Democracy is crisis driven, and this is a crisis. This man we elected, an Obscurus, a dark wizard whipping up a frenzy of poisonous lies, will be vanquished. I believe that facts vanquish lies. America is better than he is, and he won’t serve four years.
How do we resist this demagogue and his band of billionaire extremists, cynics, and racists? We can donate to legal funds to challenge his actions and his laws. We can write, speak, make calls, partner, support.
But we desperately need leaders, new ones, to take us to the streets. We need ordinary people sparked by this moment to step up and change the world. We need 21st century versions of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the college professor who won the Medal of Honor for “heroism and tenacity” at Gettysburg. Chamberlain realized that the outcome of the battle, maybe the war, lay with his men of the 20th Maine. When he asked them to sweep forward with bayonets and hold Little Round Top, he was acting with boldness and selflessness, rising to the moment. His leadership turned back the attackers, and with their retreat, the arc of history shifted in its track. Chamberlain went home after the war to serve as Republican governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College and community leader in Maine and New York until 1914, when he became the last Civil War vet to die of his war wounds.
Rosa Parks in the front of the bus. Rachel Carson, warning of an impending Silent Spring. Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sojourner Truth, the Mothers of the Movement, Khizr Khan. We need extraordinary individuals in extraordinary times.
These leaders for the newest American era aren’t on the front pages yet. They aren’t the voices in our liberal Facebook feed, preaching to a like-minded subculture. They certainly aren’t conspicuous in the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Even so, America, the people are roused. We are ready to act, to say no to the demagogue and his self-serving lies. Some of us will become groundbreakers, the first ones across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Joshua Chamberlains of the 21st century. These men and women will cross paths with their decisive moments and be transformed.
Many of us will lead in much smaller ways. And the smallest of steps will matter.
My wife and I spent a day at the Utah state capitol on December 19th, joining fellow citizens to ask the electors to vote their conscience as they cast ballots for the electoral college. The crowd cared deeply, but the organizers were timid. None of those emergent charismatic leaders took charge. My wife and I each felt compelled to walk up the marble steps in the rotunda and address the crowd. I wasn’t planning to do this, but I couldn’t stand by and see our energy drift away. I arrived with my passion, and I wanted it to be catching.
But I didn’t know beforehand how powerful that small act would be for my own state of mind. Participating in the resistance made me feel more engaged, more hopeful, more energized. I felt better at the end of that day than on any day since the election—too many days spent reading the depressing news feed on my laptop and feeling paralyzed.
Sometimes I’ll again stand in front of a microphone. But mostly, my role is to write; I’ll use my skills. I won’t lead columns of citizens in the streets, but I’m ready to join those columns. There are millions of us, ready to follow these new protectors, these new trailblazers, and in far greater numbers than those who cheer at a rally staged by a narcissistic liar. My experience at the Utah capitol showed me how satisfying joining forces with neighbors can be.
So, show up. Call the members of your congressional delegation, no matter how conservative. Taking action will jolt you right back from the brink of despair. And you may surprise yourself as you, too, begin to organize and speak out and lead.
Our new leaders live among us. In the coming weeks and months, they’ll begin to organize the resistance. These times will draw some of us to act in ways we never could have imagined, and together, leaders and led, we will beat back this assault on our principles and our future.
For Trimble’s work previously on Terrain.org, see “Devil’s Bargains” and “Stone that Leaps,” poetry by Christopher Cokinos and photography by Stephen Trimble.
Header photo of the Utah capitol by Stephen Trimble. Photo of Stephen Trimble by Dory Trimble.