I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Surrounded by lush greenery and quaint homes tucked into mountainsides, the picturesque nature of my hometown has captured hearts and the attention of many for decades. A rural town that lives on football games on Fridays and church on Sundays, it would surprise few that it is smack-dab in the heart of Trump country.
Despite growing up in this town (and getting away from it the millisecond I could), I was still shocked by the support I saw for the soon-to-be-President-elect. Looking back, this shock seems naive in many ways. Although there is old money tucked into the pockets of many townspeople, my hometown is full of poor white people. Men who have spent their lives working at a nearby paper mill, women who supplemented their husbands’ income by pulling extra shifts at a local grocery store. Single parents, the elderly, and the uneducated populate this town people come to admire for its charm. State employees and mechanics, teachers and those affected greatly by the recession discuss unemployment rates and that they feel ignored by their government.
Furthermore, my hometown is full of people who can count on one hand the number of people of color that they know. People who think immigrants have taken all their jobs. Men (and some women) who believe that a woman doesn’t have the emotional capability to hold a role of power in their workplace. Individuals who think education is overrated. People who look to a black President with a funny name and think “he can’t be trusted”.
It’s a very real truth that these are the people that inhabit the town I grew up in. And while they could read these descriptions and become frustrated or defensive, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. And while as an outpsoken liberal feminist it is so very tempting to demonize these people and erase them from my memory, I simply can’t. Because for every part that I feel like they don’t understand where I’m coming from, they can fire it back at me.
I’ve felt shaken for 2 months straight. I can’t look at Facebook without feeling disappointed or angry. I’ve had family members comment on my opinions and been defriended by people I vacationed with as a teenager. We’re divided and we’re upset and we all think we’re right. No one trusts anyone on the other side. I’m guilty of it–I’ll admit it to you right now.
So, here I am–full of worries, hopes, and anticpation for four years of whatever the hell this orange leather satchel will bring our country (sorry, I’ve been trying to be kind but sometimes I just can’t). And as I’m sitting at a computer–full of privilege and opportunity as a white woman in an affluent city–all I can think of is that I need to take a talent I’ve had my whole life and utilize it.
At my bachelorette party, I sat at a table full of my best friends as they made toasts. One of my best friends–someone I’ve known since I was 7–toasted me for being someone that could always bring people together, always creating and nurturing community. I’ve heard this before, but it resonated that evening and has stuck with me ever since.
I’ve decided that for the next four years, I’m going to take the skills that I posess to bring people together and use it for a greater good. I want to connect with more people and truly, deeply understand where they’re coming from. I want to take this knowledge and find way to build bridges, not build walls (see what I did there?). I don’t want to convince people they’re wrong, but I do want to show them the beauty of inclusion, the power of unification, the joy in loving others that are different from you as deeply as you love those that are similar.
I’m not saying this will be simple. I will be challenged, I will get heated. I’ll read articles that will infuriate me and I’ll talk to people who will not be coming to me with the same postiive intentions, so ultimately we will not be able to find common ground. I will be acting locally and hoping for a larger impact, and there won’t be instant gratification. My feelings will get hurt and I’ll feel unheard.
But, I’m here for you.
I’m here for the Trump supporters when he doesn’t do what he promised. I’m here for minorities when he does do things that he promised. I’m here for women whose rights will be trampled on and ripped apart and examined by people without vaginas. I’m here for men that want to know what they can be doing better. I’m here for people of color to listen and support, never to oppress or silence. I’m here for people of all religions, to pray for and with.
And I’ll also be here for myself. I will take care of my heart and know when to rest, when to back down, when to breathe, and when to know it really will all be ok in the end.
I’ll be here.