Standing Up, While Letting Go


When I first became a published writer, I was eight years old. My grandmother had taken me to a rodeo, where I watched cowboys ride bucking broncos and cowgirls rope calves. And because I’ve always been an animal lover, the spectacle horrified me. The worst came when the cowgirls competed for the title of Rodeo Queen. The winner would get a sash and a crown, then ride her horse the next day in the downtown parade. But to win, they had to compete in barrel racing, goat tying, and calf roping, and their horses had to respond to their every command.

One cowgirl was particularly rough with her horse, kicking it, yanking it, whipping it: the horse's eyes, wild and glassy, its nostrils flared and sucking air; terror drove it to do exactly what she said. That’s why she won. As she rode around the arena in a victory lap—the crown upon her head—blood poured from the mouth of her exhausted horse: She had used a barbed bit .

The next day at the parade, she rode a different horse. I told my grandmother how unfair this was, how the other horse must have been too injured to attend, how this woman had been rewarded for hurting an animal, and that she didn’t deserve to win. The injustice was too much. That’s when my grandmother taught me a valuable lesson: She told me to do something about it—to stand up for my beliefs. She taught me how to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper, which I did, decrying the abuse of animals at rodeos and declaring that the cowgirl should lose her title and crown. That was my first published piece.

My parents should have known then that I would be an activist for the rest of my life. To my family’s disappointment—a family of conservative, Republican, fundamentalist Christians—I’m protesting once again. Tomorrow, I head to Washington, D.C., to join the Women’s March on Washington.

For the past three weeks, while preparing to resist Trump’s occupation of our White House, I have written articles about letting go and forgiveness. And I’ve questioned myself: Is speaking out about this questionable election and resisting Trump’s Evil Empire antithetical to letting go? A quick survey of history told me, No.

Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), the Prophet Mohammad, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, perhaps even Jesus. All taught the principles of nonviolent resistance. While Jesus encouraged his followers to cooperate with the government by paying their taxes, he also said they should refuse to worship the Roman Emperor as a god. The Prophet Mohammad ultimately won victory over his enemies—the pagans in Mecca—by sitting in nonviolent protest within their Ka’bah sanctuary. Mahatma Gandhi led his country to independence from British colonial rule, through massive nonviolent protests.

Following Gandhi’s example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. battled racism in the 1960s and gained civil rights for black Americans, and Nelson Mandela turned a vicious government toward democracy and ended apartheid. As the Dalai Lama said, nonviolence is “compassion in action. It doesn’t mean weakness, cowering in fear, or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognizing the rights of others.” Rosa Parks embodied this idea when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Nonviolence or ahimsa does not mean passivism. It does not mean that you become someone’s doormat while you burn incense and meditate. And resistance does not mean breaking windows, throwing rocks, burning cars, or hurting others. Nonviolent resistance means standing up for what is right and effecting change in a constructive way.

Following the 2008 uprising in Tibet, a new custom emerged called Lhakar, which translates to “White Wednesday.” To resist Chinese culture, every Wednesday Tibetans express their dissent by celebrating their cultural traditions: singing Tibetan songs, wearing Tibetan clothes, speaking Tibetan language, patronizing Tibetan businesses, eating Tibetan food. And even though poets, writers, artists, and singers have been arrested for their peaceful expressions of patriotism, Lhakar has become very successful and has spread worldwide.

For me, nonviolent resistance means writing and protesting. If you are an artist or a musician, it might mean creating protest drawings or singing and writing protest songs. A friend of mine is knitting pink “pussy hats” for her friends who are going to the Women’s March on Washington. What is your talent? What can you do to stand up for human rights? It might be as simple as boycotting stores that supported Trump's campaign, like Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, Coors Brewing Co., and Chick-fil-A. Whatever it is, our resistance must come from a place of compassion and peace.

For nonviolent resistance to be effective, including mass protests, we must first let go of fear, anger, even hatred; we must forgive our “enemies”; we must accept where we are in the present, and become present with how that makes us feel; then we must move forward by making a change through positive action—that’s activism. Then we can sit or walk or write or sing or paint or knit our compassionate, peaceful protest, and open our opponent’s eyes. As Gandhi said, our intent should be to convince our opponent, not to crush him; “to convert the opponent, who must be ‘weaned from error by patience and sympathy.’”

As I travel to Washington, D.C., this is my intent. Hundreds of thousands of protestors will send a clear message to Republicans: We are still here, we are watching, and we will not allow your policies to violate human rights. America’s inclusive, compassionate spirit will not be dampened by religious bigots, white supremacists or nationalists, or an immature, amateur politician tweeting late at night from the White House. This is our America, and we will continue applying pressure by making our voices heard.

Many people have asked why we need to protest, why Democrats don’t give Trump a chance—a profoundly ironic request after their treatment of President Obama. Donald Trump represents the rise of a dangerous, autocratic, theocratic, hate-based movement. Human Rights Watch, a global nonprofit group, recently reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries; their 687-page World Report 2017 concludes that Donald Trump is a threat to human rights, that he foments hatred and intolerance, and that “Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. But in fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes, “a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will.”

We must resist this gathering gloom. But how do we remain present, how do we resist while “letting go”? It’s a question of motivation and awareness. First, let go of fear; let go of President Barack Obama and his beautiful family; let go of images of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders as President--stop asking, Why? or What if? Even though Russia engineered Trump’s election, even though the Financial Times has reported that “funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out of bankruptcy” and that Trump is “completely under the thumb of the Kremlin,” even though Trump did not win the popular vote, and even though his presidency feels illegitimate, this unqualified, despicable man will occupy our White House. We must accept this reality, be present with it, then resist however we can.

The best way to get through the next four years is with humor and kindness—Alec Baldwin and the SNL crew will save us all. More than anything, we need to be kind to one another: Waving to thank the driver who stops for us in the crosswalk; letting a car cut in front of us; offering food to the homeless; opening doors for others; shoveling a neighbor's sidewalk; delivering food to sick friends. Small kindnesses will counteract the poison of the Trump administration by cultivating decency and goodwill, and keep the America we know and love from disappearing.

We will get through this, together. We were made for these times. America’s hippies and civil rights leaders are still here, showing the younger generation how it’s done—and they are just as fired up as we are! This will unite us and make us stronger. The resistance is just beginning, my friends. Be vigilant, be wise, spread love and light, and let’s get ready.

© Ellen Antonelli 2016

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