Scenes from the occupation (6/30/18, Atlanta, GA)

Why even bother showing up? After all, as one speaker reminded us, it’s been a rough week for America. The Muslim Travel Ban was upheld. A moderate Supreme Court Justice decided to retire just when we needed him most. Over 1000 children, some as young as two years old, still remain separated from their parents because of a policy—not a law—that’s made even more cruel because it’s increasingly clear that the administration using it had no concrete plan for reuniting the torn-apart families. We all know damn well that our homemade signs and gravelly-voiced chants and Instragram-spread photos will not  change one iota of law directly or cause one single administrator in Washington to behave more humanely.

But, yesterday, we showed up anyway. I did, along with 10,000 men, women, and children here in downtown Atlanta, and hundreds of thousands of us around the country.

We show up to remind ourselves that we’re not alone, that collectively we’re really big actually, that despite the isolation & depression that we feel, it’s not just us feeling it. Being surrounded by people in despair is, oddly, a way to alleviate despair.

Being surrounded allows us to risk getting connected. Some of us despairing, we discover, are at least joining forces with others. It could simply be a voter registration organization (The New Georgia Project). It could be a labor group in your neighborhood that we somehow didn’t even know existed, even though the guy who lives next door to us is the one handing out flyers. It could be an adjunct of a larger, more established group (ACLU, SPLC, NAACP) that might have use for us in the one job that we know we can do well.

Sure, sometimes we show up just to scream out in fury, to laugh at our funny clever and/or inappropriate signs, to say Fuck This Guy out loud because we can’t do in our cubicles or at church or at our parents’ house. And that’s OK, too. We spend so much time pretending that yelling is uncouth. We get convinced that raging out is uncivil, unproductive, beneath us. But anger is healthy so long as it is righteous, so long as it does not curdle into hate, because it is energy, and energy can directed to political action, to moral action. And tapping into our anger can open us to understanding, empathizing with the anger & despair that others are feeling, and that understanding can oddly lead to compassion for those unlike ourselves, those who may even be worse off.

***

Compassion begets a politics of love, and we see that all around us among the 10,000 strong and weary. Hugs are everywhere. Friends are finding each other. Children are playing around. Laughter, so much laughter. A politics of love is a politics of joy, and we show up to be reminded of the presence of joy. Because we forget joy. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and all the rest can be dismissive of joy, can instead valorize snark, spite, vitriol, fear, and snap judgments. Some of those things are necessary evils, some are self-defense mechanisms, sure, sometimes, okay, but little of social media inspires joy. For that, we have to show up, to be in the flesh together, to pass out water bottles and over-sweat and lean on each other in the heat.

Most of all, we show up because we belong here. Whether born here, shipped here, bred here, new here, or working here, we are here. For all the vaunted sense of connection that we claim we have online, so many of us look at our black mirrors feeling increasingly like we don’t exactly belong anywhere, that we’re not a part of something bigger and greater. So much of the current administration’s energy is spent telling so many of us that we don’t belong. So many of us, in our darkest hours staring at the ceiling, believe it. But that is a lie. The truth, our truth, this country’s painful and unresolved truth, is that we belong to it and to each other. And it’s here that we rousingly, joyously, hilariously, despairingly remember that, and remember to resist anyone who would tell us otherwise, and find the tools to fight back.

*** The author, with handmade sign that reads: “Let’s build a wall separating Donald Trump from everyone else.” The backside reads: “Melt ICE. Dump Trump.” Not my most compassionate moment, to be fair.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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