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social justice

Hopelessness, Responsibility, and Fascism: How to Find Hope and Make a Difference

I’ve been having an incredible conversation with an old friend over the last few days about hopelessness, responsibility, and fascism. I know things seem really dark right now, but this conversation gave me the first spark of hope I’ve had in a really, really long time. So I want to share that hope with you.

First, talking to someone else about my fear and rage and guilt has been helpful. Usually I avoid talking about politics or the virus or Trump or anything going on in the world, really, because it makes me so upset. But I think not talking about it makes me feel extra hopeless. If I can’t even talk about what’s going on, how am I supposed to change anything? What can I do besides watch as the world collapses? For me, the first step in escaping this mindset was to just talk about it. Even though it’s upsetting, even though it feels hopeless, just get it all out there.

Second, through this conversation with my friend, I’ve realized one of the best ways to fight fascism is to acknowledge its presence. We aren’t heading for Nazi Germany, we are Nazi Germany. It’s here. This is scary, but it also gives you permission to freak out. You don’t have to be measured and calm.

Get scared.

I have always been called “dramatic” and “sensitive” and “weird,” so as an adult, I usually try to keep all my emotions to myself, just in case I’m just being “dramatic.” Thanks to all the trauma work I’m doing in therapy, I’m unlearning this behavior. I’m learning to trust myself and see my emotions as reasonable. Fascism has always been deeply rooted in American society, but it is developing into something uncontrollable now, and it is not dramatic for me to compare us to Nazi Germany. It’s not dramatic to talk about fascism. It’s not dramatic, it’s here. So let’s freak the fuck out about it.

Third, after freaking out, acknowledge that this fear is a good thing. It’s a sign you have a working moral compass, despite all of the chaos going on right now. Instead of getting swept up in the hopelessness, remind yourself that fear is a teacher. Don’t dismiss your fear, as I always have. Listen to what it’s telling you. It’s saying this isn’t right. It’s saying this isn’t what I believe. It’s saying “I do not accept this.”

For me, that was a huge breakthrough. Just saying to myself over and over, “I do not accept this.” It grounded me in my own reality. Instead of getting swept up in my analysis of the situation and the accompanying hopelessness, I kept reminding myself that I do not accept this. I will not go quietly into fascism.

This tiny shred of grounding hope was enough at first, but then I had another thought. It can’t stop there. It’s one thing to not accept something in your heart of hearts. But fascism doesn’t exist in our hearts. It hurts real people, and it is our job as human beings to protect one another by destroying fascism.

So my next mantra became “And here is what I’m going to do about it.”

Ask yourself: what would I want the main character of a book about Nazi Germany to do? What would I think the “right thing” is? Then go do it.

Fascism doesn’t thrive because the majority of people want it, fascism thrives because the majority don’t actively stop it. We all feel powerless in the face of something so objectively evil that is somehow thriving despite its cruelty. Witnessing the rise of fascism is a reminder that the Just World Fallacy is exactly that: a fallacy. Good things don’t happen because you’re good and bad things don’t happen because you’re bad. Good and bad happen because people make them happen, regardless of the reason why.

So from there I made a plan. Some of it I was doing already, but without much faith that it would actually help. Some of it is new and scary and good. Here’s my plan to personally do my part to fight fascism:

  1. I’m learning about racism in America through reading, following BLM accounts on social media, and having tough discussions with friends, like the one that inspired this post.
  2. I am practicing talking to my son about racism, fascism, and America’s history. He’s not even one yet, so he can’t really understand me, I’m just using this time to practice so that when he’s older, I’ll feel more confident in having these important conversations. My son won’t have to learn about all this when he’s 26, like me. He will grow up knowing what fascism looks like in real life, and what he can and should do to stop it.
  3. I’m writing about what I learn to help educate and inspire the people in my circle.
  4. I’m encouraging people to vote. I’m checking in with people to remind them to make sure they’re registered and to request their mail-in ballot or check if early in-person voting is available to them.
  5. I’m making calls to representatives about the Breonna Taylor decision, even though I am terrified by phone calls and I stutter and probably sound like an idiot. I am doing it anyway because Breonna Taylor should be alive today, and the people who took her life should have to face the consequences of their actions.
  6. I’m taking the virus seriously and setting firm boundaries with family and friends to help curb COVID. I am prioritizing the health and safety of people I don’t know over my individual desire to live my life as usual. Fascism likes to trick us into believing that coming together is a threat to our freedom, but it isn’t. It is the only way we as a human race can thrive.
  7. I am making it clear that people who support Trump or his policies or pretend the left and right are equally bad right now are not welcome in my life. I am making it clear that I do not want to be friends with people who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement, and I am cutting ties with people who think we can “agree to disagree” about fascism. I am not doing this to create an echochamber of people who all believe what I believe, I am doing this to enforce social consequences for their behavior. People who support Trump do not get to support an evil man and then pretend they themselves are not evil. They do not get to keep going to parties where people like them. I do my part in this by making sure they know that their support of fascism means we are no longer friends. And when we defeat fascism, I will not welcome them back with loving arms just because they lost.

So. If you do not accept this, what are you doing about it? Finish the sentence. “I do not accept this and this is what I’m going to do to stop it.” You are only one person, but one person has changed the world before. Why not now? Why not you? Do not wait for someone else to stop fascism. That’s how it wins.

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