PSOTU), sitting in circles at kitchen tables and community centres to share stories revealing the state of our union. Those stories inspire a remarkable group of poets to create the collaborative Poetic Address to the Nation, which is performed — this year in March at the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in San Francisco — and live-streamed across the nation.

PSOTU uses art to cultivate awareness and social imagination, to envision a hope grounded in reality that can carry us through the next four years. PSOTU says that democracy is a conversation, not a monologue. It takes many voices to paint a portrait of America, both our rich particularity of difference and the common bonds that connect us.

The recent presidential election showed us a nation split down the middle by two conflicting stories. One America dreamed of a leader who could erase our losses, turning back to a time when people knew their place in a national pecking-order, when some belonged and the rest were here on sufferance. The other yearns for the welcome Trapeta Mayson described in her contribution to last year’s “Poetic Address to the Nation”:

Oh give me shelter in this fractured Union
Give me shelter in this fractured Union
Stitch up these worn bones
Open my mouth
Rip this silence from my foreign tongue
Move this wedge of indifference
Show me a sign that I am home
Take away our boxing ring of conflict
where we bloody each other with pride and prejudice
Put out a welcome mat


Art and culture can free us of stories that don’t serve, creating new ones that inspire action. When we make or experience art, we show up whole in body, emotions, mind, and spirit. We use creative capacity rather than retreating into defensiveness. Using empathy and imagination, we put ourselves in the place of the other, allowing compassion to flow.

We can’t guarantee the future we desire, but this much is known: People who don’t get their hopes up will never see their hopes realised. This election showed that when people can’t imagine beyond their fears, a destructive story takes hold.

Just as the body rebuilds after injury through nourishment and exercise, we need to rebuild our capacity to dream together out loud by exercising the muscles of social imagination. As uncanny as it sounds, art can save the world, starting with you. The question is: Are you ready to get your hopes up?

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