GUEST OPINION: The Right Side of History

By on December 13, 2016

It’s time to be brave, to speak out, and to take a good hard look at ourselves and what we can accomplish together.

The sustained and collective efforts of water protectors at Standing Rock ultimately halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline... for now. (Photo: Jessica Sell Chambers)

The sustained and collective efforts of water protectors at Standing Rock ultimately halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline… for now. (Photo: Jessica Sell Chambers)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I was living in downtown Oakland California when Barack Obama won his first presidency. Sitting at my computer, hitting refresh every few minutes, I waited for the inconceivable to happen. Would a black man really sit in the most important of chairs? Would he put his coffee on the most hallowed of desks? Would a black hand hold the pen that had the power to change the world with its ink?

I didn’t need to look at the computer screen to know when the results came in. I felt it. The vibration in the air built slowly into a wild frenzy, the streets filled up with hooting and hollering revelers. The town levitated.

I have never in my life experienced the energy of an entire city in a state of joy. It was unbelievable. It was victory for a community of people that had never won, had never looked at a man of power and seen their own reflection in his determined but weary face. I will never forget what the streets of Oakland gave to me that night. The memory has and will continue to sustain me in times of confusion and loss. It is what held my head up in November when people voted with hatred and fear, not heart. It is what moves my feet forward when the road ahead is dimly lit, and it gives me precious hope today as my country does its damnedest to rip itself apart, limb from limb. I have seen how powerful we can be when united, what we are capable of when our arms are linked and our hearts are sure.

Over the past year I had removed a certain type of person from my life. I unfollowed, unfriended and divorced myself from the people that started showing signs of support for President-elect Donald Trump and those like him. Rather than engaging in discourse (however heated) with those who posted or said the frightening crap that is now commonplace, I just cut them out.

In hindsight, this was a terrible mistake. I stood on the tracks and refused to look in the direction of the coming trains, somehow thinking that kindhearted truth would prevail. What I didn’t know was that truth had become so fluid, murky and fleeting, like the smoke from a trash fire. I was not the only one that allowed the election results to take me by surprise. I sat smugly in the echo chamber of my curated life, so sure that ignorance wouldn’t win. And I was wrong. Not just concerning what was about to come but that those who facilitated it were willfully ignorant or nasty.

Yes, the loud and hateful few that push the agenda of the “alt-right,” a white nationalist movement, and its yucky counterparts are comfortably ignorant. That is a fact. And damn nasty to boot. But other folks supported Trump because they could see no other way. Just like the people of 2008 in Oakland, the disenfranchised, poverty stricken Americans, who felt so removed from the shiny prosperity that everyone but them seemed to enjoy.

Is it really that surprising that a reality television star could appeal to so many? He speaks many Americans’ language, plays on people’s fears, offering that quick unbelievable fix that some crave. The demographic that supports Trump is largely poor and uneducated—two things that when put together equal desperate circumstances.

It is a twisted and strange thing to me, this elevating of such a crass and obvious liar. But when all the cards are laid out, I understand how it happened. When quicksand is slowly swallowing one’s life, it is hard to blame the person who takes a hand from the devil. Choices that are made in desperation tend to be ill-informed.

Albert Einstein once said, “An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.”

There are many ways to go hungry in America.

As Trump continues to populate his White House with crooks, goons and oddities, each one ranker than the last, we the people hold our breath. Even some of his staunch supporters look on with confused expressions.

America has become the most watched reality television show ever, all of us waiting to see who gets voted off the island. We’ve been punked. We’ve been slimed. We are a laughing stock. What on God’s green earth do we do now?

The only thing that America has ever had in spades is foolish pride. So let us use it now. Let us take pride in our land, the vast stretching glory of northern America proper. There are immediate battles that can be fought by us here and now. Some have watched and some have participated in the stand off against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Most recently 500 veterans were called to create a human barrier between police and water protectors. Two thousand showed up and within a day POTUS handed down what I think of as a stay after months of peaceful resistance. Information continues to surface concerning ETP’s plan on ignoring the ruling but in the meantime, victory.

How sad it is that we have to fight so hard to wrest American soil from such bloody, greedy hands. But we did and we will, together. Standing Rock is proof positive that when people unite for a cause they can achieve the seemingly impossible. There is power in small groups with pride, however foolish, in our country.

Whether we like it or not, our eyes are open now. We see how our flyover states have been ignored, how we have stopped truly seeing the people around us, the needy, the uneducated. If for some reason you don’t see how we got here, then I suggest taking some time to ponder this. We owe each other that much. It is our great privilege to be citizens in a country that baked the pursuit of happiness into its Constitution. A part of that right is responsibility to the country as a whole, not just the entitled parts. We failed at that but we are not beyond saving.

I look around me and I see peaceful protests, people standing up against hate and bigotry. I see women protecting other women from harassment and assault. I see good men doing their part in this battle as well. I see the hard war on black lives coming under the spotlight. And for the first time in so very long, I see people not looking the other way. It’s not perfect, it still needs so much work, but we the people can drop the foolish part and feel the pride alone. The kind of pride that comes from participating, from helping, from understanding and most importantly, from forging unity where there was none. I felt so frustrated, so lost in all of this until I forced myself into action. There are many things we can achieve when we work together, be it locally, globally or somewhere in between. We are powerful when we unite. Let’s take comfort in that. Let’s get to work. Let’s fill the streets with the energy of love and the pride of a people together, as one. I promise you, it will feel damn good. PJH

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of this newspaper. 

Send comments to

About Josi Stephens

You must be logged in to post a comment Login