COMMENT: Words Have Power (And So Do We)

by ANNE T. DONAHUE

THE CANADIAN FEDERAL ELECTION is fast approaching and on its heels is Election 2020 and the question of whether President Donald Trump’s reign of terror will come to an end.

As of this writing, my jaw is already in such a state of perma-clench that I usually wake up with a headache that only gets worse as I catch up on Twitter. I lay in bed and read the rantings of the most powerful man in the world whose source of joy is to spew hate and incite fear, and I reconcile with the fact that his all-caps messaging might not deter anybody from re-electing him, but instead lock him in for another four years. It’s at that point I usually tell myself to put the phone down, make some coffee, and get to work.

Which, for me, also involves reading Twitter all day.

It’s nothing short of terrifying to realize that the President’s buffet of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and cruelty (to name a few) may secure his seat in Washington for another four years as opposed to guaranteeing his impeachment or defeat. And it’s also terrifying that voices like Canada’s own Andrew Scheer’s are getting louder and more powerful as they lean further and further right and echo the choir of American Republicans itching to pry accessible healthcare and women’s rights from the hands of the public. Frankly, to not live in a state of perma-clench; to not have each day garnished with stress-induced nausea upon a new tweet or press conference feels like an impossible ask. But the thing is, it isn’t. Because we’re not powerless. We’re powerful. And change has never come about when a community has opted to resign themselves to defeat.

It feels like a tall order, I know. The elections feel endless. The aftermath feels worse. One year ago, many of us sat glued to the television watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, holding back tears as she recounted the horrifying events of the night he (allegedly) assaulted her. And then he was appointed to the Supreme Court anyway. For the last year and a quarter, citizens of Ontario have watched Conservative MP Doug Ford rip apart school curriculums, reverting sexual education back to that of the mid-1990s and stripping classrooms of key lessons in Indigenous history. And nearly every day we hear of charges or allegations brought against the President that never seem to stick. The heartache and stress and fear are all monumental. The misery marathon feels like a treadmill with no off-switch. And right now, there isn’t: so you crank up your power anthems and you keep going.

Politicians work for us. We elect them, we challenge them, and the beauty of democracy is that should they make choices that hurt or damage us, we get to push back and say, “Hell no.” But to do that requires noise, and it requires participation. But where protesting can conjure up imagery of taking to the streets with signs and messages (an awesome way to protest, by the way, if you feel most comfortable taking that route), it can also mean language and communication. It can mean emailing and calling MPs and MPPs to ask why they voted a certain way, to ask why they’re allowing changes to be made, and to ask why they haven’t offered their support to causes that better the people of this country instead of appeasing sects of elitists or bigots. It can mean having conversations with your friends about what’s going on and working together to find ways to lend support for non-profits and community programs that help and assist the marginalized folks affected most by irresponsible and selfish government. It can mean sharing the work of writers you believe in and whose work spreads important messages. Or, it can be silent communication, where you can donate to organizations whose funding has been cut (or is being targeted) by officials whose priority is not of the people. (A fact: most women’s shelters have lists of most-needed items on their websites, so you can drop off exactly what they’re looking for.) Hell, it can even be a straight-up “Nope – stop it” response to a person spewing hateful rhetoric. Your options are endless. Your power is more so.

I know it sounds daunting. I know it sounds like a lot of work to do for the rest of time. And that’s because it is. As adults, we don’t get to stop trying to maintain the well-being of other people who need our help. And if you’re a person of privilege, you don’t get to toss in the towel because what you want or need hasn’t been targeted or seems fine. Frankly, as people of privilege (particularly of the white, hetero, able sort) it’s up to us to use our platforms to fight for everybody because otherwise we’re complicit in their oppression. And I know even reading that probably sounded very overwhelming, but as participants in a society, it’s the trade-off we make: we use our platforms, our voices, our privilege, and we demand that all are looked after. Not just a small margin. So we’ve got to use our gifts.

Gifts can look like all sorts of things. They may be your ability to argue a point until it’s agreed on by everybody. They may be your ability to communicate over email. They may be your ability to make signs to bring to protests, or to listen when somebody whose experiences you may be unfamiliar with explains why they’re feeling hurt or targeted by or scared of certain political developments. They may be your ability to organize a benefit or a contest, with proceeds going to mental health organizations or recovery centres. They may come in the form of your time, lent to canvassing or volunteering. Your gifts matter. Your actions matter. Your voice matters. And when it becomes a little too much, take a step back, pick up a book, take a few breaths, then go back to work when you can.

I wasn’t lying about the treadmill we’re on feeling endless and daunting: it is. And the work will never be done. But your contribution to it – your power – is what can save us all from a descent into more terror. You can (and do) inspire change. So, raise your voice and help drown out the chorus of hate.

Editor’s note: This piece was planned and completed prior to the events that took place in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas that resulted in the deaths of 31 people. While we planned a piece calling out for using our time, efforts and most importantly – our words – to inspire hope instead of hate, we were commenting on a general state and not the specific and horrific actions of a few individuals in early August of this year.

LUXE MAGAZINE

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