After This Election – How Do “They” and “We” Become “Us?”

imageOne of the people I have come to have great respect for is our First Lady, Michelle Obama. She’s bright, thoughtful, articulate, and has an ability to look at the big picture that seems to often elude others in Washington. Her speech at the Democratic convention this summer was hailed as a home run in my liberal leaning world.

Lately, after half of America decided it was electing a candidate who spewed hate, racism, sexism and innumerable non-presidential qualities during the lengthy presidential campaign,  I am wondering where that leaves us as I grieve my country’s  choice and wish the result had been a Hillary Clinton victory (Electoral College).

But post election I find myself coming back to  Michelle Obama’s signature civil statement during the uncivil name calling that was America’s presidential race. She said “when they go low, we go high.” When she gave that  speech I cheered. I nodded. Right on. But now?

Now I am asking  when will the”they” and the “we” become the “us?” Were we truly ever “us?” I search my soul and conclude  I do want an “us,” a United States of America. I want that for my children and grandchildren and for everyone who is my neighbor, my community, my country.

I juxtapose this intense desire for an “us” with my black friends telling me after Donald Trump was elected president that they “could not breath.” Those of us who are white don’t get that you may say? But really anyone who listened to Donald Trump’s language during the campaign should get it. That’s where many of our fellow Americans in this United States are at. While some Trump supporters now may be saying “suck it up” or your black friends’ fear is not real or “America has spoken,” that does not change this stark and frightening reality for my black friends.

Can we listen to each other to understand, not necessarily to agree? Tell me how I might do my part to help unite a community divided by this election so that my black friends and neighbors can breathe. Tell me what I don’t understand about your version of America that might help move us all forward, so my friends might breathe.

A sixth grader in my community was very disturbed when her Muslim friend told her, after the election, that her family would be moving away because of the hatred and fear they are encountering in the community. This young sixth grader does not understand why this is happening and is understandably distraught. This is not “us.” This is not anyone’s United States. How can creating such an environment that fosters this racism and ugliness possibly be making America great again?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200  complaints of hate crimes since Election Day, according to USA Today. Those are just the ones reported. Muslim women are being harassed, robbed and having their hijabs pulled from their heads. Muslim women are telling their daughters not to wear the hijabs so they might be safe. This is not “us.”

When they go low, we go high.

in New York, friends of transgender Americans are organizing to be sure their trans friends have escorts on the subway because of the harassment taking place since the election. This is not “us.”

Actions have consequences, as do elections. I get that as someone who was elected to the state Senate once and then unelected four years later. But sustained vitriolic hate speech by our President-elect Trump during the all too lengthy campaign has emboldened a certain element of his supporters to harass and intimidate their fellow Americans now that candidate Trump has become President-Elect Trump. Their actions are violating people’s civil and human rights. Their actions are preventing people of color from being fully American, from being fully human, from breathing.

I am reminded of how important maintaining and protecting Second Amendment rights were and continue to be to many of my fellow Americans who voted for president-elect Trump. They had eight years of worrying about Presidenrt Obama taking away their guns.  Yet, that never happened.  Will you be as vigilant about protecting my black friends’ rights to equal protection under the law pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to that same Constitution you and I and all Americans who make up the United States of America cherish and hold dear? Will you speak out against the harassment and hate crimes being perpetrated against your Muslim neighbors for exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion? Will you explain to sixth graders in my community why it’s wrong to violate any persons constitutional rights, be it First, Second, or Fourteenth Amendments?

I will do whatever I can to help President -Elect Trump succeed. Why? Because I want “us” to be the United States. But that United States includes my black neighbors who can’t breathe, so I will work tirelessly to give them breath, because that restores breath to all of us. That United States also includes  Muslim community members being wrongfully harassed, assaulted and forced to move. It includes those who support womens’ reproductive rights and those transgender folks who are afraid to ride the subway. It includes Natives who are our water protectors in North Dakota. It’s all of “us.”

What can those of us who enjoy white privilege and represent the only racial group whose majority voted for Donald Trump do? We can join the ACLU or other civil rights group. We can intentionally become friends with a person of color so we know who they are as fellow breathing human beings. We can call out the racist comments by our uncle or grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner that our families have long failed to condemn, telling them their statement is racist, unacceptable and hurtful, and needs to stop. We can be kind. We can and must show up and speak out for all of “us.”

I will continue to take the long view of the arc of Justice. That means asking hard questions of myself and those  elected to be temporary leaders and defenders of our Constitution. That means being disappointed. That means being curious. That means listening. That means being vigilant.

This is going to be really hard.



A Cup Half Full In Your America After November 8th?

imageAs I contemplate the presidential election today and my excitement over the prospect of making history by electing Hillary Clinton as the first woman president, I struggle to think where we’ve landed as a country. Donald Trump is not qualified by experience or temperament to be our next president. He brags of groping women, then, when a dozen or more women come forward and accuse him of sexually harassing them, he denies it. He calls Mexicans rapists, openly mocks journalists with disabilities, continues his crazy idea of building a wall between America and Mexico and says he’ll deport eleven million folks back to Mexico. His businesses have filed bankruptcy multiple times, about as many times as he has had wives. And yet, he is the person Republicans, the self described party of family values, has put forth as the person they think should be our next president, the most powerful leader in the world.

And still, polling tells us Donald Trump will likely carry the male vote. Did you hear that? When I spend time with my granddaughters (almost 6 and almost 2) I think of that fact and wonder how any male voter could support Trump. Have we become so small as a nation that we let fear, sexism, bigotry and hate win? Do we stay in this small place?

Not in my America, where our Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges recently let Donald Trump know that the Somalis he came to Minnesota to degrade and badmouth are our neighbors and, well, basically to shut the hell up! Our former mayor said basically the same thing as Mayor Hodges, pointing to the contributions our Somali neighbors make to the community, even helping build the location where Trump was spewing his hate from at the airport.

Last time I checked, almost all of us, except my Native friends, were from out of town. How quickly those of us who are white and have gratuitously benefited from our ancestors’ ability to come to America to start a new life forget who America truly is, and is becoming, when we let fear trump love.

November 9th most Americans will get up and get their children to school, go to work and be kind to their neighbors. They will work the best they can to build a better life for themselves and their children. They’re hard workers willing to help their neighbors. Most Americans respect their neighbors’ right to live their own lives as they see fit – not telling them who they should marry or what to do with their bodies. Respect. Dignity. Thoughtfulness. I see these traits in most of my Minnesota neighbors. This is the real America, often the silent majority, the “live and let live” America.

I land at this place today as my admittedly idealistic self, someone who loves this flawed and wonderful country with my whole heart, who served in the North Dakota state Senate to try and help improve my neighbors’ lives, and who sued the state of North Dakota to protect the constitutional rights of my same sex neighbors to marry the person they love. I come to this place after a lifetime of seeing my neighbors care for each other, showing compassion when they see neighbors struggling or hurting.  I come to this place as I see the huge smile in my son’s eyes as he hugs his daughters with such delight and love, thinking of all the parents in this country, of all different colors and faiths, who so love and delight in their children and want the same thing – a healthy future for every one of them.

We truly are more alike than different from our neighbors. We can see that when we listen to each other with not just our ears, but with our generous and empathetic hearts.

As we imagine what’s next after this horrendous and morally bankrupt presidential campaign,  let each of us commit to being bigger than that smallness. Let’s embrace listening, understanding, respect and love for one another, as fellow Americans and human beings. Let each of us summon our best selves, choosing to live with our cups half full, moving forward, together, to create the America we all dream we can be. We can each do our part.

That’s a future each one of us can and must  help create.