Ask Bear is an advice column written by S. Bear Bergman. Bear is a busybody know-it-all with many opinions who is only too happy for a sanctioned opportunity to tell you what he thinks you ought to be doing (as well as a writer, storyteller, publisher and activist who enjoys telling educational institutions, health care groups, and portions of government what he thinks they ought to be doing). To submit a question to Ask Bear, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions will remain 100 percent confidential, and may be edited for length.
What the fuck are we supposed to do now?
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Dear Brave Correspondent,
I think this is a very reasonable question. What’s more, I think that it pretty well echoes what a lot of people are thinking right now. In this political moment, in this weaponized cultural climate, when some of us are suddenly discovering that people we may have thought we’re on our side are either actively against us, or didn’t care enough to protect us—indeed, what the entire fuck do we do now?
I want to mention first that only some of us are experiencing the U.S. as being hostile to us and our well-being in a new way. Much of what seems so visible now has been there right along, brutalizing people with less cultural privilege or economic power. Murders by police. Murders of trans women, especially those of color. Gentrification. Pipeline projects and the water in Flint, Michigan. This is a terrible emboldening of the forces of repression and injustice, to be sure. It feels worth remembering, though, that those forces do not act on all of us in the same way, or with the same vigor.
And so, I think the answer to “what now” must be different depending on who we are, and how specifically and immediately our safety or well-being is endangered by what seems to be coming. It feels foolish to pretend that we all have the same work now; we don’t. What’s clear is that work will be required, and I believe that the first piece of the work many of us must do is to listen.
So, then. We listen, we think, we make all the space we can for the most affected people and we utilize the dump out/comfort in* system of figuring out what to do with out upset but then, you know: what the fuck do we do? Well, Brave Correspondents, I have a few pieces of advice.
The first is, identify the spheres of action. I think of these as:
• Personal (within my individual circle of influence),
• Community (these are the people with whom I regularly do things even if I don’t know them all, like a workplace, school, religious institution, community group)
• World Wide (media, government, banks, and other institutions or structures)
My advice is to figure out one thing you can do in each sphere, recognizing that there will be overlaps between and among them. For me, this has been a way to balance my efforts toward change so that I can be effective long-term. You might choose to a) make a project of that one person at work who you think you could wake up a little, b) get involved in a neighborhood committee to respond to bias incidents and c) commit to making 100 phone calls to your legislators to share your feelings about what is happening. An organization of work like this will also give you a way to take breaks from one kind of work by doing a different kind, which can be very helpful. Sometimes a change is a as good as a rest.
Another thing I encourage, especially for people who are newly galvanized into action, is to find a Do The Work buddy. It can be difficult to go into new spaces and start new work. It can be difficult to do challenging things without someone with whom to debrief so you can let go of what isn’t helpful (like that one officious guy who wants to mansplain everything to you) and focus on what is helpful. A buddy also gives you a chance to get useful reflections on questions like “what skills that I have might be most useful?” and “how much time and/or money can I commit to this?” Maybe you and your Do The Work buddy can make choices around things like skipping a dinner out and sending the money to the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center or Lambda Legal Defense or Audre Lorde Project while you eat English muffin pizzas together at one of your homes. Try some things, and see what feels like it contributes to your overall sense of wellbeing under terrible circumstances.
Because, Brave Correspondents, our sense of wellbeing is important. It’s crucial. This isn’t the same as “self care” necessarily, though sometimes they overlap and by all means if you need to skip a meeting to get a pedicure on a day that is legit. But two things about this: one, think about your sense of well-being separate from your sense of feeling “happy” or “content.” Check in with yourself: do you feel like you have the respect of people who are important to you, are you having joyful moments, do you have people or places to which, as Janet Mock puts it, you can arrive empty and be filled up there? Those are strong signs of a good sense of well-being. But also, the less you are impacted by the direct effects of the new political regime, the more you may need to challenge yourself or push yourself to develop the ability to feel uncomfortable and do work anyway. To feel unsafe and do work anyway. To be tired, distracted, upset or alarmed and do work anyway. Your feelings can simultaneously be valid and not a reason to stop work. People who are new to this concept may find that they take a minute to find a workable balance in these ways. That’s okay. It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many time you get up.
I would like to say, Brave Correspondent, that there is also a lot to get back up for. I believe both that Pumpkin Spice Mussolini and his henchmen will try all type and manner of repressive techniques to which organized resistance will be required, and I also believe that we will win. I believe that the arc of the universe does bend toward justice. I believe that we can persevere, and eventually triumph, from this place. I believe that the urge to lay down on the sidewalk and wail you may be feeling is valid but that in a couple of weeks, Brave Correspondent, you will be ready to get up, have everyone you like over for dinner and strategy session, find a buddy, make a plan, and fight back.
love and courage,
P.S. I am sorry to say that this is my last column for Bitch Media. Keep an eye out for where the column might go by following my Facebook or Twitter. You’ve been a fabulous audience, thanks for being awesome, and don’t forget to tip your bartenders.
* this article uses the word “lame” in a negative way the first sentence, which I loathe and find really exhausting, so you may want to skip the first sentence and move on from there. I think the concept is useful enough to share the source document despite the slur.