Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
(Definitions excerpted from the Oxford Dictionary, via Google)
If you had asked me a year ago whether I had faith that our country would continue to exist in its current form, as a democracy, secure in its borders, with standing in the international community, I would have immediately answered yes. A year ago, our country wasn’t perfect, but I felt like we were doing pretty well. We had made plenty of progress, and I had faith that we would continue on that upward trajectory, looking out for those with less power and less privilege, granting rights and protections to more people, taking more steps to protect the planet we live on, and continuing to take center stage as a global leader.
A year ago, I had faith that our country would continue to exist and to thrive for quite some time.
Now, things have changed.
My faith was shaken on the night of November 8th, when I went to bed not actually *knowing*, but really, actually knowing, that Donald Trump was going to be our next president. That a racist, bullying, self-centered man was going to be sworn into office as the leader of our country. That night, before I closed my computer, I posted to facebook: Dear America, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
But election night was only the prelude. The days and weeks that followed were filled with tears and with mourning, and also with an increase in hate crimes. On Saturday night, November 12th, my sister invited me to join the “secret” facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, and I read story after story about how people who had felt safe in their communities were suddenly being called out or even threatened because they dared to have a Pride flag or an “I’m with her” on their bumper.
And then, January 20th happened. Donald Trump hit the ground running, with lies and insults and executive orders. On Saturday night, January 28th, I signed back onto the internet after 25 hours away (due to Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath), and I felt like the world had exploded. Trump had signed an executive order banning entry into our country for any noncitizen from seven Muslim-majority countries. This included everyone from green card holders to refugees.
And that was just the biggest of many, many explosions. My faith was shaken on the evening of November 8th. Over the past few weeks, it’s pretty much collapsed around me. The process was a gradual one. With everything else going on, I hardly noticed. My faith in our country wasn’t important when I was busy getting angry, taking action, feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But today, a friend was talking on Facebook about his own faith in our country and in our ability to get through this, and I looked for my own, and it wasn’t there.
I realized I no longer have faith that our country will endure as a democracy. I no longer have faith that our America will exist ten, twenty, fifty years from now.
But maybe that’s not as bad as it sounds, because the conversation gave me the chance to articulate something else that I’ve been noticing. I may not have faith, but I do have hope.
On the morning of November 9th, when I boarded the subway to go to work, I was too absorbed in my own tears to really notice how anyone else in my subway car was feeling. But that’s okay, because other people noticed for me. More than once I heard that not since September 11th had the subways been so quiet. The city was shell-shocked; the city was in mourning. So many of my colleagues were reacting the same way I was: disbelief, grief, fear. We hugged each other. Instead of “How are you,” it was, “How are you holding up?” A student said to me, “Last night was hard, wasn’t it.” He didn’t need to ask who I’d voted for. Somehow, he knew.
And maybe that doesn’t sound like a very hopeful scene, but I draw strength from the fact that I wasn’t alone in my grief. I was surrounded by other people who were reeling just as much as I was. In my city and across the country, so many people were looking at what had just happened and saying, “This is not normal,” and, “This is not okay.”
In the days that followed, I drew hope from some of the *other* stories on Pantsuit Nation, the ones about people finding friendly notes on their car, jumping in to stand up for others, or having others jump in to stand up for them.
I heard rumors and then saw news stories about post-it notes on the walls of two Manhattan subway stations; on November 16th, I had occasion to pass through the Union Square station, and I stopped to see one of the walls of post-its for myself. I spent a while reading all of the messages, and there were so many, filled with so much love and pain and yes, also hope.
I then added my own post-it to the wall.
A week later, the day before Thanksgiving, I returned to Union Square to visit the holiday market. I stopped to take another look at the wall… and heard someone call my name. I turned, and there was my brother, who was visiting with his family for Thanksgiving. He, my nephew and my sister had been on their way to see Times Square, and they’d stopped to see the post-its too. I wasn’t supposed to see my brother and my nephew until the following day, and yet, there we were, united by a common need to process and reflect and see that we were not alone. And that moment, that happy surprise, the way that we all shared the same need? That gave me hope too.
January 20th was another hard day. I was at work, of course, but when noon rolled around, I was on my lunch break. I could have listened on the radio as Donald Trump took the oath of office, but I didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to bear witness. Instead, I took solace from the fact that I knew what was coming the following day: The Women’s March on Washington, and all of the other sister marches, including one in my own city. And so, just before noon, I pulled out my unfinished protest sign, and spent those minutes pasting paper to cardboard and making sure it was all set for the following day. I posted a photo of the sign to Facebook with the following message:
What I was doing at noon today: assembling my sign for tomorrow’s March. Photo is of the sign I will be wearing, along with the tape and pencil I was using to finish it up. This side of the sign reads “we are our brothers’ and or sisters’ keepers.” The other side (not pictured) reads “this is not normal.” President Trump, we are ready to fight. (Even if I’m crying a little as I type those two words next to each other.)
That last sentence of my status is no exaggeration. I really did have tears in my eyes. But I got through that moment because I knew what I’d be doing the following day.
I’ve already written about my experience at the Women’s March in New York. (That blog post is here.) I prayed with my feet for four and a half hours and across 3.6 miles of Manhattan streets. And I did it surrounded first by over 1,000 other Jews, and then by 400,000 other people. The turnout far exceeded expectations not only in New York and in Washington, but all across the country. And that gave me so much hope. Because here we were, millions of people, and *we* were the ones with the mandate. Now, we could see just how vast our numbers were. Now, we could move forward armed with the knowledge that those numbers gave us power. We could take meaningful action; working together, we could effect change.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been gathering links with advice on how to protest without burning out. (Some good resources on that can be found here and here.) I’ve chosen a few key issues, and I’ve learned to allow myself to take some breaks. But within those parameters, I’ve been taking action. So far, including the Women’s March, I’ve attended two marches and three rallies. In support of immigrants and refugees, I marched through Lower Manhattan with between 10,000 and 30,000 other people on a beautiful, mild winter Sunday. (My post from that day is here.) A week later, I stood in support of the same cause with another thousand people while ice fell from the sky and stuck to our umbrellas. Both times, we stood in Lower Manhattan, a short walk away from where the Towers fell, and we shouted, “Let them in!”
I’ve also called both of my senators multiple times, and emailed them, and tweeted at them. Before last month, I didn’t even know *how* to call my representatives in Congress, but now I do. So do so many other people that the congressional phone system has been overwhelmed by unprecedented call volume. The first time I tried to call, I couldn’t get through on any of eight different numbers. Now, I have those numbers programmed into my phone. (I added them by downloading a file to my phone from this Google doc.) And I’m not alone in this. So many people are, like me, getting more directly involved in government for the first time. And that gives me hope too.
This past Sunday, I stood with another 10,000 people and declared, “Today, I am a Muslim.” As a Jew, I stood in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters. Today, after another round of bomb threats were called in to Jewish Community Centers across the country, CAIR, the Council on Islamic-American Relations stood in solidarity with *us* by offering a cash reward for information that would help in apprehending the callers. (For more info on that, look here.) And in St. Louis, where Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Muslims have organized to help repair the damage. (More info here.) On Sunday, Jews stood in solidarity with Muslims. Today, Muslims stood in solidarity with Jews. And that gives my hope a serious boost.
Things aren’t great right now, and I know we’re standing on shaky ground. Who knows what the next executive order will bring, the next press conference, the next Congressional vote. And in the midst of all that uncertainty, I can no longer have faith.
But it’s that very uncertainty that leaves the potential not only for negative change, but for positive. And that’s the spot where hope takes root. The thing about hope, though, is that it needs to be nurtured. We can’t just sit back and wait. Hope means taking action.
Last year, I had faith, and that made me complacent. This year, I have hope, and even though it may sometimes start to wither, I’m going to keep nurturing it by marching and calling and taking a stand. Because I’m not certain that we get through this, but I do believe we have a good fighting chance, just as long as all of us keep fighting.
And so, I’ll end this post with a quote from the man who wrote the book on hope, former President Barack Obama:
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.”
I may have lost my faith in our country, but I haven’t lost my hope, and I intend to continue fighting for the country I want us to be.