DJ gives us a prayer

DJ is a young, bearded, scruffy, dirty-clothed homeless guy who comes by the front of Battery Park Apartments several times a day and – when he is not talking to us – is usually walking the streets talking to himself, or to somebody that the rest of us can’t see.  I don’t think any of us knows where he stays at night.

building front
The uber-historic Battery Park Apartments.  As you are looking at it here, Diana and her various posse’s hang out just to the right of the stairs, behind that white car.

DJ’s primary contact at Battery Park Apartments is naturally Diana, who is out in front of the building smoking most of the day.  But she is also his natural point of contact because she knows DJ’s world: she herself has been homeless – almost certainly more than anyone else in the building and probably more than all 105 of us put together.  Years after getting housed, she had a full-time job managing a women’s homeless shelter for the Salvation Army.  She both understands where DJ is coming from and is much less caught in the stereotypes, generalizations and negative judgments that poison the rest of us.

Diana – whose natural/instinctive/ values-based generosity is really central to who she is – is trying to balance that huge open heart with her new practice of solid boundaries.  I’ve told her of Brene Brown’s research where the social science researcher found that the personal quality that most relates to happiness is open heartedness – and the personal quality that most relates to open heartedness is solid boundaries.  As Diana and I share stories from our day, “boundaries” is one of the lenses we apply to those stories.  She might say to me: “That’s a place where you needed a solid boundary” or “You were holding your boundary”.

The rest of us, who do not know DJ’s world – and may not even have had much real interchange with homeless people over the course of our lives (hosting Room In the Inn at Jubilee has been a real game-changer for some Jubilants, but I have volunteered just twice for this project where homeless women spend the night in the first floor at Jubilee – Patton Ave. side).  We may only have ever “talked” to a homeless person to help ourselves feel less guilty over the fact that we have so many judgments about them.

DJ is kinda sweet and very polite – and probably mentally ill, another world that Diana knows well. I think that he and Diana genuinely like each other, though his frequent intrusions get irritating even to her and she knows that he would clean her out like a vacuum cleaner if she let him.

with diana
Diana and my last doggie Toni – they totally adored each other.  If you ever encounter her out in front of the building (she has taken to wearing a sweater over her overalls, so there goes one trademark), do say  “Hi” to her and call her by name.  Stop and chat for a while.  She has some social anxiety and avoids groups like the plague, but with one or two other people she usually has a good time.  When I stop by next, she will probably say something like “You must have written about me again – I’m more famous than ever.”

DJ can be so intrusive and softly pushy.

“Miss Diana, can I get a cigarette?
“No, honey, you’ve come by four times already today – no more.”
“Uh, ma’am, maybe just one cigarette?”
“No, I’m very low myself – I’m almost out.”
“If I give you 50 cents, would you give me a cigarette?”

Diana will acknowledge openly to us, when DJ is not there, that he does eventually piss her off.  She doesn’t like to be angry at people – it’s way outside of her comfort zone, but she really kind of embraces the opportunities to practice holding a boundary.  Already in the last few months she has started to get better at this, will save up stories to tell us about how she held a boundary (sometimes with DJ) – and really believes she is already a slightly healthier person because of it.

In my maybe four encounters with DJ, I have been consistently slightly mean and unwavering in my resistance to his (polite) requests for cigarettes (and money?  I can’t quite remember if he ever asks us for money.  Certainly cigarettes is the main thing.)  I’m not usually this nasty to street people.  I think that in certain areas my newfound commitment to solid boundaries has not yet translated into more open heartedness.   I don’t like it that he invades our turf with his panhandling.  I have not quite said to DJ, but certainly have thought: “It’s one thing to keep it over there, on some other street corner. But don’t start bringing your begging over into our peaceful, happy, playful – and private – place.”  And, finally and probably the most central, I do get very protective of Diana’s space and mad at DJ for being so pushy with her.

Yesterday afternoon at five, we had mostly run through an encounter with DJ that already had showed most of the qualities I describe above.   He was politely pushing Diana for a cigarette and almost sweetly refusing to take no for an answer – even though Diana had just done a pretty good job of protecting her boundary.

My voice is naturally louder than Diana’s. And it is more readily capable of carrying assertiveness, meanness and even a hint of menace – as a couple of weeks ago when I said to the old bat who, from half-way down the street, was continuing to yell at me that my Pancho was the real problem between Pancho and her wonderful little dog – and, actually, that I was the real problem.  I don’t know what threatening movie character I channeled when I yelled, “Don’t make me come over there!”  And I think I was probably breaking some building policy that you are not allowed to threaten another resident – but it was such a new behavior for me and popped out so effortlessly that it was totally thrilling, and got the job done.  She did shut up and go away.  She probably was thinking, “Fuck, he has totally snapped.  He’s going to come over here and beat the shit out of me.”

In this case with DJ, I don’t think my voice was really carrying menace when I said to him, “She already said ‘No‘.” But it was so curt and sharp that DJ was apparently deciding he had worn out his welcome and was getting ready to go.

(The real problem with my intervention was that no intervention was really needed.  Sure, Diana’s “No” had not gotten DJ to back off – but she had said it and had not given up a cigarette, so this was already a success for her. Could she take the next step and raise her own voice – maybe put more of a non-sweet edge in it, to drive away the intruder?  Maybe she would have risen to the occasion yesterday.  But, if she had not quite gotten there, we could have debriefed the event together and gotten her more ready for the next battle.  I’ve got to stop pushing into the middle of the altercation to protect her.  I mean well, but I am not being genuinely helpful – it’s her fight.  And I will get my turn, because as soon as DJ gives up on Diana he is going to turn to one of the others of us and start with them.

So DJ was getting ready to leave when white 60ish Joe (one of our neighbors who has not been directly involved in any of these  encounters, but has apparently been building up a charge against DJ) strides kind of aggressively down the street (too close really to DJ) sticks his finger out almost in DJ’s face and, with a low note of masculine menace says “I’m psychic, because I know why you are here – you want money from us.” Really pretty stupid and uninteresting as a mano-a-mano challenge.  I at least am thinking, “Really?  Is that the best you got?”

I was immediately more pissed off at Joe than DJ and – just to jerk him around – said “He actually doesn’t want money, he wants cigarettes”.

Now that my interruption has stopped the mighty Joe in his tracks and that there is a moment of quiet, I launch us into a little debrief of what had just happened between Joe and DJ – with the two of them still standing there.  I started by saying,
“You never should have stuck your finger in DJ’s face – that’s rude and aggressive.”
Lisa – “Yeah, and your tone of voice was too angry.”

Suddenly, even though Joe was in many demographic and personal style ways more like us than is DJ – and he lives in our building – we had been down this road with DJ and kind of knew how to negotiate the curves.  As far as this conversation now was concerned, DJ was more a member of our pack than was Joe and we kind of closed ranks around him.  Nobody actually said, “Who the fuck are you, Joe?  This isn’t your business – go away”.  I would be the most likely to say it, but – having spoken my little piece to Joe, I had immediately shifted my focus to DJ, who I was already starting to kind of like.  Joe left.

Then DJ was getting ready to leave.  As he turns west to face Page Avenue and the AT&T building, he says “Bye everybody – I’ll pray for you all.”

Me: “You’ll pray for us all?” (“Not just for Miss Diana, who is the closest thing to a friend you have here – and maybe anywhere.”)

DJ: “Yeah, I’ll pray for all of you.”

Me: “You’ll pray for me?” (“after I have been so mean to you?”)

DJ: “Yeah, I’ll pray for you.”

Me, fumbling in my Earth Fare grocery bag: “Well then I’ll give you a cigarette, if you’re going to pray for me.”

Before I even get my cigarette pack out of my grocery bag, DJ starts to pray:

He throws his head back and looks skyward.  His prayer is at moments kind of halting, but mostly really pretty self-assured. His voice is almost too loud, but the loudness is really mostly effective.  None of us is thinking that he is a professional preacher or leads the prayers at some little Christian church, but he clearly has done this before, if maybe never for other people before or never before at this volume.  It probably is “some of the crazy things he mutters to himself as he wanders the streets of downtown Asheville.”

DJ’s prayer was all about forgiveness, trust and love.  He was asking some higher power to bless us all – all of us, no exceptions.  I don’t think he said one thing that any of us had any theological problem with.  And it all was very beautiful – strong, self-assured, calm, trusting in this God that DJ never attempted to describe.  He needed a little help from the ever-more-assertive Diana to wrap it up: was clearly warming to the task, might have prayed well longer if allowed to – but he responded well to Diana’s guidance, and then promptly took off.

This leaves us Battery Park residents who can (maybe just barely) afford to go the Up In Smoke shop on Tunnel Road next to the Ingles and buy cigarettes (not $6 American Spirits, but $3.50 Natives – American Spirits knock-offs that claim to be similarly additive free, and so basically healthy.)

We look at each other and, almost in unison, say “Wow!”  DJ had given us something that we did not expect.  Lisa says, “That was beautiful!” and we all agree.  It would be a great understatement to say I will never see DJ the same way again.  I may even be nice to him.  I may even give him a cigarette – at least until I quit, which will probably be next week. 🙂

 

David Wilson Brown for NC U.S. House District #10

My Toni with David Wilson Brown, who is again running to represent the 10th Congressional District.

with DWB
David Wilson Brown with my “angelic little being”, yorkiepoo Toni

He made points with me back in 2018 by bringing his big chocolate lab with him to a Candidates Forum at the Dem. Party HQ. When all four candidates had had their chance to speak and the meeting was breaking up, I don’t think he stuck around to press any flesh. Me and Toni left right after the meeting was over and David was already running his dog down the road.

I went on to volunteer with David, once a week through the election cycle. He is such a great guy!  Smart, warm, real. His campaign manager, Kathie Kline, was a dream – such a real, warm, rich supportive person.  I don’t know if she has come back for this cycle – I emailed her last night.

David is up against Patrick McHenry, who has been in office since 2004.

WNC – and Asheville – are so gerrymandered that it can be confusing to know your Congressional district.
Go to this site and enter your zip code – 20 seconds.
https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep_house

http://www.dwb4congress.com

https://www.facebook.com/DWB4Congress/ – see the photo of David with Toni!

 

Dr. Steve Woodsmall for Congress

NC U.S. House District #11
WNC – and Asheville – are so gerrymandered that it can be confusing to know your Congressional district.
Go to this site and enter your zip code – 20 seconds.

I met Steve two years ago and liked him quite a lot.  When I entered the West Asheville Library meeting room, where he was going to be speaking – before introducing himself to me –  he got down on one knee and said hello to my little yorkiepoo Toni.

Steve Woodsmall
Steve and my angelic little Toni (RIP 10/1/18)

I was completely charmed.  He’s a huge dog person. For a while, he had my picture of him holding my little Toni on his web site, but I think no more.

I’m planning to attend this Town Hall on Thursday, 10/10, 6 p.m. at Rainbow Community School in West Asheville.

Here’s Steve’s website.

 

Peace – Being Well-Used

This blog explores the interplay among resistance, peace and love for social activism – or simply trying to make some positive difference in the world.  My last post was about resistance and I promised that the next post would be about peace – after which I totally crapped out.  It has now been two months and I have written nothing about peace.  I think it’s partly a general sinking I have experienced in these two months about social activism – and partly an overwhelm with the topic.  Peace is just such a big deal, even in a more limited application to social action.

But there has lately surfaced for me more clarity about my own activist path – and out of that has come one window around peace and social justice.  Just one window among what I’m sure are many ways that peace applies here – enough to keep me writing for a good long while – but a window that to me is feeling very significant, very meaningful.

One way we can experience peace around our social activism efforts is when we feel that we are being well-used.  Our talents are right for making a difference.  We are in the right place at the right time – and we are the right person for the job.

After the November election, I sank into the same depression as so many progressive people.  Finally, on Monday, January 30, an email came across my inbox from MoveOn – a progressive group with which I had done some canvassing during the presidential campaign and which I like.   They were organizing a national effort called “Resist Trump Tuesdays” in which on many successive Tuesdays you would gather outside of your U.S. senator’s office to protest the Trump agenda: “NO BAN, NO WALL”, “PROTECT OUR HEALTH CARE”, “INVESTIGATE TRUMP/PUTIN” etc.  This effort felt right to me and I started to wake from my post-election depressive sleep.  There was a rally listed for downtown Asheville the next day at the Federal Building outside of Republican Senator Burr’s office – even though he is never there, never comes to Asheville – and I decided to go, and instantly felt a lot better.

don't give up - amanda
Amanda was one of our most reliable rally people. Her friend Russ made this Resist graphic.

Because I was at the rally early, I got to hear Susan, who had organized it, vent: “I’m not the right person for this. I don’t have the temperament or the skill set.  I did it just because I didn’t want to go to Hendersonville” (an hour away, the next closest senator’s office).  On the spot, I started to think: “I do have a lot of the skill set – I practiced organization development in corporations and am a good organizer.  I’ve been a professional coach and know how encourage and motivate people.  I’m a good public speaker.”  (Little did I know that my very lack of the necessary mobilizing skills would limit my effectiveness in this project.)

I told Susan I would be glad to take over, if she would pass along to me what she had learned in the process of organizing this rally.  She was thrilled.  It was clear to me then and since that she had let herself be well-used: she heroically – in the face of in many ways not being fit for the job – played the role she was meant to play.  She got the thing off the ground.

The early weeks of Asheville Resist Trump Tuesdays were kind of thrilling.  flag - twinsWe had a lot of people come out and they were really happy to be there, wanted an outlet for their upset about what was going on in Washington.  People came out with wonderful signs.  Cars passing by would beep their horns and give us a thumbs up – way more than those who would swear at us and give us the finger.  The third Tuesday we had 100 people and made the TV evening news.what democracy looks like - Anna

I was totally pumped.  I really thought I was the right person in the right place.  I registered each rally with MoveOn, so people could find them on the MoveOn database. I created a Facebook page.  I assiduously got everybody’s email addresses and sent out an email update every week.  I took lots of photos to put on the Facebook page and hopefully encourage people.  I created little informal business cards and handed them out around the community, including at work where there was some risk in doing so.  I dialed into the MoveOn support conference calls every Sunday night, which I found very informative and motivational, and took lots of notes on the calls.  I started to write this blog.

That 100 person turnout was our peak.  The next week there were 45 people, then 25, then 14.  Some of us would have conversations about why our numbers were falling off.  Maybe people were bored with the format of just waving signs.  We borrowed a bullhorn and tried having speeches.  The word was that the Hendersonville rallies were drawing hundreds of people, even though Hendersonville is a smaller community and more conservative.  What were we doing wrong?  I couldn’t shake a growing question of what was I doing wrong?

When we had shrank to six people, I very sincerely asked them if it was time to pull the plug – and each of them emphatically said they didn’t want to do that, that they wanted this, needed it.  So I got excited and once more threw everything at it. The next week we had three people – and I did pull the plug.

For a few weeks, I stopped all activist activities.  An associate who I think was angry at me for not living up to her activist expectations of me told me angrily that I was just burned out – and I had no answer.  But when a couple of weeks later she said it again, with even more fire, I said, “I don’t think I’m burned out – I’m just lost.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m discouraged, but I haven’t given up.  I haven’t given up on doing something for the movement – I want to do something.  I just don’t know what it is.”

A week ago, another email came through from MoveOn.  “Resistance Summer” will train 1000 people to be better organizers – and focus them to resist Trump.  This clicked for me immediately.  In the background over these weeks, I had been getting glimpses of my own shortcomings as an organizer.  MoveOn had what apparently were extensive databases of resources for organizing your local rallies – and I had never looked at them, preferring to trust my gut instincts.  I saw periodic references to organizing a leadership team for your rally, but I was it for leading this rally – I made only a couple of minimal swipes at having anybody help me.  If I’m to really make a difference, I need to learn a lot more about organizing.

I have also taken on some leadership in my church social justice team – and similarly there I was dead in the water, not following through on the tasks I had taken on.  But yesterday, three days after applying for the Resistance Summer (I haven’t been accepted yet), I didn’t just do the five calls I was committed to for this social justice team – I did nine calls and it was fun, exciting.

What is calling you? What would it look like for you to be well-used?  I think more than at any time in the recent past lots of us feel a need to do something.  Are we meant to make calls to Congress?  To attend a rally?  A meeting?  To keep up with our reading?  To read this blog?

What kind of support do we need to move towards action?  Do we need to talk to a friend?  A pastor?  Do we need to take the topic into prayer? Meditation?  To church?  I take it into dance – hold the intention, then dance and see where that takes me.

I think we all need to hold ourselves lovingly.  What we have so far done or not done is just right.  If we criticize ourselves it’s going to be harder to get clear.  We can know and remember that we are smart and talented and resourceful – and that life will find ways to guide us towards that contribution we are uniquely scripted to make.

Blessings on our show from Stephanie and Alice and Sharon and Cameron

This morning I sent a last-minute, repeat invitation to the show to the seven people I live with at Lotus Lodge.  Stephanie – who apparently was also at her computer early in the morning – responded with her big good wishes and regrets that she couldn’t be there.  I sent her the text of the poem, apologizing that it was nothing compared to what we will deliver on Sunday, live with piano and dancers.  She responded with this,

“While I will miss the energy of the performance piece, it is your spirit that I treasure—and that was so generously and clearly woven into your written text.  As I read your words, I could clearly sense the spirit of you, your passion, the truth that you call forth… You have already gifted me with what you will generously share on Sunday.  Keep believing…”

I have really believed that this poem is bigger than me, that it comes from somewhere else – and that I have a sacred responsibility to support it by things like piano and dancers.  Stephanie’s words felt like a huge confirmation and I immediately forwarded them to my mates – Robert (piano) and Tom, Giovanna and Amanda (dancers).

In an earlier post (https://avlresist.blog/2017/03/14/when-the-resistance-is-aimed-at-me/), I described how – after a very exciting evening of talking about the show with my dancers – something dark came over me and I became convinced that the dancing would not work in that space (“No room on the stage”).  When Alice came through my checkout line at the grocery store this afternoon, she gave me an amazing A-ha around all that.  We were talking about that crisis with the dancers and she said, “Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of your plans.”  This one sentence unlocked so much for me.  I have done a lot of improv – improv poetry, improv dancing, etc.  But we never get the trust thing fully handled.  Talking about the dancing that evening, which was going to be all improvised, it was suddenly all just too much spontaneity for me – too much improvisation.  My poem would be scripted, but everything around me would be uncontrolled.

What tripped me up – what almost tripped up our whole piece – was fear, the desire to control things.  And if anything were to trip up our piece for me Sunday night, it would be fear. I would freeze.  I would stop breathing.  I would stop flowing with the inbreath and outbreath of the piano and dancing flowing around me.  At this point I know that this is the nemesis and will be much less vulnerable to it.  And there’s the blessing I then got from Sharon.

Sharon shouldn’t even have been in my checkout line today.  Alice came through my line with a cart full of groceries at 6:23 – seven minutes before the end of my shift.  I immediately put up my “Lane closed” sign.  I wanted her to be my last customer for so many reasons: she’s beautiful, fascinating and we always have great conversations.  We would certainly have a great conversation about the show – which we did.

So Alice was supposed to be my last customer (think control).  But as she walked away, with me starting to pick up my area, up walked my dancer friend Michelle.  She had three items – and there were so many reasons to let her in!  She’s a good friend of my dancer Tom, she’s a dancer friend of mine – this would be great!  And it was great…except… When I let her in my line, my friend Sharon – with a lot more groceries – saw that my line was open and scooted on in.

My heart sank.  I genuinely was tired.  My dog would need to get out, and I had a lot of tasks queued up for tonight.  But Sharon is genuinely a very cool, deep person and I like her a lot – how could I callously point to the “Lane closed” sign and send her away?  The whole situation had spun out of control.  Had I made a mistake by letting Michelle in?  The mind-fucking had begun.

When Michelle left and Sharon moved forward, I immediately began to relax.  I’ve known Sharon in several contexts and her presence had always set me at ease.  I think she is very aware and spiritual and strong and genuine.  I was starting to get happy.  I pushed back my exhaustion,  reached down deep and pulled up the energy to genuinely encounter her.  And I got paid back beyond my wildest dreams.

If I was going to have one last conversation with a customer today, I was by God going to make that conversation be about the show.  Almost from the first syllable I uttered about it, Sharon started to light up.  By the time I had talked about the enchanted singer-songwriter, headliner of the show, Cecilia St. King, Sharon was filled to bursting.  “This show can’t go wrong because it is real.”  This absolutely hit a nerve for me.  Cecilia seems to me like the real McCoy – like what she is going to offer will come from a very deep and genuine place.  And I honestly feel the same about my poem.  And my pianist and dancers – all improvising – will also be delivering genuine pieces of themselves.

I told Sharon that I would love to have her at the concert  – that I think she would get a lot out of it and that it would be so encouraging for me to see her there in the audience.  We quickly ascertained that she would not be able to be there, but she said, “I don’t need to be there, because I’m there right now.  The concert is happening now.  It is totally surrounded by blessings.  It’s full of grace.  It is protected by God.”  I drank all this in deeply and told Sharon that now she would absolutely be there Sunday night – that I would carry her there.

I was totally blown away by this, but now to punch out, buy four little items, and get home to my dog.  In the back room where we punch out, Cameron (Cam) was also punching out.  I knew from an earlier conversation that he was working until 7 tonight – yikes! I was 30 minutes late clocking out.  But I still got happy.  Cam is one of my favorite co-workers.  He is sweet and smart and has almost zero ego.  I was trying to remember another conversation we had had a few days ago about the concert – but I couldn’t quite pull it up.

“Were you a maybe for the show, or a no?”  

“I guess I’m a maybe – there’s no reason I can’t go.” 

“Well I’ve said things like this to people about the show before, but – based on a conversation I just had – I’m going to say this with a lot more confidence than before.  If there’s any way you can get there, come.  You won’t regret it.  Something very special is going to happen and I don’t want you to miss it.”

I think he really got the message, because he sounded totally genuine (I think he doesn’t know any other way to be) when he said, “OK, I’ll be there.”  And I am really happy that he’ll be there – happy for us and happy for him.

The Angry Activist

While our goal may be to have our resistance emanate from peace and love, we are still human beings in a very difficult juncture for our country, dealing in Trump with an adversary who is extraordinarily hostile and dishonest and dangerous and who has gathered around him other life-threatening people like Pence and Bannon.  So we’re going to get triggered – and the challenge then becomes how to get ourselves back to a zone that is genuinely life-affirming.

Given all that, it is extraordinary that all through the election cycle and the first few weeks of Trump’s administration – until yesterday – I have never gotten really furious at Trump.  Angry, outraged, but never gut-level enraged – until yesterday.

Maybe it snuck up on me because I wasn’t ready for it. I was on a ten-minute break at work (I’m a cashier in a healthy supermarket) and checking my emails on my phone.  It was in this somewhat distracted environment that I read, in the Washington Post, an article about Trump accusing Barack Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower.  Then, the real killer, he tweeted, “He’s a bad (or sick) man.”

All through the election campaign, I would get angry at Trump for stuff he said to and about Clinton.  I like her, admire her – supported her as a candidate, felt sure she would be a good president.  But I never loved her.  This is maybe why I never got really enraged about his attacks  on her.

Barack I love.  You don’t fuck with my Barack.  I considered changing that word to “mess with my Barack”.  What if there are children reading this?  Not likely.  Mess doesn’t capture it.  There’s something primal about my connection with Barack.  I admire him and his family so greatly that I feel protective of him.  Fuck with him you fuck with me.  So I was pissed. angry-demonstrator-girl

I didn’t have time to integrate this before my ten minutes were over and I was suddenly back in front of customers.  I tried to function, but I was seething.  This is a very liberal town and a very liberal store – you’re usually safe to criticize Trump.  Finally, after about twenty minutes of trying to function but really seething, I looked at the customers in front of me and made a snap judgment that this was a situation where I could get away with venting.

I had a short guy at 2 o’clock – who, looking back on it, really did look like a businessman.  Then, directly ahead of me – the next customer after the short guy – a big tall guy and at 10 o’clock a woman who seemed to be his partner.  I tried to keep some brakes on and ensure my safety.  “Would anybody mind if I vent about politics?”  The tall guy directly in front of me said, “I don’t think that would be safe.”

Now why did I decide that meant “Sure, go ahead”?  I’ll tell you why – because I just plain could not control it any more.  I couldn’t stop myself from venting, so I told myself this did not mean that he was conservative.  Actually he and the short guy both turned out to be conservative and the wife, who seemed very friendly through the whole encounter, never reported.

Actually I could not have been much luckier in my choice of conservative customers.  Neither of them ever showed any signs of getting genuinely angry – they mostly teased me about assuming that conservatives don’t buy healthy food.  I must have recovered pretty well too, because we overall had a very funny encounter.  As the tall guy was leaving, I said “For a conservative, you’re really funny.”

So I got off better than I had a right to, but this was not an example of healthy activism.  And I was still angry.  angry-demonstrator-guyActually the rest of my day was a story about how do you recover from getting really angry in the political wars.  Several things helped me to recover.

  • After the encounter with these three people, when I was still very raw and exposed, I just shut up and swiped groceries for a while.  And breathed.  Here – and really for the remaining five hours of my shift – the simple monotonous physicality of the work was soothing and helped me to get back into balance.
  • During some slow moments, I told one of my colleagues the story of me and the conservative customers.  While I’m usually pretty safe to assume that our customers are liberal, I’m maybe always safe to assume that with my co-workers.  I would be surprised if there is a one of them who is pro-Trump.  This is especially true of the front-end, where I really know these people.  So the co-worker I picked and I had gales of laughs over the story of my losing it with my venting.
  • I made a better choice of a customer to vent with about the news story – and we shared our outrage about Trump.  I discovered that we also shared a genuine love for Obama – and there was something very soothing about sharing at that level.
  • One thing I love about my job is the chance to affirm people.  I make a game of looking for just the right way to appreciate customers.  I leaned into that and it restored a healthy sense of positiveness.
    • “I like your hair.”
    • “What a great hat.”
    • “You have a perfect nose.”
    • “You two put out such a great vibe.  I bet people like being around you.”
    • “These are the most well-behaved children I’ve seen all day.”
  • The question I like to ask people on Friday and Saturday is “What’s something you are looking forward to this weekend?”  That also helped – on a day when I was still, couldn’t shake it, raw and angry – to surround me with positive energy.
  •   That night I went home and. after walking and feeding the dog, spent an hour at my computer doing good positive movement work – making contact with the leader of another resistance group.  I actually kept falling asleep over the email I was writing him, but it soothed me towards sleep.
  • This morning I woke up angry – that’s almost unprecedented for me.  But then I went dancing at 9 a.m. – my Sunday morning routine, with people i like and love – and that was very good for me.
  • This afternoon I got angry at my dog for ignoring my calls for her to come.  She’s an adorable, lovable little four-pound dog and I pretty much never get angry at her.  I’m not over it yet.

It’s a process – recognizing the anger, working with it, releasing it.  If I want to do civil disobedience, I’ll have to get better at it.  If I want to survive this period in our country’s life, I need to learn how to soothe myself.  If I want to be a healthy activist – if I want to really serve the resistance – I need to learn all I can about this.

A perfect evening of resistance

I arrived downtown about a half-hour early for the 9 p.m.”Casserole protest” at the city plaza/Vance Monument.  I considered just sitting in my car checking emails on my phone for the half-hour, but I was parked so near to one of my favorite clubs that it was an easy choice to leave the car.  The Block off biltmore is a beautiful space with a great vibe and all manner of progressive activities – and cool progressive people.  And Cam McQueen, the proprietor, is beautiful and charming and smart and a real progressive hero.  I have several topics I’d like to talk with her about, including having her club host a dance party I have in mind.  cam16583343_1830860833835527_4442902556837937152_n

I was in luck: Cam was there, and even had a few minutes to talk.  She warned me that she was wanting to get an early start home, but reassured me that she really did want to talk with me.  I didn’t have much time myself, so the timing felt fine – and we jammed a lot of great connecting into about 15 minutes.  I left feeling happy – reconnected with someone who is more and more feeling like a genuine friend.

Cacerolazo or “Casserole Protest” originates in Latin America, where people would protest the dictator by gathering in the town square to bang on pots and pans.  The MoveOn and Working Families Party leaders encouraged us to do this in cities across the country, as Trump was spewing his lies to Congress and the American people.  It was a way of saying, “We’re not listening to you.  We’re turning our backs on you.  You are not our president.  We’re going to sing and dance and come together.”  We may read the speech the next day, preferably the Washington Post annotated version, or listen to what Amy Goodman has to say about it – but tonight we will not give you the TV ratings. 

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photo by Jeffrey DeCristofaro

When I arrived at the Monument a couple minutes early, three people were there: Sherry Vaughan, Heather and her son Connor.  Sherry was in her car waiting to signal us when the speech began – and mom and son were over by the monument, seeming to be enjoying each other’s company.

Heather and Connor really do seem to enjoy each other’s company – and to enjoy being themselves.  They are each of them fresh and unique – very much their own person.  And they have created a mother-son relationship that is very democratic – so unoppressive.  Heather seems to really support Connor just being himself – and he seems very comfortable in his own skin.  Together the two of them stand for liberation.

Sherry and I had lots of fun talking with each other – backing off a bit from our banging to hear each other, then leaning into it and letting out some hoots and hollers.  We debriefed the civil disobedience training that Sherry helped to organize on Sunday.  We debriefed the afternoon Resist Trump Tuesday rally, which she had not been able to make.  We celebrated our NC senator Richard Burr getting caught being Trump’s puppet.

I appreciated her for organizing the Sunday training.  I appreciated all the ways she is always appreciating me for my leadership of the group. This organizing work is a labor of love and in a very real way I don’t need the appreciation,  but it still does feel good.  Sherry and I are really developing a relationship for the long haul – over several different contexts, building our reality in connection with each other, supporting each other.  We talked at some length about the word “resist”: resistance we had run into from our friends about our use of the word (ironic, eh?) and how each of us had come to love the word now.

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Photo by Jeffrey DeCristofaro

The four of us pot-bangers would ebb and flow with our instruments – sometimes beating our pots and pans very vigorously, other times letting the clanging go way back into the background.  It was a dance.

Two teenaged girls approached us in the dark and wanted to take a turn wailing on our pots and pans.  We thought that was great and made sure that each got a chance to try out all four pots. After they had been playing their hearts out for a while, one of us asked them if they had any idea what we were doing out here.  They acknowledged that they did not – in an innocent way that indicated that it had not occurred to them that this was a significant question.  But when we told them it was a protest against Trump’s speech, they thought that was great – and, who knows, this may have even have made them feel better about all their banging.

We didn’t have any signs.  Connor: “None of these people going by has any idea why we are doing this.”  Sherry: “Yeah, but doesn’t it feel great!?”  And it did feel great – so much better than sitting home helplessly while Trump promulgated his lies.  It was rally and team-building and play time all at once.  It fed us and will keep us going.  If the monks meditating in their monasteries help to make the planet a more peaceful place (I do believe this), then maybe us banging our pots and pans did the same.  Casserole protests were happening simultaneously in many cities across the country.  We were a little band, the four of us – but, by God, a casserole protest happened also in Asheville.

At 9:30, Heather and Connor had to leave to pick her husband up from work, so we called it an evening.  As I walked the three blocks back to my car, I decided to stop back in The Block to use the bathroom.  As I approached the club, it looked so beautiful shining out in the darkness – the bar really radiant and the back room a little more moody, belting out swing jazz from a live band and full of the whirling bodies of swing dancing.

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The Block in the evening – bar to the right, back room (dancing) to the left

As I approached the club, I asked myself would it be an even more perfect evening if I lingered in this beautiful room over a beer, rather than hurrying home to bed.  I did not agonize over that question, just trusted my actually peaceful and non-hurrying movement homeward.  Little did I know that I was actually going home to write, which pretty much always trumps almost everything else I might be doing, even sleep – it’s just the best.

And even the little hit of the beautiful aliveness of this club was enough. In the last two days, I had talked with three people about the need for us to stay balanced, enjoy beauty and have fun as we immerse ourselves in our political commitments – or even as we just lightly touch into this political cesspool, which can be so toxic.  Here I had the beauty of the club and the dancers and the music and Cam.  I had the remembrance of how important dancing is to me and how much fun I have in the 1-3 times a week that I do ecstatic dancing.

The signs by the bathrooms (in this HB2 oppressive anti-transgender bathroom state) somehow pulled the whole evening together.

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