It is February and the government shutdown is over, but it’s effects continue to be enormous. The shutdown was the most direct and sustained attack on the institutions of our government that has happened in my lifetime. Workers and contractors sneered at, required to work without pay and barred from talking about the impacts they saw in services as a result. Attempts to drive workers and whole programs to quit and close. Functions of government like food safety, criminal investigations, protection of our national parks abandoned. Air safety imperiled. National defenses left open.
Threats of another shutdown this week seem unlikely. The air traffic controllers in Brooklyn, NY were able to stop the last one by refusing to continue to do their jobs unpaid, closing down air traffic to New York City. That seems like something they could do again and Trump is expected to unhappily sign the government spending bill this Friday.
Our family didn’t lose a paycheck during the shutdown, but as someone who has decided to care what happens to America as a whole, it was terrifying. The aftermath has been one in which my family and I have suddenly gotten intensively focused on our home. Organizing the office. Painting the kitchen. Longer walks with the dog. The sharpest dangers having lifted, we had to exhale and do some nesting for a moment while Nancy Pelosi took a victory lap.
I have been feeling the words that resistance fighters dread to hear: “I just can’t watch the news, it’s too upsetting.” It’s just the truth. I hit a limit. Trump’s white supremacist movement is counting on most people being too focused on their daily lives to keep standing up to the attacks on immigrants, health services, schools, national parks, … all of it. I said I would be vigilant and help others be as well.
But each of us gets tired, depressed, overwhelmed. I’m lucky enough to have a family and life to recharge me.
I don’t know if the trick to getting through this is to never let my eyes off America, like a 4 year old liable to wander into the street. It has seemed at some points like we could preserve who we were by never forgetting the norms and regular order that existed before Trump took office. Do you remember Amy Siskind’s The List project? She kept a year’s worth of weekly lists of changes in our democracy as a trail of breadcrumbs so we can find our way back someday. But the worrying is more than a person can bear on their own.
Are we still cherishing the democratic structures we had prior to Trump? Yes, and Amy Siskind is still keeping a list. I know I have crossed into the territory of tune-out. But the cool thing is that it overlaps with the messages from the bold newcomers in Congress: A Green New Deal, making the rich pay higher taxes, demands for a $30 minimum wage that people could actually live on, comprehensive electoral reform, rigorous anti-corruption laws, regulation of social media. What?!? We are starting to imagine the startling new world we can create when Trump and the Republicans are driven from office.
Both of these things, taking a rest from protesting and letting some of these big ideas in has been good for me. I have started running again. We are cooking at home more and eating out less. The garden in the front yard is growing. I’m simplifying and centering. Doing the things that nourish me now and letting powerful concepts take hold that will keep me engaged for the next cycle.
My part for the Resistance this week is simply to write.