Our friend, Rob Anderson, owner of the year-round Canteen restaurant in Provincetown, reflected on past inaugurations in a Facebook post yesterday and made a pledge to have impact in his community because, as he wrote, “the values being celebrated today are not my values.”
His uncompromising pledge is as constructive as they come, and like those who want to win the mid-terms by taking a page from the Tea Party handbook — the focus is local.
In this administration the old saying “all politics is local” will be truer than ever. We have a chasm separating Trump values from those of major states like California and New York. Republicans will disguise discrimination by “leaving it to the states.” Extreme gerrymandering has been normalized and it’s possible that very soon your geography will greatly determine your access to health care, retirement benefits, livable wages, collective bargaining, consumer protections, education, clean energy, expansive voting rights, high-speed internet, equal opportunity, quality local journalism, freedom to worship, and possibly more.
Rob referred to our community here as “a bubble within a bubble within a bubble,” the bubbles being our personal community here in the arts-oriented, LGBT outpost of Provincetown in the liberal state of Massachusetts, first on health care and gay marriage. These bubbles are worth fighting for, protecting, and sharing.
As are Rob’s words.
Sixteen years ago today, I played hooky from high school so that my dad and I could fly to Washington DC and watch our new president being sworn in.
I had voted for the first time in that election, for Al Gore, but this was before I had developed a sense of who I was, as a person in general and as a member of the American political system. I treated my first inauguration much like a journalist would, before I was a journalist, absorbing it all, elbowing my way into the press section (no joke — I got elbowed back by men double my size) so that I could snap pictures next to the AP photographers. Learning. Thinking back on that day, I remember the extreme militarization of Washington — there were armored cars and soldiers clad in all black everywhere, choppers flying above and snipers on rooftops everywhere I looked.
I remember the anger and the energy of the protesters — there were thousands and thousands of them — and their signs and their paper mache puppets. I remember feeling conflicted by their irreverence and their offensive chants on what was supposed to be a unifying day for our country. And I remember the pomp and circumstance of the swearing in ceremony, and how I felt so out of place later that night in Union Station in my too-large rented tuxedo, drinking champagne for one of the first times, watching the newly inaugurated president and first lady dancing at the Texan inaugural ball. At that point, I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to understand what I had just witnessed, but I knew it had been something remarkable.
Every day, each of us makes decisions about who we are, about how we want to live, about how we will help, or not help, the people around us.
Eight years later — after 9/11, after two wars, after college, after coming out, after entering the workforce, after living in D.C., after living within that militarization, after having the opportunity to understand and study from where I came — I remember standing on the Mall surrounded by friends and crying as the next president was sworn in.
Not only did it feel like we were witnessing a monumentally historic moment in our nation’s history, but after eight years of living with a leader who not only rejected our values, but actively demonized us and used our lives as a wedge issue to gain re-election, watching as one era transformed instantly into another felt — I can’t even describe how remarkable it felt. Joy. Happiness. Relief. Security. Comfort. I know I felt, and many of my friends felt, that at the very least, we could now feel safe, that our lives would be taken into account, while this man was in power.
I drank champagne again that night, but a lot more than that first time eight years ago, dancing with one of my oldest friends at the National Museum of American History, steps away from the massive, pockmarked flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. This time I was surrounded by the people with whom I grew up, Michiganders, and I even bumped and grinded a bit with Jennifer Granholm, our governor. I remember feeling safe and happy. It felt a bit like home.
there are doors to unlock, lights to turn on, orders to make, food to cook, folks to check in with, people to serve, experiences to create, feelings to express, ideas to brainstorm, positive, forceful arguments to make, a karass to cultivate, a community to continue to build. It starts now, it starts today, and it re-starts every day
I cried again a bit today, briefly, which is why I sat down to write this note. I will not be watching the swearing in ceremony today; I will not be drinking champagne; and I will not be dancing.
The values being celebrated today are not my values. My vision of America will not be represented on stage. I will not be marching either, although I will be thinking about those who are. Instead, today I will spend my day working, continuing to create a community that I believe reflects my values and my political philosophy. And that is what I will continue to do over the next four years.
I WILL WORK AND WORK AND WORK UNTIL THIS IMPERFECT, FLAWED AND BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY IS A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE… THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN.
That is the pledge I will make today. To me, this is one of the most powerful ways we can combat what is certain to play out nationally over the next four years: on a local level, creating a strong, caring, vibrant, accepting, resilient, positive, safe, interconnected community for those around us. Every day, each of us makes decisions about who we are, about how we want to live, about how we will help, or not help, the people around us. We cannot control who occupies the White House, but we can control how we spend our days. We must do that actively and deliberately.
Over the next four years, I will continue to dedicate myself:
- to building a company that offers quality jobs to as many people as I possibly can,
- with a workplace built on respect, honesty and care;
- to running a restaurant that offers a safe, happy space to everyone who enters it, from those who work with us, to those who dine with us, to those who provide us with the goods and services we depend on to carry out our jobs;
- to building a community where everyone is accepted for who they are, and celebrated for who they are, especially those who may not be accepted and celebrated elsewhere;
- to providing opportunities to people to live full, fully realized lives, as much as that is possible, especially to those who may not get those opportunities elsewhere;
- to believing that creativity, self expression, and financial profit can co-exist;
- to staying engaged in local politics to ensure my voice and the voice of my generation is heard and considered;
- to carrying myself with grace,
- remembering to speak only when I have something of value to say,
- offering understanding and forgiveness quicker than anger and judgement;
- to understanding my power and privilege and acting as an ally to communities to which I am not a part;
- to building a world I will be proud to hand off to my children and grandchildren, if I am ever so lucky to have them.
I could go on, I would like to go on, and I’m sure I will edit and add to this pledge as the hours, days and weeks go on. But it is 8 o’clock in the morning and there are doors to unlock, lights to turn on, orders to make, food to cook, folks to check in with, people to serve, experiences to create, feelings to express, ideas to brainstorm, positive, forceful arguments to make, a karass to cultivate, a community to continue to build.
It starts now, it starts today, and it re-starts every day until I breathe my very last breath on this planet. Until then, I will keep my head down and work. I will work and work and work until this imperfect, flawed and beautiful country is a better place to live. Which means I will work on this pledge until my very last day, my very last hour, my very last breath. Today, with a new purpose and determination, it starts. For me, with every fiber of my being, with every ounce of my soul, this is what it means to be an American.
Before writing his inspiring pledge, we profiled Rob and Loic a few years ago in our series on Provincetown.