Just last week, a few days before Trump became President, my family drove through the birthplace of my late grandmother. A small, remote settlement called Urenui, on the West Coast of New Zealand in the dairy-farming region of Taranaki. Boasting a strong Maori history, it is a tiny dot on the New Zealand map and not much changes there. But from this quiet township, grew a strong, intelligent woman who travelled the world – my grandmother. A wise woman, she grew up to be an independent, political force in her own right. I've mentioned her before in a previous post – her quiet determination and activism for what was fair and right has always inspired me.
It is not lost on me the uncanny fact that we drove past her birthplace the same week that women’s rights were being threatened by the American political system and inauguration of Trump, with people demonstrating in droves in response. My grandmother was a fierce supporter of equality for all, and never seemed to back down from a fight.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, a dark day in American politics, the word ‘Trump’ was scrawled in vapour appearing white against the blue Sydney sky. Reportedly procured by Trump supporters, it certainly rubbed salt in our wounds and highlighted that the happenings in America were keenly felt here. It was something that we never wanted or expected to see. Despite the impossible having happened, the disbelief and astonishment is still there.
Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
We all held a little hope that like magic, Trump might come good - or at least reveal a more respectful, 'Presidential' version of himself, by the time he was sworn in. But the inauguration of President Trump and his divisive, negative speech combined with aggressive fist-pumping did little to assuage our fears. In fact, the nightmare of Trump as the bigoted campaigner had become reality. There was no evidence his stance had softened, or that his character had become respectful and morally just. Any lingering hope that he might suddenly put away his antagonistic campaign speak has been eradicated. Indeed the only offering of respect to Bill and Hillary Clinton was blatantly insincere.
The fact Hillary turned up – dressed in suffragette white – was not only a master class in her trade mark stoicism and integrity, but a symbol of standing up and supporting democracy. As The New Yorker editor, David Remnick, described it – “a retreat to the woods is not an option”.
But despite being left with an empty feeling after watching the inauguration, as the ever-dignified Barack Obama has constantly reminded us, we have hope.
Both in the sense that this President needs to be elected again to remain in power – as commentators have pointed out “The upside today is that the demagogues of the 1930s did not have to stand for re-election,” wrote Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of Die Zeit, the German weekly.
While 4 more years is a long time in which significant change can happen, civilians can keep the pressure on the tweeting Trump and remain committed to the values that have underpinned democracy, basic human values and the progression of rights in all forms. Civil rights, women’s rights, human rights – equality for all.
I am also encouraged by watching Mike Moore leading a protest in New York City on the eve of the inauguration where he initially gave the bad news –- predicting that “as bad as we think it’s going to be, it’s going to be worse”. Moore has a knack at predicting stuff, including Trump’s election, and this recent prediction hasn't escaped my mind yet. But he quickly went on to highlight the good news – that there are more people who opposed Donald Trump than supported him in the election, which arguably means he lacks a real mandate to govern.
Advocating ‘100 days of resistance’ Moore kicked off a call for action by civilians using peaceful acts to obstruct Trump’s backward agenda. Moore also points out that Trump needs to behave very well while in office to avoid impeachment – and that is something a narcissist may find difficult to do.
So waking up a day after the inauguration has given me a renewed sense of hope in the world – seeing the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide marching in support of equality for all, in defiance of Trump and all that he stands for. Indeed it has been reported as the biggest one day political protest in US history. More people flooded the Washington public transport system on Saturday 21st January than they did to celebrate the inauguration. Even John Kerry – former Secretary of State – spent his first day as a private citizen after 34 years marching in Washington.
It is uplifting and encouraging that so many people feel so strongly to get out and march, fighting for what they believe in instead of sitting back and thinking, "there’s not a lot of point, there’s a new government, why bother?". Political activism is alive and kicking in places where I never thought we needed to demonstrate in this way. Hadn’t our ancestors fought for women’s rights decades ago?
May we never get complacent and normalise all the bigotry and heinous words and actions of Trump, nor sweep them under the carpet. Continue to be vigilant, continue to fight for equal rights and what values the majority holds dear. In a world where voter turnout is often low, let's try to change that inner voice which questions “What's the point of me doing anything?'”.
The point is to speak out and stand up – not just on women's issues or equal rights for all, but for every issue that is worth fighting for. For that is how change starts – with small steps and real actions.