Letter to the editor: One year ago, your life changed

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President-elect Donald Trump waves to nearly 4,000 supporters in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. — photo by Zak Neumann
By Rose Fiala

Happy birthday, reader. I know, Nov. 8 is probably not your literal birthday. But if the day holds any significance for you, I imagine some part of you changed a year ago on this date. How could you not? I’ve changed, you’ve changed, your friends have changed, politics has changed, the meanings of things such as borders or violence or truth have changed.

So, happy birthday.

A year ago today, the party of maintenance was humiliated, and over the course of this last year has become the party of #resistance. The most stalwart defenders of the progress narrative, the kinds of people who believe that progress is a function of time and not power and that empire is a past-tense term, have been forced to at least adjust their timeframe. The polite, electable fascists and white supremacists now occupy the same comfortable place we once did, having enough institutional power to believe in their own perpetuity, and the visceral sort of fascists have gained enough confidence to step out of history and subtext to march in the streets. The activists and the radicals have, in spite of everything, found themselves with renewed numbers and some degree of power, but are forced to do a high-wire act that lurches between building structures of power that can survive the future and the necessary (but necessarily reactive) defense of targeted communities.

Last year, I wrote to you about the importance of community; after bouncing around from group to group and eventually finding myself as an organizer inside of what’s rapidly become the largest American socialist movement since World War II, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), I’ve discovered how fragile such a thing really is. We’re in a critical moment, one where anything and everything counts, and yet the radical left is still vulnerable to all the usual problems that plague society at large, from racism, sexism and queer/transphobia to giving far too much power to podcasters. Sitting at this loose position of leadership, I’m constantly confronted with the fact that, if we’re not extremely intentional with how we do things, if we don’t hold ourselves accountable to the metric of how much tangible power we’ve accumulated and how much space we’ve made for those disempowered in our community to wield it, there won’t be a DSA (or at least one worth having) in a year’s time, and if your left movement can’t do so as well, it won’t be around either.

I can’t tell you what this next year is going to be like. I can’t tell you the ways the world will change, what kind of work we’ll be doing or the kinds of people we’ll become. But, since it’s your birthday, my gift to you is what I’ve learned from this past year: that any given future isn’t inevitable, and while few of us bear personal fault for the way the world is today, we do bear the responsibility that comes with being capable of changing it.

It’s a shitty gift, I know, but it’s helped me. Like you, I don’t sleep well anymore, but it’s what gets me up in the morning.

Rose Fiala (she/her/hers) is a writer and organizer in Iowa City, and is still, after everything, treading water. Find her on Twitter @rose_fiala. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 231.

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