Life After

Jordan Alam

The day after the election, I couldn’t be alone. I woke up early after a late restless night to get to a classroom evaluation for my job, weeping as I drove. It reminded me of the day the Orlando shooting was announced; it brought me back to where I was when 9/11 happened. But I put on my best professional stoicism and, by the time I reached the doors, my eyes were dry.

On 11/9, I was grateful to be turned back and told that the youth would be working on an atypical lesson plan. I saw slips of paper and colored-in Electoral College maps laid out on their desks. When I returned to my neighborhood, I immediately started texting friends to see if anyone would spend the afternoon with me and was lucky enough to have several respond. We gathered to talk and to cry, not yet ready to talk about the necessary strategizing work that would come next. Later, I opened my house to a group of queer Muslims and we stress-ate Ezell’s fried chicken until it finally felt possible to be alone again. Finally, an end to day one.

It’s a tough time to work with teachers, especially when having to juggle professionalism with your own secondary trauma response. Through my numerous day jobs, I often work directly with people: I evaluate youth arts programs across the Seattle metro area part-time, and I work as a domestic violence advocate in a family shelter. Service providers have to hold space for the needs of so many and too often we’re not able to hold space for ourselves. As someone heavily involved in community work – as an accessible birth doula, a workshop facilitator, and organizer in LGBT Muslim spaces – I also have to negotiate my role over the next four years. Where will I be most needed? Will I drop my artistic pursuits to invest more into organizing and protest? Will I even be able to work as a service provider if funding is cut? On Facebook, shortly after, I lamented:

At the beginning of this month, I thought it was going to be a normal November. One during which I could add words to my novel and fundraise for the magazine and work on an audio project and get all my submissions in order. But since the first, there has not been a day when I have not been ill, in pain, or scared for the future. I am trying to be gentle with myself for not meeting my (admittedly very high) expectations; despite everything, I don’t really want the world to end while I’ve got only half a book written. It feels selfish to write this out. Why should I be worried about my little art projects when the world is erupting into chaos? But that’s the part that saddens me most when I think about it: the potential futures that will not be. That we will have to turn even more of our energy towards self- and community-preservation rather than the deep generative processes of our creativity. Some of us will find the space to make amazing beautiful art in this tragedy. And many of us will make an art of tying together scarce resources to survive it.

Survival and safety planning are words that float around in my advocacy work, and these are the skills I find myself sharing over and over again with friends and loved ones. I have been thinking about the little little things that turn out to be the beginnings of hate crimes. The video of that woman screaming in Michaels is a good example. She had been asked to purchase reusable bags because the store did not have bags the right size for her items, and all of a sudden she was calling black employees animals and pledging her allegiance to Trump. In the past few weeks since the election, I have been harassed and yelled at by white people in public a couple of times. Neither ended up in specifically racialized language, but there’s a little voice in my head who loves to play “what if?” There’s that drunk guy shouting at me on the light rail who was getting up from his seat to “find out for himself” what I was reading. What if, when I shouted at him to sit back down, he hadn’t turned back? What if the woman in the grocery store who thought I stole “her” parking spot had done more than come up behind me to yell?

My system has been on high alert, making notes of where the exits are and whether there is anyone else around. It’s always been possible to be harmed this way, but in the past weeks it has become more probable. Friends share local news articles about hijabis who have been hit and harassed on the street. My father continues to remind me that I should buy mace while I look up self-defense classes in my area. A friend announces, with a sharp intake of breath, that she has bought a gun.

I’ve been having more and more conversations about what it means to walk into this future. A friend (himself a citizen) who has stepped up his activism around undocumented immigrants asked an important question: why were we complacent about these issues under an Obama presidency? Was it, in part, because the office better reflected our identities and so we excused their policy decisions? Did we settle for less? While being amongst the targeted, I must also consider those who are of greatest need. Amongst advocates at the shelter, we have talked at length about how the Trump administration will further jeopardize our clients who have already been failed by the system. Even in our despair, we are beginning to think creatively about how to take care of the most vulnerable and how to expand our understanding of community. I’ve already seen visible attempts at this – the election was addressed in the many classrooms I’ve been in over the past two months. Posted up on the walls were student artwork with their reactions and definitions of words such as “prejudice” and “racism” for a middle or elementary school reading level. Rather than shy away from the topic, I saw teachers with packed schedules making room to pause and reflect. The youth continued with their writing lessons, making collages, and anticipating the winter break.

I write this not to convey new info or to give voice to a specific strategy, but to capture the “where we are now.” I want to make sure that I remember these emotions over the long haul. I can already see, only a month out, that I have been benumbed to some of the horrifying news coming out of DC. Oh, he called them? He said that? Well, it was what we knew was going to happen. There are two dueling urges in me: one says to map out a detailed action plan for the next four years, the other says that our first priority as targeted identities is to live and thrive. For some of us, our future safety will take precedence and our activism may be a little quieter. We will necessarily become more creative and more subversive to make our impact felt. When we hold the privilege to speak up, we must become louder in our advocacy to make space for new coalitions and new possibilities. For those of us who work with people, our challenges may shift and become harder, but it only makes our work to establish community support networks more vital. This is what I want to remember most: we, through our relationships, have the tools to get through this regardless of whether or not we have institutional support. Though I can’t predict what is to come, I am beginning to see the opportunities. For my part, I am going to hold close what I posted on Facebook the day after the results:

To be clear, the most tragic thing for me this year (2016) was Orlando. I had moments after that when I questioned the point of going on. Before that, when Mike Brown’s killer was not indicted, I felt that way too. After this? I feel galvanized. Wounded but ready to snap back right away. This is our training ground. This is their last gasp.

[Image Credit: Saba Taj. The Cleaving, 2016. Courtesy: Artist]