Monday, January 23, 2017

Kindness, Marches, and Donuts: A Weekend Protest

I’ve decided to be kind to Trump supporters. I realize that’s not something that everyone can do or wants to do. I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead. Everyone has a different role to play in this fight. Maybe I’ve got a reservoir of kindness because life has been pretty good to me. I’m a straight, white, male, so that’s already a lot. I might as well try and share what I have.

Some people could say that I’m enabling hate and racism by not shunning Trump and his like, I disagree with that. As a Catholic, I’m a firm believer that we were made in the image and likeness of God. I want to presume goodness in people. And until they prove me otherwise, I’m going to do just that. I think it’s easier to change minds and hearts when you’re kind. As I said in my mission statement, I will use my kindness and empathy to fight injustice. I can fight the awful things in this world without destroying a person. here are some cynics who don’t believe in that. Well, good for them. That photo of the black cop helping a white supremacist protester who’s suffering from heat exhaustion personifies how I’m feeling.

As we walked towards the meeting point on Saturday morning, there was a man with a sign and a bible. He was preaching and basically telling us that he had on good authority that we were all going to hell. As we walked by, I said to him, “Have a nice day.” It took him a few seconds, but when I was a few steps away from him, he replied, “Have a nice day too, sir.” I doubt I changed his mind, but a little kindness can’t hurt, can it?

This essay by Courtney Martin sums it up well.

It’s not so important that I truly see Trump (does he even see himself?) as much as the nearly 62 million people who voted for him. Presuming their malevolence is a risk I’m unwilling to take. It would mean that we really are made of different stuff, which seems not only intolerant, but dumb. We all start from that terrific vulnerability. We all have mothers, whether they stick around or not. We all want love, meaning, safety, and sandwiches. We all tolerate a tremendous amount of risk, which is to say we keep waking up every morning and trying to be people in the world, which is inherently risky. I’ll start there.


The crowd on Saturday morning at the Minnesota State Capitol was the friendliest crowd I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t turn around in the green line car, and we passed hundreds of people waiting on train car platforms. On a Tuesday in Boston that would have been cause for yelling, shoving, and even more general unpleasantness. But on this day, people seemed to get it. People cheered from train platforms even when someone said that there wasn’t any room. People just seemed to be energized by seeing other like-minded people out there, showing up for the same cause.

I marched because I wanted to show up. It had been a while since I had felt good about any national news. I haven’t listened to NPR as much since the election, and I’ve skimmed more and more news articles without really taking them in. I wanted to feel some joy and hope again. That starts with showing up. I marched to stand up to the bully in the White House. I wanted to show my face in solidarity with a number of causes I believe in. And I just wanted to be part of a crowd that dwarfed the size of inauguration. (I try to be nice person most all the time, but I can still be petty. Sue me, I’m human.)

At first I didn’t think I was going to hold a sign. I had spoken with my mom the previous afternoon, the day of the inauguration. She wanted to come, but it didn’t work out logistically to come down. So I told her that I’d march for her. I thought I might as well make a sign that showed it. I wrote, “Doing this for my mom because she’s awesome.” It was a pretty popular sign. Not to brag or anything, but I was stopped by about a dozen people who asked to take my picture. I even made it into the Apple Valley High School student newspaper.

I posted a few pictures of the march that evening. It was fun (and a good ego boost) to see the likes and compliments, as well as the photos from all the different marches. A few of my friends, who I presume voted for Trump, started a discussion on one of the photos. I usually don’t respond to comments, but I thought I could be kind and polite, and still answer their questions. I went back and forth a few times, but then I went to bed. My new year’s resolution was to stay off of social media on Sundays, so I didn’t check any of the threads that evening.

I received a few text messages from friends saying that they didn’t mean to start a family fight. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant, but later that evening, I opened my messenger app because I needed an address for a friend and I saw another message from my cousin mentioning something about a Facebook discussion. It was 10 p.m. and I thought it would be best if I didn’t check on it that evening.

I opened up Facebook this morning to 38 notifications. Normally I’d be happy about that, but I clicked on a few. There were dozens of comments back and forth between friends and family members about Trump, the march, and everything in between, and it got nasty. I decided not to read through them. I really just didn’t want to be angry. So I decided to write something at the bottom more or less saying that I was disappointed something that I got positive vibes from devolved so quickly and that I’d happily message with anyone who wanted to continue the conversation via direct message.

I was upset, but I decided to turn back to my mission statement: I will use kindness and empathy to heal wounds, build bridges, and fight injustice. There are some people who get off on internet comment wars, but I’m not one of them. There are some people who like confrontation, I’m not one of them. There are some people who want to fight (in more ways than one) Trump supporters. I’m not one of them.


However, I’m not going to be a pushover. After church on Sunday morning, I was eating donuts and drinking coffee with my parents and a couple of their friends came over to join us. I had seen them before, but I had never met them. The march eventually came up and the woman said that she couldn’t believe so many people were marching for abortion. That was not the case for me, or for probably lots of people. I doubt anybody would say that they were marching for abortion if they were asked that question.

My mom mentioned my sign and I said that I was marching to stand up to every awful thing Trump’s campaign represented. I said I was marching to support immigrants and refugees. That got the guy off. He went on to talk about how if we didn’t have a border, we wouldn’t have a country. And he said that America can’t take the whole world in. I took a deep breath.

I told him the story about a lawyer I know who fled Honduras after his mother was murdered by a gang. I told him that he claimed asylum in the U.S. and that he eventually went on to get his degree, law degree, and pass the bar. His practice now focuses on providing representation to low-income Spanish-speaking people in civil cases, a greatly underserved market. I told the guy that I was glad I lived in a country that had the mechanisms to get him here. It felt good to go off like that. I wasn’t unkind or mean, I just wanted to make sure my point of view was heard. It was. I left soon after that.

These next four years are going to be tough ones. I’m just glad this weekend gave me hope to get through it all.

Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Albums

  1. The Beatles - 1
I had listened to a few classic rock albums before this one. Though this is the one that opened the floodgates for me. It brought me to other Beatles albums and songs, but also backwards towards to Chuck Berry and forwards towards bands like Zeppelin and the Clash. I got the first copy of it from my Aunts Betsy and Martha  when I finished junior high. It still occupies the first place in my overstuffed CD folder.  

  1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
This was a close second to most influential album for me. I first started listening to it over the summer during a camping trip to South Dakota. Our group leader played this in the truck multiple times. I still get goosebumps every time I hear the opening chords of the first song. As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to appreciate the beauty of “A Day in the Life” even more.

  1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
I think this was the first classic rock album that I purchased. I bought it technically in middle school to impress a girl. However, it continued to influence my musical purchases throughout high school. There is still a poster of the album cover in my room back home. One time a classmate of mine and I synched the album up with The Wizard of Oz. Even though we didn’t smoke any weed, it was pretty creepy.

  1. The Rolling Stones - Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)
My first Stones album I ever purchased. I was upset it didn’t have “Satisfaction,” but it had “Paint it Black,” which was my first open mic night performance song.

  1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
The first album that I appreciated as a whole. This opened the whole psychedelic culture for me.

  1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Born to Run
My foray into Bruce. A different track wowed me every time here. I played “She’s the One” multiple times, thinking it was about my then girlfriend.

  1. The Grateful Dead - American Beauty
I never got into the Dead live albums. I always liked the structure of this one. “Box of Rain” still gets me through some low times.

  1. The Beatles - Let it Be
I picked this one up at a Half Price Books. I loved “Two of Us” and eventually, “Let it Be.”

  1. The Rolling Stones - Let it Bleed
I felt so cool when I bought this album. It kept coming up in the different Stones biographies that I read. “You Got the Silver” was one of my favorite angsty songs.

  1. Johnny Cash - 16 Biggest Hits

I went through an old-school country phase my senior year of high school. This album influenced me more than any. That and the movie “Walk the Line.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This I Believe: 29

I believe in listening. Listening is everything that is antithetical to our modern culture. Listening takes effort. It makes you focus on one thing. And sometimes it forces you to come into contact with things you don't want to hear.

One important skill I've learned in life is to know when I'm listening to something that brings me joy instead of something that's just filling my ears with noise. When I know I'm doing that second thing, I'll put my phone down, take out my headphones and just listen. It amazes me that we as people will actively choose to interact with things we don't care about in order to avoid facing some void in our life.

Louie C.K. sums it up well in this interview on Conan:

The thing is, because we don't want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.

I believe that we need to face those bits of sad. We need to face those bits of loneliness. Those are the times that define who we are. Unless you want to be a film or television critic, I believe very few people have found themselves on the couch while watching Netflix and eating Cheetos. So many times we revert to that because we're too tired or scared to pursue what we really want. I've done it. I've done it a lot. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it just rarely leads to that immense personal growth and change that so many people seem to desire.

The thing is, people get lost about what it means to be living your fullest life. Some people think that involves staying up late in clubs, dancing, and getting sloshed. NO. I hate going to clubs. I reserve dancing for special occasions, and I drink far less than I used to. All of those things would not constitute my best life.

I think living your fullest life is allowing yourself to come to terms with all of those feelings, anyway you can get them. Maybe that means running a couple miles every day, reading that book you've always wanted to read, or just catching up with a friend. I believe you need to actively put yourself into a situation that forces you to confront the possibility of every emotional gradient in life. Don't resign yourselves to being "kinda satisfied with your product." That's not living

Confronting these things allows you to grow into yourself. So many people don't want to do that. There's a quote from Rog Bennett of the show Men in Blazers that I love. This is from a speech he gave to his son on his son's bar mitzvah,

"The secret to life is about knowing how to be yourself and being at ease with it all."

I believe that is so true. And it starts with listening.