Step outside your bubble

It’s only been about a month since the inauguration, but some days, it feels like it’s been a year.

Maybe it’s because many of our fears about what a Trump presidency could mean for the country are coming to fruition.

Reinterpreting Title IX to exclude students who are transgendered. Actively hunting down illegal aliens. Working to take away healthcare from millions of Americans.

It’s overwhelming. Disheartening. Frightening.

And much of the time, I feel somewhat alone in my fear bubble. It’s just me, a handful of friends and family and Rachel Maddow.

bubbles

At least that’s my perception.

Except we’re not alone. There are lots of us out there – I mean, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. So why do some of us feel lonely?

Personally, I think it’s because I am living in a kind of echo chamber, despite my best efforts. Sure, I’m making my daily calls, thanks to Daily Action. I’m in the process of getting vetted to volunteer for Jewish Vocational Services’ refugee relocation program. Yet it generally feels like I’m doing these things without benefit of ever seeing a familiar face.

And then, within the last two weeks, my bubble burst in a good way.

First, a friend I’ve known for several years mentioned she’d been at a local Progressive Social Network meeting. I didn’t realize she was involved. She’d never mentioned it, and I hadn’t asked.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail asking for last-minute volunteers at JVS.

With the stay keeping the immigration ban at bay for a bit, JVS learned that more than 40 refugees would be arriving in Kansas City the week of Feb. 13. They needed people who could help put together basic supplies to help the refugees get set up in their new homes.

So early on a Monday morning, I headed to a warehouse in Midtown to bundle together donated sheets, towels, kitchen supplies and toiletries.

I didn’t know a soul there. I was a little late (because I usually am,) so I joined two women who were just getting started. One was in her 20s, and the other in her late 40s. They’re friends who work together at Southwest Airlines. I asked how they found JVS. I thought maybe Southwest had a volunteer program such as Kohl’s Care for Kids.

Nope, they said. They were working the Sunday that folks gathered at the airport to protest against Trump’s executive order effectively banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. They decided that day they wanted to do something to help refugees, so the older woman found out about JVS’s work through her church.

They never spoke of politics or the election or even mentioned Donald Trump’s name. They just wanted to help other humans. We worked together for two hours, counting sheets and blankets and pots and pans and toothbrushes.

Then on Wednesday, after a long day at work, I stopped by the local meeting of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. I was late, this time because of work, so I slipped in, signed in and headed for a seat. I tried to make myself smaller so as not to draw attention to myself.

But I felt eyes on me, so I looked over at the next table. There was a woman I knew through my job, smiling at me knowingly. I flashed her a grin.

Just then, the door to the room opened, and another woman walked in late. After a few minutes, I realized it was a woman I see at my gym. After the meeting, I reminded her that we take Zumba together.

I was starting to feel like part of a club.

And on Thursday after work, I stopped by Jo-Ann Fabrics to pick up something. As I grabbed a cart, a woman came up to me.

“Excuse me,” she said, leaning in.

She looked around and lowered her voice.

“I like your bumper sticker,” she said.

I paused.

“My Clinton-Kaine sticker?” I asked.

“Yep!” she said. “I just had to say something to you. I feel so alone that when I see people I know feel the same way I do, I have to reach out.”

I smiled and offered my hand. Then I told her about the Progressive Social Network group and the women’s political caucus meeting. She didn’t know about either. I told her about Daily Action – she’d been trying to make calls on her own.

I dug in my purse and pulled out a business card and wrote all that on the back.

She thanked me, and I thanked her for stopping me. And then we went on our ways.

And the world felt a little smaller.

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Changing for the better

silence-quote

Hey, there. It’s me.

It’s a new year, that time when we all make promises to ourselves to do things better, to make different choices, to improve ourselves. Some call them “resolutions.” I prefer to think of them as goals.

I generally make several goals as the year changes. Almost every year, for example, I set a goal to be more organized. Mixed results on that one. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll work out more. Again, mixed results.

This year, I’m pledging to speak out.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. I can make up all sorts of excuses, but they don’t matter. I just didn’t write.

This year, I’m pledging to write about the things I’m speaking out about.

Here’s why:

I’m a Democrat. I’m a liberal. And I was – I am – an unabashed, unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I like Hillary Clinton. I wanted her to win. I donated money to her campaign. I slapped a “Clinton-Kaine” sticker on my car and planted a “Clinton-Kaine” sign in our front yard.

And I was so convinced that Hillary Clinton would win that I ignored all the signs that pointed otherwise – the anger of those who supported Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the fear among many whites of immigrants and minorities, the hatred of a certain segment of the American population for the Obama family and liberals in general.

I lived in a bubble, as so many of my fellow liberals did. I felt like a country who could elect Barack Obama twice could never elect someone like Donald Trump. And I truly thought that people would not vote against their own best interests.

But I didn’t speak out. I let others lift their voices, but I didn’t speak out. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of my friends and relatives who are more conservative than I. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable around me, although I felt very uncomfortable when they spoke untruths about the Obamas and Clintons. I didn’t speak out.

So when Donald Trump won the Electoral College and it seemed like hatred suddenly oozed from every crevice in America, it felt like a punch in the gut. I never saw it coming.

And when people I know and like and maybe even love laughed at my visible discomfort and told me to “get over it,” it hurt. It hurt. How could someone find delight in others’ pain? And how could someone who did ever be or have been my friend or relative? It hurt like hell.

Had I treated my more conservative friends in this manner when my candidate won in 2008 and 2012? I didn’t think I had.

So I didn’t speak out before Nov. 8. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that had I engaged more I could have changed the election’s outcome. But I didn’t really do much to effect that outcome except vote.

But starting today, I’m making a change.

I will speak out against intolerance and racism and xenophobia and hatred and bullying and just all around meanness. I will speak out against these things when I witness them. I will speak out against these things so that I can stand in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised and mistreated and look differently than I do and come from different backgrounds and places. I will speak out so that my children know that bullies will not prevail in our neighborhood, in our town, in our state, in our country, in our world.

I will speak out so that I can sleep at night knowing that I tried to make a difference. And I will speak out in this space as often as I can because that’s one small thing that I know I can do to try to make the world a better place.

Some folks who read this blog might be offended. They might stop reading. I hope they don’t because I think we need to try to understand other points of view. You don’t have to agree, but you should be able to respectfully listen to someone’s ideas and viewpoints.

I invite civil discussion and want to hear what others have to say. If you’re one of those readers who disagrees with my views, I invite you to stay but understand if you can’t or won’t. If you leave, I’ll be sad.

But I won’t stop speaking out.

Please stick around.