I was sitting alone in a Georgia hotel room as the election results rolled in, and it felt increasingly surreal as the projected blue states turned red. I called my family and friends to ground what I was seeing in reality. That night, the same dream played on repeat: I wake up, look at my phone, this has all been a mistake. Relief. But when I reached for my phone the next morning, the notification screen read, “Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States.” There was no more room for denial.
This is hard. It is ok to admit that. It is alright not to immediately know what to do. Give yourself permission to feel a range of emotions - frustration, confusion, sadness, anger. Your emotions are powerful. Listen to them. They are your Drinking Gourd and your catalyst for change.
What fuels me in this uncertain time is the work and ideas of fellow activists, advocates, and artivists. In that vein, I offer you my insights to hopefully serve as motivation to incorporate in your fight against injustice.
Know Your History
A friend once shared this saying: A person who doesn’t know their history is like a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. The marginalization and resistance movements of the past inform and shape the present. We will be better prepared to challenge the oppressive status quo if we understand the principles, laws, and purported values of this country’s founding, how the promises stemming from those values have proven illusory for so many of us, and the tactics of prior revolutionaries who fought back.
The history of subjugation and resistance in this country is not easily obtained in K-12 education, or through mainstream media. We have to hunt it down. In the social media age, it can be easy to mistake opinion for fact. Don’t just trust that Facebook post! Let it be the incentive for you to do your own research. The more you understand the various forces creating oppression, the more decisively you can combat them. This is not to say that you must be a historian in order to speak; find your own balance.
Abandon False Modesty and Embrace Your Complexity
As an artist and an activist, your existence may confuse some people: “Activists are focused on the real issues - art is for the frivolous and self-involved.” “A true artist exists only for their craft, including politics cheapens the work.” Don’t let people project the limitations they see for themselves onto you. The soul of an activist and the soul of an artist are the same. We don’t feel like we need to take the world as it comes to us. We see it for what it could be. We see the pain, injustice, and beauty. This vision dictates our actions both as artists and activists, and we do not need to separate those two things. If you have a skill, a question, an idea, share it! There is no room for dimming your light. Let it shine everywhere you go. We need you now more than ever.
Be Self-Critical and Self-Loving
The most important work you can do is on yourself. You cannot work for changes in the world that have not begun to take place within. How can you hope to challenge white supremacy in policy, for example, if you have yet to notice it within yourself, the art you enjoy/create, or confront it within your family and friends? Set aside the shame and guilt and just dig in.
While you’re engaging in self-analysis, do not forget to take care of yourself. Sometimes, it can feel that every moment we exist must be dedicated to our movement, but we must take some moments that are just for ourselves as people. Listen to your mind, body, spirit, and heart. Fill your well. If you still feel that taking space is a betrayal to your movement, remember the words of Black feminist author Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self- indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Know our history. Embrace complexity. Care for yourself.
Power to the People.
Rebecca Kelly Golfman
This letter was written as part of Letters to the Revolution, an on-line platform where leading artists and activists from marginalized communities were asked to write letters of strength and focus in light of the upcoming administration. To read more like it, go to letterstotherevolution.com