[CN: This piece includes descriptions of torture, death, and grossly inhumane conditions for prisoners in an authoritarian regime.]
On this most terrible of Inauguration Days, I want you to know that I believe in us.
I believe that in the coming days, we will find ways to resist with all of our might. We will throw our sabots into the cogs of the democracy-destroying GOP machine. We will use every tool of protest, every venue of action, every way to resist. We will put ourselves on the line to aid each other and to soften the blows of the coming days. Those with a bit more privilege in some area will wield it to shield those with less.
I am not saying we will win every battle or most of them. I am not saying that we won’t suffer—we will, in ways we may not even be able to imagine. And some will suffer much more than others. What I am saying is: I believe us, and our ability to resist.
Because I believe in you.
Yes, you, an imperfect human being. You, with your limitations, your doubts, your fears. You with your religious beliefs, your atheist non-belief, your agnostic questioning. You with whatever physical disability you may have, whatever chronic illness you may bear, whatever mental illness you may cope with. You with your fatness and your thinness, your poverty and your wealth, your brown skin, white skin, black skin and skin in every human shade. You with your queer love, your straight love, your poly love, your monogamous love. You with your cis body, your trans body, your body that you love or your body you can’t make peace with. You in your youth and in your age, and in all the seasons in between. I believe in you!
I am not saying that you, individually, will perform every act of resistance. No-one can possibly do everything. Maybe it will be one thing. Simply surviving a corrupt, authoritarian, human-rights-denying regime is an act of resistance. (And even that is one we won’t all be able to perform.)
But marching is also resistance. So is drafting legislation. So is aiding a homeless person. So is sitting in. So is speaking, and so is writing the speech. So is calling, organizing, donating, volunteering. So is supporting those who do these things when you cannot, with a meal, a hug, a kind word. So is healing, teaching, protecting, serving, questioning, reporting. So is feeding the hungry, aiding the immigrant, and comforting the survivor. So is remembering and recording. Make sure that the truth is not lost, that real history survives, that we recall that this is not normal.
I believe in you, and in your ability to find your own way of resisting.
Those poised to harm us like to laugh at us for our diversity, our disorganization, our disagreements. Our many faults. But oh, they are so wrong to underestimate us. You see, I believe in us, and in you, because I know humans have done this before.
I believe in them, and their stories.
Sometimes we see those who resisted in other times and places as Great Heroes far beyond the common mean. Or, we learn their faults and dash them from their pedestals as having nothing to teach us. Neither story is a true one, nor a helpful one.
Do we think that the Freedom Riders felt no fear? Do we think that abolitionists were not divided ? Do we think that organized labor was never…disorganized? Do we think that all the people all over the world trying to resist injustice *right now* don’t have flaws and weaknesses and problems? We don’t discard these movements for their faults. We learn from them. And we remember that being a superhero is not required. Perfection is not a requirement. Humanity, our full humanity, is.
And I believe in Humanity.
Not too long ago, I read Sarah Helm’s book Ravensbruck, which examines one of the darkest chapters of human history. Ravensbruck was a women’s prison of the Third Reich, which held political prisoners (first Communists then other anti-Nazi resistors), “anti-social” women (such as lesbians, sex workers, some mentally ill women, those who violated race laws), and a growing collection of others. (It was not one of the camps intended primarily for Jews.) As time went on it included women from captured Poland, women of the Soviet Army, captured Allied spies, anti-Nazi resisters from France and the Netherlands, and many more. Each group was segregated into different blocks. They starved, they froze, they contracted disease, they were forced to work as slaves, they were tortured, they died. They were subjected to random and increasingly frequent executions and unspeakable medical "treatment." They were regularly executed, often by random selection, with increasing frequency as the war went on.
One group of women were in particular danger in 1945, as it became clear the war was coming to an end. Known as “the rabbits,” this group of Polish women had been medically tortured, their legs shattered and subjected to horrific experiments. Their existence would be damning if the Allies discovered them after the war. And so the camp commanders plotted to murder them. But, in the words of one of the women, survivor Dziuba Sokulska, “an incredible thing, unheard of thing happened—the whole camp decided that we were to be saved.”
Prisoners from the Red Army, from Yugoslavia, Norway, and fellow Poles offered to take the rabbits’ places for their executions. At roll call, women from different blocks broke ranks, shouting “We won’t let you take them!” as guards with their dogs and guns tried to take the rabbits. A Red Army electrician used her skills to turn off the lights, throwing the camp into darkness. In the pre-dawn dimness and confusion, rabbits slipped into hiding places in the prisoner blockhouses, exchanged places with other prisoners, hid in the infirmary among dying typhus patients, formed up in the wrong lines, and otherwise made themselves nearly impossible to find. For days it went on, a dangerous game of hide and seek, with prisoners from across the camp conspiring to assist when the watchwords went out: “They’re after the rabbits.” For weeks this went on, while leaders of the rabbits played off the divisions among their captors (who were themselves trying to plan an escape before the Soviet Army arrived). Incredibly, they were successful in keeping the Polish rabbits alive until liberation.
I can hardly imagine this. These women, starved, having lost their hair in many cases, their body fat, their muscles, their strength. Having lost vast numbers of their fellow prisoners, their friends, their families—they were still able to cooperate in this stunning act of resistance. They were not superhuman. They were so, so, very frail and very human. And still they did this.
I believe in that, because it happened. We are not today where they were, and I hope were are never there. I sincerely hope our future is not as dark as was their reality. But whatever the case, whatever is coming to us, I will remember them and all the other people, some of them, their names unknown, who have resisted in extraordinary ways, despite being very ordinary people. I will believe in shared resistance, and the people in history who have made it work.
So here is my creed, my declaration of faith for the next four years and beyond.
I believe in them.
I believe in you.
And fiercely, determinedly, with all my being, I believe in us.
Today, and every day, we will be: stronger together.