“This doesn’t feel like my country anymore,” a friend told me over brunch in a Manhattan vegan restaurant, while a young man with a shiny lip ring and no eyebrows above his lettuce-green eyes sweetly served our black bean enchiladas with cashew cheese.
I understood what she meant. Heartbreak and denial were my first responses to the presidential election results, too, but those reactions take you, or me, nowhere. I understand the urge to march in protest. I was among the many of my generation who filled Seattle streets protesting the Vietnam war, and I kept marching there and in Sydney for other causes for decades. I like to believe we made some difference. If you feel that demonstrating against bigotry, hate, and ignorance will make a difference now, I respect your choice. Sometimes that’s all that’s left, as appears to be the case in North Dakota.
My brunch companion takes a different course. Over coffee she explains. Now in her late eighties, she works with organizations in her town to provide shelter for women in need, to help elders stay in their own homes, to promote education for children, and to protect the natural environment. Her action is as radical as marching in the streets, and much harder to sustain.
Radical and sustained action is what will rescue our nation from violent division. Most radical is education, as it has always been. A populace educated in gathering information, understanding history, and thinking globally and critically is equipped to solve problems creatively, rather than pretending they can wipe the board clean.
The many acts of generosity I witnessed and experienced the day after the election reaffirmed to me the importance of community. If you feel overwhelmed and helpless, start small, with one deliberate act of kindness, one appreciation of something good and beautiful, each day. Here in Central Oregon, donate time or resources to organizations like SMART or Younity, which build confidence, strength, empathy, and skill in children who will be making decisions for themselves and future generations. We’re all in this great adventure together.