Four years ago, today, I marched in downtown Philadelphia alongside several thousand other demonstrators who weren’t happy about a white supremacist dictator being elected into office. Before setting out onto the street, I sat with Jo Simian in his house and meditated. I was freshly returned from my time spent at the prayer camps in North Dakota and one thing, among a whole world of things that I learned there, is that going to a protest completely filled with rage doesn’t work well for my mental well-being.
It can be exhausting. Especially if there is no clear “win” at the end of a rally. Instead, I learned from relatives indigenous to this land that prayer and love can be a guiding force that steers the spirit through the tumult of upset towards a true understanding of the goals that are at hand within the heart. We faced an imperialists’ army up there in North Dakota, and though we were often shell-shocked by the tear gas clouds, mace, rubber bullets, LRADs, heat cannons, perpetual crop-dusting with rat poison, stun grenades, and all sorts of other militarized weaponry, because of the prayer our spirits remained high.
I had members of the Red Warrior Society constantly by my side, walking up and down the lines of a march or candle-lit procession, voicing, “Remember your mother. Your sister. Your lover. Think of the people you care for as you walk. Remember to stay in love as you walk.”
These simple commands were lessons that literally blew my mind and opened my heart.
Back home in Philadelphia, at the protest on Inauguration Day, I knew there wouldn’t be that type of direction from the organizers, and so we would have to be self-reliant in staying centered and grounded. Jo being the modest type when it comes to spiritual practices meant we didn’t talk too much about what kinds of intentions we were collectivizing in our meditation, We sat together in silence for 20-30 minutes and just breathed peace.
I remember, for me I set the intention for myself and for the world at large that Donald Trump as president would be the peak manifestation of toxic masculinity. He would reveal to all of us all of the ugly sides of man, and we as men would learn a thing or two from this awful reflection of ourselves as a nation. And like a peak, it would be the last thrust of this toxicity before we descended down the other side into a place of better mutual understanding and eventual healing, both of masculinity and for the victims of its tyranny.
It felt good to take that energy to the streets. Light a sage bundle and hold that prayer as we marched through this revolutionary city. A city where I’ve marched so many times before and after. To see everyone’s handcrafted signs. For me the moment was not the beginning but it was a progression of the direction I was happy more were beginning to take.
That night, I co-hosted a fundraiser for that prayer camp in North Dakota. Several bands played, a few poets read, and a group of Aztec dancers performed under the lead of Brujo de la Mancha. Maybe 70-80 people showed up. What better way to celebrate that we can overcome the rise of a fascist dictator than to connect as a collective and offer mutual aid to folks struggling near and far. The spirits were high, despite the present moment and probable future.
The next day, I woke up and drove to the Women’s March in DC. Again, I was in the streets of our nation. This time holding a sign that read “Poets For Peace”. I marched with my sister. My friend Antonio Bandalini also tagged along. Maybe 2 million people filled the National Mall.
It was hardly a march. It was more of a spectacle. The city blocks in every direction were jam-packed with people. We couldn’t have marched if we had wanted to. The organizers couldn’t get from the stage to the head of the march.
I thought, if only the organizers had planned for this the way they do in Europe, we could sit and stay and Occupy the nation’s capital for as long as it would take until the president stepped down. I guessed it would probably take two weeks. The newly elected president lost the popular vote (for the second time in recent history) by 2 million electors. We could’ve changed the law that allowed for that. But instead, at some unannounced moment, we all began to disperse. It took several hours. Some marched to the White House and hung their signs along the 12-foot high steel-barred fences. Everyone went home.
Four years later, I find it just a little odd not to be in the street today. I imagine we will be back in the streets soon enough. The rich are still getting richer while the poor get poorer. The police are still murdering unarmed people of color, while treating militarized white supremacist insurrectionists to an open door. The current president didn’t run on healthcare for all, despite a worldwide pandemic. Nor did he run on tightening regulations on wall street or taxes for the mega-wealthy. There’s hope in his policy that combats climate change, but it might be too little, too late if he’s not pushed to think bigger. He called off the Keystone Pipeline, but what about the Line 3 in Minnesota, Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia, or digging up the Dakota Access Pipeline now that a federal judge has ruled that it’s construction was illegal four years later? How about freeing Leonard Peltier?
I have faith in Deb Haaland as the head of Interior. I’m excited Bernie Sanders will oversee the Senate Budget committee. AOC, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Jamaal Bowman are all bad asses and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish. I look forward to what happens with the two new Senators from Georgia. I can’t wait to see Nina Turner join the house in a few months.
But honestly, it feels unfortunate to have the night off. To have a pandemic that still keeps us apart. I would so much rather be at a basement show or at some fundraiser at a gallery. Seeing friends and performing poetry. Continuing to build a better world. Dragging this nation forward by the underbelly of innovation available to us, who dream of a brighter future and are still restless to see it be made reality.