It is surreal to watch people across the country despair at the prospect of a single-party government, led by pandering bigots, that will have no need or inclination to check itself or its basest instincts. It is what we Texans have been dealing with for years.
For folks who don’t know what this particular political nightmare is like, this winter will be very grim. Things must seem especially bleak for those who are accustomed to expecting at least the semblance of a balance of power among their elected representatives and the hope, however thin, that the worst ideas of those who take office won’t always prevail.
Do I sound smug? I am not smug. I am angry and sad and I would rather be talking about change instead of resistance. But let’s talk about resistance. I have a wonderful Texas story about resisting the echo chamber of right-wing tyranny. It starts in June 2013.
Y’all know where I’m going with this already, I bet.
It started with a dozen or so of us, sitting up in the gallery of the Texas Senate, decked out in retro Mad Men-style gear in quiet protest against a proposed anti-abortion law that we had every expectation would sail through the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature. It continued over the next few weeks with a few thousand of us, decked out in orange, stomping and shaking the walls of that Capitol as the clock ran out on that same law. That victory — made possible by the dumb pride of a dominant party as convinced of its own power as we, its opponents, had been — was temporary. Texas Republicans realized they’d made a mistake in underestimating their opposition, and they ensured that they’d win round two. They did. But then that law went to the courts, bouncing in and out of injunction after injunction. There were casualties in the meantime, as abortion providers shut their doors and thousands of Texans lost the means to end unwanted pregnancies. But there were victories, too, as Texans organized to get each other to far-flung clinics, to create close-knit networks of people prepared to fight for reproductive justice.
It took three years for House Bill 2 to make it to the Supreme Court, where the shameless hubris of its architects was exposed and rejected. The day that ruling came, I kept revisiting one thought that made it all the sweeter: The people behind that law thought they were above the law, until they weren’t.
I do not know what the first fresh hell of the Trump administration and a friendly Republican Congress will look like, exactly. It will be a worse version of the hell that so many Americans of color, women, gay and lesbian and bisexual people, immigrants and transgender people are already living through in a country that has, since its founding, been hostile to all but the most privileged among us.
It will be a carefully crafted hell, at first. They’ll want to get this whole oppression thing right, to start. Maybe it’ll be the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or the end of meaningful refugee services, or a strengthened surveillance state. The harm will be real and devastating as millions lose access to their doctors, to their families, to their bodily autonomy and privacy. But it won’t be long before it turns into a carelessly crafted hell. The bullies will become lazy and negligent.
We saw it happen in Texas. Our GOP-dominated, government-hating government has disenfranchised and marginalized millions, many of those the most vulnerable among us. Our leaders have wrested Medicaid services from low-income special needs children; they’ve refused to allocate funds to care for thousands of children suffering or dying in foster care and state custody. We cling to the infrequent victories of the kind we saw with House Bill 2, because we must. Because it’s the only way out and up.
It won’t happen immediately. It may not even happen soon. But a government of self-satisfied yes-men will, eventually, overestimate itself and underestimate the people. That is why the work cannot stop; the demands for racial and gender and economic equality cannot cease. There will come a moment when a bloated, bigoted system will fail itself, and love will trump hate.
We must be ready to seize it.
[Featured image of a 2013 reproductive rights protest at the Texas Capitol by Patrick Michels]