When a friend learns I’m attending a poetry event at Washington Square Park, I am told to be careful. We know why: the anti-Trump protests in Portland that devolved into riots, a news crew attacked, a protester shot. On the third consecutive day of anti-Trump protests in cities nationwide, New York City, so far, has been lucky. A cab driver annoyed by the disrupted traffic tells me Trump’s win “is what it is.” My family assures me I may be surprised by Trump’s success. On social media I am ravenous, scrolling through Facebook feeds replete with both sides of the post-election controversy, the scab torn off an already-divided country. We all smell the blood.
I am at Verses for Hope to fill myself with peace, to hear the voices of women such as poet Elizabeth Alexander, who spoke during Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Later, when she recites Praise Song for the Day, I am moved to tears. “What if,” she declares, “the mightiest word is love?” Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game, shares W.H. Auden’s timely September 1, 1939, which includes the verse, “We must love one another (and) die.” The change from “or” to “and,” she explains, came later, after Auden remembered we’d all die. It is mandatory for us to love while we are here to ensure the survival of our race.
I reflect on the ugly words spewed online, the anger defacing signs declaring peace, the promise to prohibit politics from conversation in mixed company, the tug of war between open hatred and superficial civility. We have moved so far apart we are afraid to speak. Those who hate safe spaces are triggered by the term “political correctness.” A feminist is disparaged.
Elizabeth Alexander is not annoyed that her voice competes with events scattered throughout the park. “We remember that there is noise,” she says. “This is good. There is more than ourselves here, there is more happening around us.” An African-American group breakdances in the park’s center, shouting, “We are all one race! The HUMAN race!” A cluster of musicians performs an acoustic version of The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.”
Fear exists in the hearts of many of us right now, but right here, at this moment, there is serenity. We have converged peaceably in a park on a mild November day. Of course, anything can happen–a Muslim woman might be attacked on the corner. I was disappointed to learn about self-professed liberal, Muslim immigrant Asra Nomani, who voted for Trump over concerns about Obamacare’s flaws and semantics over the Left’s discourse addressing Islamic extremism.
Obamacare, though not perfect, insured coverage for millions of Americans. If it is repealed–not improved–what will take its place? And I don’t think anyone on the Left is exactly condoning radical Islam. Asra’s splashy op-ed only fans the flames (and the fears) of the Right.
So, where do we go from here? How do we unite a divide so vast that states are threatening to secede from the union? Heartened by the words I heard today, I know it is important to fight, yes, but also fight with (somehow) kindness. Frankly, I’m not sure how, but I hope we can find a way to get there.