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Remarks from Bettina Aptheker on Inauguration Day
On January 20, Inauguration Day, Bettina Aptheker, Distinguished Professor of Feminist Critical Race & Ethnic Studies at UCSC, spoke at the Unite to Ignite candlelight rally in Santa Cruz, CA. Her remarks are as follows.
Unite to Ignite Candlelight Rally - January 20, 2017
Remarks by Bettina Aptheker
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at and participate in this beautiful evening.
Checking out the numerous women’s marches planned for inauguration protests I was astonished to see that this has become a global movement involving millions in a pro-democracy, anti-racist, environmentally conscious, social justice, feminist-inspired crescendo for the affirmation of life on this planet. Bismark, North Dakota! Erie, Pennsylvania! 17 cities and towns in Alaska! Kansas, Michigan, Alabama, a dozen cities in Florida, seven cities in Utah! And on and on. Virtually every state is represented. And globally, there are marches in Iraq, Israel, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Iceland, Accra, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tokyo, Congo, the Czech Republic, a dozen cities in France, a half dozen in Germany, 15 cities in Mexico, and many, many others. These protests are not about what is being heralded as “the peaceful transfer of power,” which the emcee at the inauguration ceremonies called a ‘miracle’ of our democracy. Of course, this is a Constitutional requirement, and it was accomplished. The protests, however, are to serve notice on the new administration, that we will challenge them every inch of the way, and resist, resist, resist every effort to undermine or weaken the Paris Accords on climate change, build a wall at the border with Mexico, deport our dear sisters and brothers, and persecute children, documented and undocumented, create a Muslim Registry, abandon the Iran Nuclear Treaty, dismantle the Violence Against Women Act by massive defunding of rape crisis and domestic violence centers, turn back yet again reproductive justice with ever more restrictive and quite frankly, insane legislation, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood that will cripple women’s access to health care. Likewise, of course, he and the Congress will now do what they can to hogtie the Affordable Care Act, although already in this case, they are meeting more opposition than they anticipated. And we will resist all forms of bigotry and move to protect, embrace, and stand in solidarity with those targeted by hate groups like the Klan and the American Nazi Party encouraged by this President’s unchecked public discourse. The list goes on.
This is a very dangerous moment. It is particularly dangerous because the man who is now in the White House is so emotionally unstable and volatile, and so without moral compass. In this sense, this is no ordinary transition of power. A slogan he invoked again and again during the campaign, and in a lackluster inaugural address, was, “America First.” This harkens back to the 1930s and 1940s, when there was strong pressure for such isolationism, bigotry, and turning a blind eye to the rise of fascism in Europe. But this also harkens to a more blatant racism, allied to the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again!” also invoked in the inaugural speech. I have always heard this to mean, “Make America White Again!,” (allowing whiteness to have a few exceptions of color.) Today these slogans turn us away from the immense suffering in the world, from global warming, from the refugee crisis in Europe, and encourage the rise of rightwing, racist, and anti-refugee politicians in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Then there’s Vladimir Putin. Enough said!
Things we can do:
First, we have to see absolutely clearly, in the present moment, and as much a possible without projection, especially projection based on fear. Remember that fear is a highly contagious emotion, and one that is blinding.
Second, all of us on various list serves are bombarded with email alerts, all of them sounding dire, all of them declaring an emergency, and most of them asking for money. Don’t get stampeded. Think carefully, selectively, and most of all, collectively. That is, we can consult with each other and decide what seems best to do. Those of us in more privileged economic circumstances can contribute funds, for example, to immigrant organizations providing sanctuary and legal counsel, workshops on constitutional rights, or those doing grassroots community organizing. Furthermore, much of the proposed dismantling of federal safeguards, for example, of the EPA, or the Disabilities Act, or the public education system cannot be easily done. At this moment, we may say, thank goodness for federal bureaucracy!
Third, this President has the lowest approval-rating coming into office of any President, in recent history. It is down to a 40% approval. Remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million. Remember also that he comes into office with the lowest unemployment rate currently at 4.7% and with an economy in better shape than has been true for several decades. We can build on this. These facts and these figures mean that there are hundreds of thousands of folks already disillusioned with this Presidency. Many of those participating in massive protests this weekend, have never marched before. This is especially true of women, horrified by his misogyny. Likewise, we need to reach out to folks who voted for him, including relatives, friends on Facebook and other social media, and in our neighborhoods. Don’t write them off. We need to talk to everyone. Many of them also voted for Obama! These folks, mostly white, many working class, are not ideological; they are practical. They are looking for change. They want jobs. This administration promises them jobs, but where, at what wages, in what working conditions? He promises to rebuild our infrastructure (And we can ask which infrastructure, to benefit who, and at what cost, and from where will the money come?)
Now a great danger here is that after these massive mobilizations, months after the inauguration, when we lose this or that struggle, we lose heart, we stop organizing. The only real movement death we face is discouragement, fatigue, and depression. The words of Dr. King should inspire, “The arc of history bends toward justice.” Yes, but we have to do the bending! And if there is repression, if there are arrests, if there is suppression of freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of the right to assembly, we will resist those also. Millions in motion are ultimately unstoppable.
Fourth, wherever possible we need to take positive, constructive initiatives at the grassroots, community level with a vision to sustain schools, support unions, encourage job creation at a livable wage, and a minimum $15 per hour wage, build sustainable and affordable housing and stop gentrification, protect LGBT community and LGBT rights, provide sanctuary, protect the ocean and the environment at local and state levels, run progressive folks for local and state office, keep rape crisis and domestic crisis centers and health centers open, and stop police violence, especially in communities of color, and in the Black community.
I think much more will be needed. But we have to see how things unfold, and think very carefully about what tactics and strategies may be most effective. Marches alone are not going to do it. They build our sense of strength and community, but they do not challenge the sources of power.
Now, this is key: two years from now are the midterm elections. If we are doing this grassroots organizing, we if are patiently working with everyone we possibly can, in communities all across the country, if we are holding each other in peaceful solidarity and hope, then we have a powerful opportunity to at least take back the Senate from the Republicans and put as much of a practical brake as we can on the surge to the Right.
Finally, and most importantly is this. The only thing any of us actually can control is our own minds. We can watch our thoughts, and we can watch our emotions. Anger is especially counter-productive. In meetings, in working in coalition, we must practice great patience, and listen carefully to each other, respectfully, and with flexibility of mind. In protests, in the streets, we must not replicate the anger, bigotry, hate-speech that may be coming at us. What I mean is, even when we are saying positive things, advocating for positive action, if we do it with anger then the energy we produce is the same as the energy of the anger that is directed at us.
I encourage all of us to act with loving kindness and compassion toward everyone we meet, in all of our daily interactions, in our families and with our loved ones, even in the most casual of encounters. Extend warmth, embrace humor, open our hearts. Do this consciously, every day. Wake up and think, how can I be of benefit to others today? Let this be in our mind stream. Make it a habit. It lightens us, and it lightens the world.
Think of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock as a model of compassionate action.
In the Korean language, the word “hello” literally translates into English as, “Are you at peace?” This is in a country ravaged by wars for generations. It can also be translated as, “Are you being peace?” Or, also, “Are you practicing peace?” Of course, the greeting is not said as a question, it is simply said as an affirmation.
I think, what a wonderful word this is. I say hello to you and I mean are you being peace? I look at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning, all tousled from sleep, and say, “hello,” to myself, and I think, “Are you being peace?”
We must ourselves be the love and peace we want to see in the world, in our families, in our community, in our coalition building, in our offices, in our classrooms, driving the UPS truck, fixing the plumbing, every day. This is not a slogan. This is a practice. Some would call it a spiritual practice. It can be in any tradition, religious or secular. From the Fifth Dalai Lama, of Tibet, who lived many centuries ago, we have these words, the start of a prayer:
An image of a sun enthroned in the heavens
radiating one thousand beams of light.
Were one to shower bright rays of love
upon all beings
Now, folks, that says all beings, human and nonhuman, ocean and trees, mountains, and rivers, and those currently in the White House, and currently in the Congress.
All beings. No exceptions! You shower bright rays of love, and you hold firm.