by Riyana Rose Sang / photos by Sylvia
When I woke up Saturday morning, my very first thought was, “I don’t want to live in this world.”
But as I pulled my weary, sore body up stairs and towards bed late in the evening, all I could think about was how much beauty there is in this world, how much potential.
In between: a sea of pink knitted hats with kitty ears, sassy anti-Trump-pro-women slogans, kids in wagons alongside drummers and dancers in the streets of downtown Oakland and San Francisco. The Women’s March.
I’m not really suicidal by nature, being a bit too attached to my own life (and especially being there for my two year old daughter) for martyrdom. Usually even in notably messed up situations I can find something to laugh about or that strikes me as intriguing or ironic.
But, like with many Americans who were sideswiped by the election, it’s been a hard couple of months. Too often I’ve found myself in something akin to a trauma response, with dark, heavy thoughts that push their way into my mind even when the details of my personal life are sunny and bright. And whenever anyone takes a stab at a Trump joke, I simply sigh.
It just doesn’t strike me as a laughing matter.
During the lead-up to the election, therapists and psychiatrists across the country started reporting that clients who had made great progress in working through PTSD and trauma from sexual assault and domestic violence were backsliding into panic attacks and depressive episodes. After the election, my friends in facebook world plastered their screens with contact info of suicide prevention hotlines and emergency centers.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump makes us crazy.
I remember, watching the numbers slowly trickling in for Trump on election night, and thinking terrible thoughts. I was completely moored over by fear?—?sure that nuclear apocalypse was in our future, or at best, slow-but-certain complete climate catastrophe. In those two seconds of utter mental and emotional overwhelm, I couldn’t think of anything I could do to protect me or my daughter from the horrific future I saw before us.
That adrenaline-filled moment of desperation subsided into a gray film of lethargic despair and denial. For months. I called my congresswoman every couple of days to urge her to oppose Trump on every cabinet pick, show his taxes, keep the most essential provisions of the Affordable Care Act, all of it. I kept hoping that the recount, or the electoral college, or, most recently, the CIA with their dossier would save us from this mess at the last minute
My heart hung on the slim hope that somehow it could all be undone, and we’d literally wake up from this nightmare.
Then on Friday Donald Trump gave the worst inauguration speech in American history and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, obliterating even that tiny sliver of light.
Which meant waking up, Saturday morning, in a world where a man who had courted public favor through sexism, racism, Islamaphobia and lies had become President of the United States. In the first couple hours of his reign he took steps to take away my healthcare, removed all references to climate change and LGBTQ rights from the White House’s webpage, moved to defund Planned Parenthood, and rolled back interest rates for struggling homeowners.
I felt flattened with despair, nearly disassociated, as I walked downstairs and made my coffee, heated up leftover hashbrowns for Brie in the toaster oven, cut a few slices of apple for myself. I couldn’t wrap my mind around my own existence, or that my sweet little baby girl, within a world where Donald Trump would be elected to arguably the most powerful position on earth (even with the caveats of how questionable his “victory” was, and how much intervention and foul play seems to have been involved). Again, it was less that I wanted to harm myself or anyone else, and more that I couldn’t see any way out of the situation I’d found myself in and couldn’t tolerate the idea of staying in it.
Then I joined the 3–4 million people who marched in the streets around the world yesterday to oppose the lies and the hate that Trump represents?—?and the visceral truth of that opposition, of the beauty still alive and kicking in this world, came rushing over me as I made my way down the streets of Downtown Oakland with Brie’s warm, trusting hand in mine. The gray that haunted my consciousness all these months melted beneath the gleaming sunlight shining on tens of thousands of pink pussy hats, strollers with rainbow flags attached to them, men and women and everyone else chanting “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
If in the morning I couldn’t see any way out of the situation we’d found ourselves in and couldn’t fathom how to stay in it, by the afternoon, both seemed clearer. We can still get out of this?—?not by avoiding a Trump Presidency, but by collective opposition to his policies and proposals. And we can find the strength to stay by joining together, my knitting cute hats and hanging out with our kids, by drumming and singing in the streets, by being part of an upwelling movement for change and justice.
I’m also wary of my own emotional response what’s happening in the political sphere now. I can’t tell if Donald Trump is the most masterful Reality Television producer of all time and in our everyday reality we’ve fallen under his spell, or if he’s an utter moron blundering his way into power who has simply managed to make a few good plays.
But after yesterday, it occurs to me that there is the distinct possibility that his speeches, his tweets, even his cabinet picks are all masterfully designed to energize and blind his supporters while completely demoralizing people like me.
I’ve been telling my Trump-supporting in-laws, neighbors, coworkers this whole time that they’re being gaslighted?—?tricked into believing Trump cares for their interests while laughing his way all the way to the Federal Reserve and position as Chief Diplomat and Commander-in-Chief of the country.
But what if we’re also being played? Gaslighted into tepid, lethargic despair? History has shown us that that generals at war will use mental and emotional tactics on the citizenry of opposing forces to subdue them into submission. A lot of the time, Donald Trump seems barely intelligent enough to tie his own shoes and mostly-intelligible at best when he speaks, so it can be hard to envision him masterminding this kind of sly military strategy on his own people. On the other hand, his moral turpitude shows that it’s not beyond him.
Either way, with the Inaugeration behind us and the things that are important to us –healthcare, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the climate?—?at stake, I know that we can’t allow ourselves to slip back into depression and defeat. The Women’s Marches around the world have proven that the power really is in our own hands.
“Feeling energized and mobilized. Resistance isn’t futile anymore,” one of my friends, who I never even saw at the march, wrote later that day. “I never thought I’d feel so alive the day after Donald Trump was elected,” another friend said. “It’s like I was just on the best first date in the world. All I can think is, when are we going to get together again, #womensmarch?”
The Oakland Women’s March
That’s the question on everyone’s minds. We’ve tasted freedom and promise again after a winter of anxiety, fear, and depression, and we don’t want to go back. It’s empowering to march in the street for a day, even more so when you realize you’re one of millions. But real change, especially of the size and scope that we want, comes from sustained effort. As Guardian writer Micah White says, there’s no clear route from our feminist rage to political power.
“What comes the day after?” White asks us. “Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feelgood spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.”
That’s the work before us now, figuring out how individually and collectively we can go forward from this historic day into ongoing, effective political influence. On the other hand, it’s clear that the work has already begun. And for many of us, for whom the past several months have been a grey blur of anxiety, depression, overwhelm and grief, yesterday was also the beginning of healing and waking up. We were able to reclaim our sanity, and walked away with hope and determination to create a sane world once again.
See more of Riyana’s posts at medium.com/@rebeccarosesang
Riyana Rose Sang. San Francisco girl. Feminism, Herbs, Tarot, & Other Modern Witcheries. riyanarose.com