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.
Why I’ll Keep Protesting
by Kevin Boyle
I promise to keep protesting because of Abby and Nan.
They’d both phoned late on election night, Nan from college, Abby from a watch party gone wrong. Our lovely daughters, crying for their country.
I don’t remember what I said to them. Something meant to be comforting, no doubt. But how do you comfort true believers when the principles they thought to be inviolate have suddenly been broken? How do you tell them to keep the faith?
It turns out I didn’t have to. When Donald Trump was elected Abby was a year into her first job after graduation, doing social-media work for a progressive organization everyone thought would close up shop once Hillary was inaugurated. After the vote, donations surged. The organization added staff. And Abby settled in.
Through all the provocations of President Trump’s first year—his assaults on immigrants and refugees, his repeated race-baiting, his defense of Klansmen, his constant attacks on the press, his reckless talk of nuclear war—she sat with her laptop, coding thoughtful, impassioned, idealistic appeals in support of the policies the new administration wanted to dismantle. Compared to the president’s outrages, her messages barely registered. But on the night John McCain voted against the Obamacare repeal Abby called me again. This time she wasn’t crying.
Right around then Nan started her first job.
She’d been offered a Peace Corps posting in Malawi a month before the election. We sent her off in June 2017, a whippet-thin twenty-two-year-old trudging down the concourse on her way to one of the poorest places on earth. After a summer’s training, she was assigned to teach English in a rural school. Her fellow teachers gave her a house with a garden, two classes overflowing with students, and the sort of welcome you hope your child will get eight thousand miles from home.
In the Malawian countryside, American news arrives in fits and starts. But when the president dismissed all of Africa with an adolescent slur of unmistakably racist intent, Nan heard. She called a couple of days later. His cruelty had really bothered her. But she didn’t have time to dwell on it, not when she was trying to get a room full of teenagers to write a few sentences about a short story they’d read and to corral the little kids who crowd onto her porch every afternoon to draw with the colored pencils she has to share. Not when she had work to do.
That’s why I joined the Women’s March, the protests against the Muslim Ban, the rallies against the racist violence in Charlottesville, and the March for Our Lives, and why I’ll keep protesting, though the truth is I’d prefer to stay home. Because our courageous daughters have refused to surrender their nation to the hatred our president embraces because in their quiet ways they’ve stood for the principles he betrays because they still believe. I can’t come close to matching their dedication. But I am honored to stand with them.
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Kevin Boyle teaches American history at Northwestern University and is the winner of the National Book Award for his 2004 book Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age.