January 15, 2017. It was a few days before the Trump inauguration and my worst nightmare was about to become the worst 24-hour reality show in history. I finally understood what it meant to be “beside myself.” Which is why I decided to go – with two dear friends – to a “counter-inaugural demonstration” at the central Boston Public Library on Boylston Street.
“Greater Boston Writers Resist,” had been organized by 30 local sponsors ranging from Beacon Press to The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Coalition, Harvard Books to The Center for Arabic Culture. Similar gatherings were held being in 50 cities across the country in order to, “re-inaugurate our shared commitment to the rights and values essential to a democracy.”
It would be a lot of speeches — too many of them, for sure. But the point of going was mostly to be in a crowd of like-minded and deeply shaken people — a kind of secular ritual to reassure ourselves that we were not alone. Also, to challenge each of us to hold the line against what turned out to be worse than anyone could have imagined.
The three of us got to the library early, but the place was already mobbed and since there were no more seats in the auditorium, we decided to leave.
Walking through the lobby on the way out, I noticed a woman sitting at a card table with an old-school typewriter at the ready, and a red/white/blue banner that said, “Inauguration Therapy.” Julie Ann Otis, a social practice artist, (www.julieannotis.com) invited us to talk about our thoughts and feelings about the election, which she would cull and shape into this instant poem, type it up and hand it over.
Day by day
A cup on the roulette table
Betting on things turning out well
Padding down the soft wood stairs
To get a cup of tea
In the middle of the living room
The entire gambling table upended
All the chips stolen
The TV too – taken by robbers
Here I stand
A woman in her bathrobe
The world still turning
Continuing into the kitchen
To put the kettle on for friends who will arrive
We’ll craft a recipe for
The poem turned out to be semi-prophetic. Many of our chips and much of our TV time was stolen by the Trump administration and its enablers. And one of those friends got very good at fashioning the word “impeach” out of pie crust.
The poem was also a kind of therapy. Or at least a reset button.
As Otis typed, I looked around the lobby of the Philip Johnson wing of Boston’s central library, which I hadn’t seen since its renovation.
The dark, forbidding façade I’d known for years had been replaced with floor-to-ceiling windows. The grey, grimy entrance was now bright, colorful, and wide open with room for all the people – every age, race, and class — coming and going, checking out books, studying interactive displays, or seated at one of many public access computers. There was a nice human hum to the place.
It was the public square at its best, paid for by tax dollars, organized by civil servants and volunteers. Not a nefarious deep state, but a beloved public common, free to all, and worth fighting for.
It is four years later, and I will watch the 2021 inauguration at least as exhausted as I am elated by the outcome of the election. I am beaten down by 48 months of outrages, one piled on top of another, and then the riot at the Capitol — further evidence of America’s metastasizing and increasingly brazen fascist movements. And lest we forget, the Biggest Loser sent 13 people to death by execution on his way out the door – just because he could.
One good thing I’ve learned during the Covid lockdown is the notion of a “gratitude practice,” also known more cornily as “counting your blessings.” Thinking about the good in your life or in the world interrupts negative thinking patterns, which have been linked to depression and a sense of powerlessness, which is one of the devil’s most insidious tools. Because the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for us to do nothing.
So, I give thanks for Stacy Abrams, John Lewis, Jon Ossoff, Reverend Raphael Warnock, Kamala Harris, the Movement for Black Lives Matter and the BLM marchers – in small towns and suburbs as well as big cities. Thanks for Black women organizers and the diverse cadres of millennial and Gen Z leaders fighting for climate justice, racial justice gender equality, disability rights, voting rights, health care, and gun control.
And then I imagine myself eating two slices of impeachment pie, with a double scoop of ice cream.