The New Colossus

Where do I stand today? Like many of you, I moved through my morning in a state of shock and visceral dismay. I made my coffee and found myself thinking of a line from V for Vendetta: “for three years, I had roses and apologized to no one.” I am a 26-year-old American woman. I am a writer and an artist. I am married to another woman. I work for a public library. I am college educated, but make little money, and owe much in debt. My favorite people in the world each belong to one minority group or another. Donald Trump lies in direct opposition to what I am and what I stand for, no matter how I try to slice it.

The last time I set foot in the church that raised me, I was 16. The church was at a crossroads, and met to decide whether they would support the pastor’s vision, or fire him. The meeting ran long into the night. It showed me sides of my congregation I had never seen before. Much of it is a blur, but the moment I best remember is when a young black woman, not much older than me, stood to speak. She spoke of what the pastor’s vision meant to her, how the church had reached out to her neighborhood, made a difference for her, and made her feel like she could do more and be more. As she sat down, an elderly white woman rose, pointed her finger across the room, and crowed, “Listen, missy, we were here long before you, and we’ll be here long after you leave.” Shortly after, they voted to fire the pastor, and the church was ceded to the elderly, white, rural folks who had been there forever. The rest of us left.

That night still rattles me. The hatred in that room humbled me and frightened me. It made me wonder where God was, and how He could let this happen to a church that stood in His name. It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t God’s fault. Freewill bites us all the time. God cannot help when we will not hear Him. I look around me today, and it feels so much like that night 10 years ago, when I was 16, hurt and afraid. This time, I see it unfold on a much grander scale, with higher stakes, and greater losses.

As the Trump camp raises their banners over my country, I feel inside me a sense of wide and dreadful scope. This happened despite all my best efforts, all my prayers, all my concentrated thought and will, all my hoping against hope. Control has once more been wrested from my grasp, and I find myself asking, “When will I get to choose? When will I be heard? When will my face be seen?” and it is those questions I hear murmured in quiet despair all around me this morning, from my friends of color, my LGBT allies, my associates of different religions. This is not a victory for America. This is a victory for White Masculinity, for wealth and elitism, for fear and blind nationalism.

America is called the Melting Pot. At our gate stands a woman who raises a torch over the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” The women did not win last night. The poor did not win last night. The refuse of teeming shores, the homeless, the tempest-tost did not win last night. America, what America is supposed to be, did not win last night.

It is tempting to feel shame. I find myself wanting to apologize to the rest of the world for what this slim majority in my country has done, but I will not. Instead, I will say: I am not one of them. I did not choose this. This is still my fight, and I will keep fighting it until there is no more breath in my lungs, no more ink in my heart. I will not apologize for them. I will not make excuses for them. I will stand on my own and say no. A majority vote in no way equals rightness. How long was slavery held as the majority view? How long was the Earth thought flat? How long was science condemned as heresy? How long were women kept out of the polls? How long were gay people denied legal rights? Progress is slow, but change is constant. Men like Trump come to power, but they never stay there. Hatred wins sometimes, but it cannot hold that victory. Light will always drive out Darkness. Love will always endure.

Where does this leave me? What should I do now that half my country has stacked itself against the things I believe? I feel small, but I do not feel unimportant. In fact, I feel my voice is more important than ever. I cannot control the world, but I can control me. Hatred and intolerance has come again to my country. It comes wearing the faces of my family. It comes wearing the faces of my neighbors. It comes in the guise of fear and isolationism. It comes relentlessly, but when it comes to my door, I still have a choice. The world may roar its displeasure, but I am still the master of my soul.

All over social media, I see my friends struggling with what to tell their children. I see my colleagues struggling with how to keep a stoic face as they work library desks today. My wife has gone through these past 24 hours mostly in silence. This morning, as we sat in the stillness, she asked me with great quietness, “What if he really is the Antichrist?” The only thing I could say to her was, “Then I’m glad I chose a side.”

We all must choose a side. We may not be able to escape the immediate consequences of this election, but we must each decide whether or not we are going to wear the face of the majority. As for me, I refuse, as I have so many times in my life. Though I am only 26, I am already tired of this. I am tired of spending my life feeling like an outsider. I am tired of people older than me assuming I cannot think for myself, and that they know what is best for me better than I do. I am tired of men controlling my space. I am tired of so-called Christians imposing their narrow will on me. I am tired of declaring, “this is me,” and the world screaming back, “unacceptable!” I am tired of fighting for Light and Love, and finding vicious resentment in my backyard. I am tired of exerting my will, and having it do nothing but make my freak light shine brighter on the bleak shore of conformity’s ocean. But I can do nothing else, just as that copper woman at my country’s gates can do nothing but keep holding her torch and her words. I am what I am. I was born here like the rest of them. I have as much right to be here as they do. I will not go quietly into this night. I will not accept the mask they would place on my face. I will not accept hatred as the model for my society. Today, like every other day, I will step out my door wearing whatever I want, with my hair falling wild however it pleases, with my wedding ring on my finger, with my pen in my hand, my spirit by my side, and my eyes and heart open. In my declaration of Self, I will fear no one. In my belief in Love, I will not compromise. To all of you, I would say: be yourselves. Be true to the Light inside you. Hatred may win battles, but it will not win wars. Never stop being yourself, no matter how outside you may feel, no matter how freakish you may feel, no matter how small you may feel. The world needs what you are. I need you. I need you to love fearlessly. I need you to stand bravely in the face of resentment and ridicule. I need you to shine as you are. We are not alone. We are, each of us, in this together. I choose to stand for love.

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