Make America Great Again

A couple of weeks ago, a woman from Waukesha, Wisconsin was walking her dogs around the block on a sunny day. She noticed a man coming toward her in the middle of the sidewalk, so she tried to move her dogs to the side; but Blossom, her sick, 15-year-old dog, moved too slowly. Just as the woman was about to say Excuse me, she saw the man’s foot aimed toward Blossom, so she jumped in front of her dog and the man kicked the woman instead. He then grabbed her shoulders and pushed her off the sidewalk—causing her to tumble over her dogs into the grass—then stood over her and said, “You need to get back into your place now, woman.” He was wearing a red hat that said: Make America Great Again.

Trump’s candidacy released the Kraken of Hatred, and his election seems to have legitimized bullying, racism, bigotry, and misogyny. Although the United States has come too far to return to the racial and gender apartheid of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bible-thumping Republicans will slowly erode the rights we’ve gained to return to that dark era, to put people of color, LGBTQ, and women “back in their place.” And we cannot let that happen.

Most of us are moving on now. We’ve grown tired of political arguments and activism—we’re exhausted from our own fear and anxiety. Over Thanksgiving, we’ve shared a meal with family and friends and mended our political and ideological differences. Or not. We’ve relaxed within the walls of tradition and realized that life cannot be sustained within the pressure cooker of this election or its fallout. We need our daily routine to re-establish normalcy, to feel safe and comfortable in our everyday lives. But now is not the time to take off our armor.

Remember the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Amid mounting economic difficulties and social discontent in the ‘70s, unemployed and working-poor Iranians turned to the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, who vowed to return Iran to its original tribal religious traditions by overthrowing the Shah of Iran and his “irreligious” democratic policies.

Before the revolution, Iran’s cities appeared as American as Chicago or New York. Women wore makeup, dresses and heels; they had professional careers and worked in downtown offices; they had the right to vote; they held positions in parliament and on local city councils. And even though many had opposed the Shah, his Family Protection Act gave women the right to petition for divorce and to gain child custody, and raised the marriage age for girls from 13 to 18.

After the revolution, women lost decades of gains: The Ayatollah Khomeini quashed women’s rights and enforced Islamic modesty codes. Under penalty of law, women had to cover themselves with hijabs—showing even a bit of hair was punishable with 70 lashes. The Family Protection Act was dismantled: Men were, once again, free to divorce by simple declaration and to gain exclusive child custody; women could no longer sue for divorce and lost custody rights of their own children; restrictions on polygamy were removed; and the marriage age for girls was reduced to nine years old. Women were pushed out of professional careers, toward traditional jobs like teaching and nursing; but because government-run childcare centers were now closed, many women with children were forced to stay home and could no longer work. And women holding decision-making government positions were either dismissed or forced into early retirement, leaving only men in positions of power.

Today, a vibrant feminist movement has helped Iranian women regain a portion of the rights they had lost—but it has taken 40 years of constant agitation and struggle.

This is the lesson: We cannot be complacent. Nor can our daughters and sons—they do not comprehend what they could lose. We must help them understand. Young women must fill their mothers’ shoes and march for the rights they have taken for granted. And we all must recognize our connection to this gathering of humanity and uphold one another with dignity and respect.

No one can live life wrapped in the pre- and post-election furor that drove us all nearly insane. We must regain balance in our lives. But finding that equilibrium must also include activism, in whatever form it can comfortably manifest in our lives. We can donate to organizations that will be ravaged by the Trump administration, like Planned Parenthood and environmental agencies. We can support non-violent political activism. This Saturday, I will be marching with Women Against Hate; and in January, my husband and I will fly to Washington, D.C., to participate in the protest on Inauguration Day and in the Million Women’s March. We can write letters and call our political leaders and demand they take action on important issues, like Medicare, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. We can educate ourselves. We can subscribe to legitimate news sources, like the New York Times, that accurately report the news (and Trump). We can help inform our family and friends who sincerely believe false news stories and conspiracy theories and post them on social media. We can pay attention to Washington, D.C., and the Trump regime; we can get involved at the local level and, in two years, help elect Democrats to the Senate and, in four, vote Trump out of office. We can start conversations: We can bring together groups of like-minded people to discuss important issues. We can take action, however we choose.

Let your voice be heard. Use your talents to speak your truth and help others speak theirs. For me, this means marching in non-violent protests, writing this blog, and publishing my book, Dancing on Our Fathers’ Feet, which cuts to the bedrock of all that is happening right now.

And we can be nicer to one another, opening doors and holding doors open, letting a car cut in front of us, saying thank you for a small kindness, waving at a driver for stopping while we cross the street: We can make the world better by dropping moments of positive activism and benevolence into these muddy waters and letting the ripples take effect. That is one thing we all can do, and we all must do at least this. We cannot allow 100 years of progress to slip away.

By standing together, we will make America great, again.

© 2016 Ellen Antonelli

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