I haven’t written anything here in so long. I was working a ton of hours (still am I guess). And then there was the election.
A friend who frequently stays with us and identifies as a member of one of the groups Trump has targeted woke up the morning after the election and said with simply honesty, “I’m afraid to leave the house.” The stories came rolling in; a woman walking down the street threatened with being burned if she didn’t remove her hijab, racist graffiti spray painted on the walls of the university… on and on. And my own personal experience just a night after the election:
Driving home From work I stopped to get gas. There was a man, i’m guessing early 60’s pumping gas. He appeared to be Arab / Arab-American. I pulled in just as two young (early to mid 20’s) white man approached him. They begin to verbally assault him — yelling that he was not welcome here, and that Trump will send him back to where he came from. They mumbled something incomprehensible that I believe included the word terrorism. I pulled up close, got out of my car and went and stood beside him. At first I said nothing. I just stood next to him facing the 2 young men. My presence seemed to confuse them and as they hesitated I asked (hopefully not unkindly and hopefully without Snark) ” why are you doing this ? ” One looked down and they both started to walk away. As they did one turned and spat at the man standing beside me. I stepped I front of him getting spat on instead. As I was not the intended target the spitter looked uncomfortable for a moment. Then the 2 young men left. I spoke just briefly with the man who was targeted with such hatred. He is from Jordan and has lived in Ypsilanti 8 years. His children were born here. He was so grateful. I had done so little yet for him I guess it meant a lot.
I came home and cried, took a hot bath and shared the story on facebook. I shared as a venting tool and to say “we have work to do.” The story was shared and shared and shared.
The Meta Peace Team, that I am so deeply involved in, and just myself personally started getting calls,emails, texts and facebook messages requesting bystander intervention training. Faith communities, community groups, neighborhood groups, girl scouts, home school networks. It has been amazing! And with every training I learn something.
Meanwhile, the day time warming center has started for season. A democratically self governed space where those experiencing homelessness can be warm, get a bite to eat and enjoy community. And where those newly and precariously housed can stay connected to the community and stay involved. Hosted by faith communities we rotate to a new spot ever 2 weeks to one month. Anything we have is donated; food, games, hats and mittens. The lines between “guests” and “volunteers” is always blurred and at best erased as we remember the truth that “we are all in this together.”
Each year that I have had the privilege to coordinate this I am moved by the generosity shown, and the connections made, and relationships formed. A person who always brings juice because she knows from the relationships formed how much this is loved. The individual who hands me her bridge card (food stamp card) and says “I get $40 a month, use $20 to buy groceries for the warming center.” The guy who takes off his gloves and hands them to another because his hands are so cold, chapped and red.
I find myself thinking of another election. When Obama was elected President the first time I was in line to vote. I was living in Ypsilanti and those in my precinct were predominately African American and almost exclusively poor. The line was long. Really long. Hours of waiting long. The atmosphere was positive and people made small talk as they passed the time. A woman toward the end of the line worried out loud that she was going to get in trouble at work, as voting was obviously going to take longer than her lunch hour allowed. And then something wonderful happened — folks in line let her “cut” in front of them.
Then something even more wonderful happened. Almost spontaneously people in line begin to organize themselves in sections of about 20 people each. “Who needs to get back to work?” , “Who has kids who they have to pick up or get off the bus?” We all, without any formal leaders or plans, organized ourselves to ensure those with time constraints or needs to finish quickly were shuffled ahead in the line so that those needs were met. Those who needed to sit were offered seats, snacks begin to be shared. The atmosphere went from positive to festive as people chatted, laughed and shared stories.
I said something about it to the woman in line in front of me, contrasting it to my experiences at my former precinct in Ann Arbor, where people had always been very nice, but so much more reserved, and where I couldn’t imagine the spontaneous show of community that allowed some people to skip ahead in line. She responded in an southern accent so thick it made me wonder if I’d been somehow magically transported south “honey, we poor people — we know how to take care of each other!”
Returning to this election I think of her words as another friend asks me “What are we going to do?” and I answer “challenge injustice when we see it and build alternatives, the same thing we’ve been doing, take care of one another.”. I think of her words as I hear my friend say “I’m afraid to leave the house.”
“We are poor people. We know how to take care of each other.”
I hope she is right. I believe she is.