How do you know if you’re making a difference? When it comes to political activism, sometimes it seems like the progress is infinitesimally slow. The obstacles are so great and we’re all just ordinary people with busy lives — jobs, families, dogs to walk. Sometimes, though, when we all get together it feels like we aren’t so ordinary — that maybe our voices aren’t too small to be heard.
I felt that way during the Women’s March, during the JFK immigration protests, and again last Wednesday when the 9th District showed up en masse for Representative Yvette Clarke’s town hall. And Indivisible 9th was right there, in the thick of it.
Representative Clarke was well received by the audience. She is a progressive congresswoman with a deep connection to Brooklyn. She relishes the role of vocal opposition and the crowd was with her, ready to excoriate the administration. We booed together when she mentioned Trump and his white nationalist cabinet. We cheered when she expressed solidarity with our common causes. She showed her progressive bona fides and we all loved it. Her speech and answers to constituent questions was a cathartic moment we all needed. She was our representative in Washington DC and she was more than ready to call Trump a facist, a demagogue, and unfit to be president.
But when I left the town hall, my renewed sense of excitement wasn’t because of her fiery rhetoric. It was the standing room only crowd packed four deep at the back. It was the 300 people in the upstairs overflow room. It was the people who waited in a line that stretched three blocks. It was the feeling that I was part of a group of people re-asserting our rights as democratic citizens.
Before Clarke’s speech, I walked through the hall and asked people why they were there.
Steve was tall and broad shouldered, but quiet. His parents are immigrants and he was worried about the growing acceptability of discrimination in America.
Helen and her friend squeezed in just before they closed the doors to the main hall. She was fired up. “Immigrant rights,” she half-shouted to me over the growing noise of the crowd when I shoved a flier at her and asked why she was there.
Dolores walked with a cane, and even after a long day and the promise of a long night she wanted to listen to Representative Clarke and be heard herself because she remembered a time when “a black woman wouldn’t have been allowed on the stage.”
The crowd was diverse and energetic. This was an America that I recognized and that I wanted to see more of. We have a long road ahead of us. Change and resistance to hatred and authoritarianism takes hard work and sometimes the steps are slow. There is no quick fix. No single action or protest is going to turn us back from from the ugliness exposed by the election. Now we are all unavoidably confronted with the reality that some of us knew and some of us didn’t appreciate fully.
With these people from different neighborhoods, different religions, different ethnic communities we can roll back the tide of discrimination. We can ensure that immigrants are welcome in our city and country. We can fight for voting rights. We can organize, and protest, and make sure that our voices are heard. And when people write about the history of this time, the story won’t be just about the great shame of electing a would-be authoritarian with a racist agenda. The story will be about how collectively we took action and stood for something better. The story will be about the millions of Steves and Helens and Doloreses who would not be silent. And it will be about all of us who stand with them.
~ Nathaniel Allard, Indivisible 9th Member