Us vs. Them in the New America

I’m putting this day in my list of “you’ll always remember where you were” days. I know exactly where I was when I heard about Elvis’ death, the explosions of both Challenger and Columbia, the twin towers falling, and now when I found out Donald Trump had been elected.

I believe Trump’s election is the Republicans reaping what they have sewn since the Republican Revolution in 1994 and the Democrats seeing the impact of too many years of letting the Republicans define the battle field. I think it is going to fundamentally change the United States. I know we cannot let it splinter us farther apart.

Who is us and who is them? This the fundamental question of all community organizing and I am first and foremost a community organizer. I create spaces for people who share common identities, find community, share support, and organize for change. I see some folks responding to the threat they feel in a Trump presidency by circling the wagons. They are saying, “we must protect our own.” I want to ask them: “who do you consider yours?”

I feel that the wider we define us and the more narrowly we define them, the stronger we can be. The easier we make it for someone who changes their understanding to move from them to us, the faster we can change the world.

I’m not saying that you need to invite someone who is violently opposed to you into community. A bigot doesn’t need to be welcomed into the community of people they hate. However, I think it is important to expand your understanding of “us” to include other people who are experiencing similar trauma, even if it is for different reasons. Alongside that, we must also be sure we are not perpetuating more trauma against other threatened communities.

Trauma right now is feeling unsafe in your own country (maybe for the first time, maybe more acutely than in the past). Trauma is not being sure who you can trust, wondering if you were too open about your identities in the past, and knowing not everyone around you will protect you if you are threatened.

These feelings can make us narrow our definition of who is us. I would argue, we need to broaden it. People of color, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants are threatened with more violent and broad based discrimination then in recent years. LGBTQ folks and people with disabilities know protections they fought hard to win are coming under attack.

As a bisexual woman, today is the day I need to turn to my Muslim neighbor and ask how I can help him because tomorrow I may be the one who needs his help.

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