Twenty years ago I was in New York, interviewing at Columbia University for graduate school. One evening I encountered a man on the subway speaking out about the closing of a local community center. He was young, but he appeared worn out, clearly having been at this a long time. He carried a petition and a sheaf of flyers, many which lay muddied and torn on the subway floor. With his free arm he wiped his forehead, pushing his hair away and nearly unseating his yarmulke, which was barely held in place by two silver snap-tight barrettes. He appealed to the riders again in a horse voice, speaking of the importance of community, the dangers of gentrification and reciting the expected statistics. But they, too, were worn from their day. No one even made eye contact with him. Perhaps he was just background noise that couldn’t penetrate their own thoughts, or perhaps they knew that acknowledging this man’s cause would somehow obligate them to do something about it. Maybe they had learned to ignore those who might burden them with their expectations.
His voice trailed off. Shaking his head, he made his way to the exit. As the doors slid open, he turned to face the other riders, “When you no longer recognize the neighborhood…When there is no community left, remember I was here today and I tried to do something.” With that, he exited the train and I watched the doors slide closed behind him. Glancing around, I noticed I was not the only one looking at the door. I wanted to call to him to come back so he could see what I was seeing. He had their attention, if only briefly. The passengers blinked in confusion and surprise, some looked uneasy, as if they just realized they may not have been paying attention to something important. For most, it was momentary, and they quickly returned to their books, newspapers, worries and reveries, but some remained contemplative, their eyes drifting to the flyers littering the floor. A few even reached down and picked one up. Something had happened. In his moment of candid frustration, he had awoken them. It gave me hope.
The morning of November 9, 2016, I was drowning in emotions–shock, fear, anger, blame, and exhaustion. How could this have happened? Did I not do enough? I had organized, strategized, made phone-calls, written letters, blogs, and endless posts. I had shared information, exposed disinformation, patiently debated, reminded people to register and vote. Before they left for school, my children asked me, “What are you going to do now, Mom?” I didn’t have an answer for them. This was supposed to be the end of the battle. I knew the true battle hadn’t even begun, and I felt desolate in the face of it; however, I kept thinking of the man on the subway all those years ago. As shocked and disappointed as I was in my fellow Americans, I knew I couldn’t give up on them. By the time my kids came home from school, I had an answer. “I am going to keep fighting.”
I have kept fighting, as have millions of you. The Resistance was formed and it thrives. Little by little, the American people are waking up and standing up for themselves and others. It is not one battle, but an endless series of battles that require daily action and vigilance. And everyday I can say, “I was here today and I tried to do something.”