The Politics of Prefiguration
On the walk to barnehage this morning, I met a fellow mom in drop-off mode. Like many of my neighbors, she wears her headscarf under her parka; her daughters toddle beside her in matching pink snowsuits. I've seen this mom many times before and, because I'm me, I always smile and say God morgen. This usually elicits the standard, solemn Norwegian nod. Today, though, she surprised me by responding.
We spoke in Norwegian for a minute or two about our kids and the school. Then I had to stop and apologize because I couldn't come up with a word. She smiled and told me, in English, that her Norwegian isn't perfect either. She learned English and Norwegian at the same time after moving here ten years ago as a refugee from Somalia. When she heard I'm from California, she said she has always wanted to visit the states.
"My best friend lives in Indiana now," she said.
"Indiana is nice, too," I told her. "But not as nice as California."
We laughed. As we pulled up to the barnehage, she became serious.
"I want to visit her, but now... I don't when I'll see her again."
Somalia is on the President's list of banned Muslim-majority nations.
I know as well as anyone that the plural of anecdote is not data. My conversation with a sweet lady from Somalia (who is, in some ways, better integrated to our host country than I am) doesn't prove that there aren't anti-American terrorists in her country. But President Trump's ban doesn't appear to be based on data or anecdote.
The list of seven nations is conspicuously partial, excluding countries where Trump has business interests. It also doesn't include any of the countries that have actually been home to terrorists who have attacked the United States. As it stands, this ban is a careless, heartless move that serves to placate the President's most fearful constituents, and, possibly, to anger and distract the energies of his most ardent opponents.
Activists protest at the airports. The ACLU attempts to defend people whose rights are at risk. My Farsi- and Arabic-speaking friends volunteer as translators. My traveling husband decides exactly how much information he believes is pertinent to provide at passport control. (What will we say one day when asked about our religion at the American border?) Fighting ticks up in Ukraine. The EU takes a defensive stance against the American President. The world rages.
But here in Oslo today, I exchanged names and sincerity with a woman who was a stranger. We talked about helping one another with language. Because we're alike: immigrants, moms, kind people. This is one example of what writer and philosopher Rebecca Solnit describes as the "politics of prefiguration":
"[T]he idea that if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it's a temporary and local place, this paradise of participating, this vale where souls get made." -- Rebecca Solnit, "Getting the Hell Out of Paradise"
I know so many fellow liberals are feeling exhausted these days. Particularly white, straight, middle class liberals who aren't used to feeling required to play constant defense, for ourselves and for others. We're out of practice after eight years of nodding along to the progressive agenda of a President who had our respect. If any part of that describes you, I encourage you not to become fatigued. Live your activism; make it your home. Smile at strangers and be open-hearted. These little things will renew us, remind us why we're fighting.
If I've taken one positive thing from my conservative, religious upbringing it's the knowledge that a living witness is the most dynamic kind. Move through the world the way you want the world to be, and when you're reinvigorated or spurred to jump back in, pick up those signs and call those senators. It's your soul. Take care of it. It's your world. Change it.