From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.

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I Refuse
by Sally Wen Mao

This year I am living in a historic house on the campus of George Washington University, four blocks away from the White House. Days ago, Trump’s cavalcade landed on the White House lawn as he returned from a twelve-day trip to Asia, where he sat with other heads of state and mocked Kim Jong-Un in a tweet as “short and fat.” I am tired. I am weary. I do not think this is funny. It is unclear whether Donald Trump knows that his xenophobic policies have already been practiced in the past, in the Geary Act that targeted Chinese immigrants and barred them from coming to this country. Those exclusion laws were also passed due to economic anxiety and a growing readiness to blame outsiders for economic strife. Needless to say, the Chinese Exclusion Acts did not help the American economy, did not lead to better lives for the disenfranchised white community. The egregious Muslim immigration bans are only a shameful repetition of history — the Trump camp has expressly stated that its policies (such as a Muslim registry) are modeled after Japanese internment camps.

Trump has fueled and encouraged racial discrimination and unrest, willfully, with impunity. He has encouraged his supporters to harass and assault protesters — often people of color — at his own rallies. Immediately following Donald Trump’s election, I noticed a surge in discriminatory acts and hate crimes: not just in the news, but against my friends, their families, ordinary Americans on my Facebook feed. Donald Trump supports and validates racists, and has made it okay for them to parade their bigotry in the streets without hoods, chanting on what they feel is rightfully theirs. Charlottesville or New York, it’s happening all around us. A man harassed me at a diner in the East Village, telling me to “go back to Tokyo” after complaining about how the Hamilton cast had disrespected Mike Pence, then pepper-sprayed a Latino man who defended me. One of my friends was called “Chink” as she was walking down the street. Another was pushed in the subway. Another was spat on. It is not safe to be a person of color in America. The virulent anti-immigrant and anti–people-of-color atmosphere, the desire to regress to a whites-only state, is no longer a latent feeling — it is an onslaught that will build up, every day, until we are paralyzed. But I refuse. I refuse refuse refuse refuse refuse to accept this reality, to accept this administration’s brazen allegiance to bigotry.

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Take action today:

Support each other. Ask questions. Think critically. Commit to vote.

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Sally Wen Mao is a poet and recipient of a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her second book of poetry, Oculus, will be published in 2019.