Doing Something About It

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Like many Americans, I woke up the morning after the election in shock. No, not shock—more like an alternate reality, since what I felt was foreboding and eerily familiar.

Creative Common / Liz Lemon

The truth is I had been feeling that way for months. That creepy, crawly sensation of dread began when Donald Trump took to the campaign trail and debate stage, lashing out at everything and everyone, including his fellow Republicans, with words that were mean, cruel and downright nasty. And no one did anything to stop him. 

Over the years, whenever I heard people talk about having a “calling,” I always wondered what they meant. Were they called to action by a mentor, or inspired by someone they admired? Did they hear a voice inside their heads? Hell, did they hear a voice outside their heads? Nothing like that happened to me. I just knew I had to stand up, in whatever way I could, and say NO. The red flags were swirling around me—warning flags, not the old Soviet one—prodding me, and many others, to wake up.

My personal red flag came early in the Republican debates, when I had one of those bizarre dreams that seems frighteningly real. It went like this: I’m driving with my friend Terry through the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, where I live. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I’m surprised to find Donald Trump sitting in the back seat. I couldn’t remember picking him up, but politely asked where he wanted me to drop him. 

“Carnival Grocery Store,” he barks, referring to a shop near my house.

“OK,” I say, but I’m thinking, “Sheesh. Keep your pants on!” Terry pipes up and says she thinks Carnival has closed. “This is my neighborhood,” I reply, slightly irritated. “I would’ve heard about that.” 

“Take me to Carnival grocery store!” Trump shouts—louder this time—and then mocks me in an obnoxious, squeaky voice. “It’s my neighborhood. I live here.” 

I don’t even sound like that. Erupting, I pull a U-turn into the ally next to the Carnival and tell Trump to get the hell out of my car. Smirking, he lumbers through the store’s glass door. I look up at the Carnival sign and shudder. It depicts a circus strongman, who looks frighteningly like Trump, wearing a cap that suggests his bizarre blonde comb-over, holding a towering platter of food. (Spoiler alert: This is what the Carnival sign really looks like, though I had never noticed how much it resembles Trump. Scary.)  

I used to be that person who’d say, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” About Iraq. About Syrian refugees. About the alarming gun violence in my own city. Then I decided to attend the Women’s March in Washington. 

I was nervous and scared but knew I couldn’t stay home and watch it on TV. I wondered if a woman in her fifties could answer the call to protest and resist this new reality. I shouldn’t have fretted. During that long but exhilarating day, I met women and men, many younger than me but some older, and we bonded and marched peacefully. At one stop, someone raised a handmade sign that asked my oft-repeated question: “Why doesn’t someone do something?” I ran over to take a photo and saw the flip side, which read: “Then I realized that someone was me.” 

So I am doing something—along with my family and friends. We march and write emails. We sign petitions and donate money. And we call our representatives. This feels familiar. I grew up in the sixties and seventies, when Old Town was a neighborhood of artists and hippies, with tourists flocking to Second City, Lincoln Park and the lakefront. As a child, I was surrounded by political discussion, not just around the dinner table but everywhere, even at the coffee counter at Norwell Drug. (Yes, drug stores used to have coffee counters.) It seemed like every week brought a new march or sit-in, most of them against the Vietnam War. Some were scarier than others, especially when the ’68 Democratic Convention came to town. 

We had our own bully back then—Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley—who used his police force to brutally crush the anti-war activists. The tear gas they fired at the protesters in Lincoln Park seeped through our windows that August, and when we called for help, the fire department told us to lay on the floor and put wet wash clothes on our faces. I was nine. Now our country is once again stirring, asking more from our leaders—and from each other. And once again, women are the leading figures in the resistance.

Decades after my last protest, waking up is indeed hard to do. But we women have Trump to thank for rousing us from our slumbers. Every misogynist tweet “validates every woman who has been doubted when she reports being harassed online or ridiculed walking down the street,” Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in the Washington Post. Trump reminded us of his deep contempt for women during the campaign, with his attacks on Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina and in his delight with grabbing women’s genitals because “when you’re a star they let you do it.” And more recently, we witnessed the courage of Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who stood up to threats and bullying to vote against a disastrous health care bill. 

Lately I have been thinking of my late mother, and how she would have reacted to Trump. Jean Duff was a beautiful woman and liked men enormously. But she had strong opinions about what made them attractive, and good manners were at the top of her list. She had a favorite word for men were obnoxious, uncouth and full of themselves. She called them “blowhards.” 

Fully awake, I say no to this Bully-in-Chief! No, you don’t represent American values. No, we’re not going to let our country slide backwards with inadequate health care and an assault on a woman’s right to choose. No, we’re not going to let our children drift in an inadequate educational system and go hungry while both parents toil at low-paying jobs. We’ll say no to the proliferation of guns taking young lives, and the rollback of environmental protections that threaten our future. 

Resist? I’m on it.

 

 

About

Nora Duff is a storyteller, essayist and teacher. Her stories have appeared in various publications, including “From Dusk till Dawn,” an account of a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving, in Skirt magazine. “Showtime,” her account of her family’s ordeal during the stormy 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and “Politics is Personal,” about her father’s preoccupation with Election Day, appeared in the Chicago Reader. “Showtime” was later collected in the book, South Loop Review.