Understand That We Are Privileged

Alexandra Reinecke, Art & Literature Editor

This has been a crazy month. For many it has been due to finally sending (and anxiously awaiting reply) those RD applications; for others, it is the evening news’ reporting of a dozen ill-advised (or, if you want to be bi-partisan about it, “political”) alterations to our country’s policies and executive orders, one right after another.

While I might have been spared, for this year, the terror of sending college applications, I’ve been excluded from none of this month’s uncharted territory.

At 4pm on Saturday, January 21, I was ransacking the aisles of the Walnut Creek Target in a frantic search for anything pink. Donald Trump had been sworn in the previous afternoon as the 45th president of the United States; a number of tabs were open on my iPhone, the most amusing of which featured a meme of a smug-looking President Truman and the phrase “Because Reality has a Well-known Liberal Bias,” and an effect of defeat was amplified by the store’s harsh fluorescent light.

“I mean,” said my mother, holding by the ears the oatmeal-colored atrocity of what was intended to resemble Hello-Kitty’s face transposed to manufactured wool, “since we can’t get those hats, I mean if we can’t buy them there, you know.”

We gathered all the pink that we could, opting for kids XL and accessories at least somewhat size-flexible, and searched and deposited and vetted and emptied the cart contents until we were left with a highlighter pink ski thermal shirt on whose tag we found amusement in the phrase, reminiscent of Bernie Sander’s 2016 campaign slogan (“Feel the Burn”) referring to the shirt’s thermal technology in white lettering on a red square: “FEEL THE WARMTH.”

5pm found us gathering coats and snacks and what reserves of untapped courage could be found in the space of my family’s 1970’s minimalist-designed kitchen to the soundtrack of a near-muted CNN; the oyster color of the falling sun and the quiet movement in the kitchen, the tacit gathering of objects, of supplies, lent a solemn effect to the scene. We were suburban women heading to a suburban BART station.

We were quiet; we did not talk. We moved around the scene, these familiar objects, this bomber jacket, that bag of granola, like strangers sharing space in a museum. I stripped off a sweatshirt and pulled on the highlighter-colored thermal, a glove of polyester I found both much too tight and much too loyal to its heat-promising slogan.

Others wore pink at the train station. It was crowded so that we had to stand and cling to the bars overhead. A man held his hunter green, battered bicycle like a favorite child and we clicked the lanyard glow sticks we’d purchased on and off from clear to red, clear to red.

When we arrived, there were hundreds of people marching in the direction of the Ferry Building. It was a clear night and as we joined the crowd it began to rain; by the end of the walk, as my friend and I sat divulging in our end-of-protest reward, two overpriced scoops of Humphrey Slocombe’s “Secret Breakfast” ice cream bedded in biodegradable cups, I had acquired two new things from the course of the day: a jagged blue mark along the cuff of my thermal shirt like the slope of a graph alike us in its sharpness, its anger, and a new sense of calm, a new sense of pride in the part of our country which had shown itself on the streets of San Francisco, which had denounced our president and heralded in his place those values I’d always understood as definitive of our nation: truth, compassion, diversity, an unequaled and remarkable tenacity, an inertia in the direction of what is right.

This has been a crazy month.

It has been a month of change, of movement, of a very disquieting trend toward an isolationist America. It is unreasonable to state that we have nothing to fear; we have much to fear: a dangerously arrogant president, a newly-ignited (or reignited) animosity toward the immigrant population, the turn-off-the-TV-and-pretend-it-isn’t-real approach so many liberals have found most comfortable to employ. But we also have things to be grateful for, to take pride in, to be glad to recognize as actions we can morally condone: what can be the clean slate of a new year, what NPR reports as a greater attention to journalistic media than has been seen in decades, peaceful protests which call attention to what must be fixed.

So whether you’re anxious over waiting to hear back from that favorite college or perseverating over the terror with which you are forced to come to terms by the simple act of turning on the evening news, I ask that you fear, but remain grateful. I ask that while you remain cautious of and attuned to what bad may come, I also ask that you consider what it is that you have; part of the reason we are worried over the election is because we see what we understand as our American privileges to be at risk, which is, by sheer definition, also to point out that we, as Americans, are just that: privileged.

However crazy these times may be, life will continue forward, and you must continue with it. So check your email and cross your fingers for that favorite college. Make a poster-board with witty insults directed at our current administration and wield it proudly. Understand, as I did, sitting there eating cornflake and bourbon flavored ice cream and watching a sea of people ebb and flow down Market Street with a violent royal blue rained-on protest sign paint stain on the highlighter pink sleeve of my thermal shirt, that change, while scary, doesn’t have to be paralyzing. My candidate lost the election, I understood. Part of my understanding of my country has been altered, but I’m still here, still present enough to recognize the beauty of the fake candles bobbing along the crowd in the rain, still observant enough to record scraps of speech: “I brought a rain-coat pack here just to give it away,” “We could get on top of these newspaper things but it’s kinds sketchy and slippery,” “It’s like the silver lining of depression for me.”

Understand, as I came to understand the jet-blue spike of paint stain on my shirt, as an artifact of unrest gained in place of a usable garment, that change can be good. Understand, as hard as it is, because to understand is the only way to feel anything less than anger. Understand, as hard as it is, because it is all you can do. Understand.  Understand. And for the sake of rebuilding a country we can bear to again watch on the evening news, understand.