by Lillian Forman
I’m eighty-three and people frequently compliment me for being an activist at my age. Some of these admirers go on to ask how long I’ve been involved in political protest. To my embarrassment, I then have to admit that I didn’t become an activist until I was eighty-one. The election of Trump finally shocked me awake to the dangerous direction in which our country has been headed for a long time.
Having watched Trump’s rallies, I knew Trump agreed with many Republicans that climate change is fake science, that fossil fuels do not damage the environment, that migrants coming to the United States are criminals and parasites, that our country should be inhabited mainly, if not wholly, by whites, and that health care should be an expensive privilege and not a right. Knowing this, I feared that Trump’s election would render my country and the rest of the world both morally and literally a wasteland. His policies since his election have confirmed, even exceeded my fears. For example, I never imagined that he would tear children from their parents’ arms and put them into dirty, crowded concentration camps.
I didn’t at first call Trump’s agenda for the United States fascist. But I certainly should have made this connection earlier. During his presidential campaign, Trump made his fascist intentions perfectly clear. During his rallies, he openly encouraged his supporters to beat up anyone expressing opposition to his leadership; he told the police to “take off the gloves” and brutalize the people they arrested; and he asked officials in the Pentagon, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” Trump’s cruel mockery of the paraplegic reporter was reminiscent of Hitler’s determination to rid Germany of the disabled.
During my earlier years, it was only a little less obvious that fascism was taking root in America and in other leading countries. I wasn’t completely blind to this tendency. I went on protest marches from time to time but never became truly committed by joining a group.
How could I not have become committed? In my twenties and thirties, I watched people my age protesting segregation, the Vietnam War, and the wars in the Middle East. Those young people were being blasted with fire hoses, attacked by dogs, murdered by police in isolated swamps, and spat on by “patriots” who felt that attacking helpless populations in Vietnam was showing love for America.
I had the grace then to feel ashamed that I lacked the courage to join my peers. But I pushed the shame aside and set myself to finishing college and grad school, getting a teacher’s license, working as a teacher, and then as an editor and writer of educational materials. Like the people of today who are too busy finishing school, earning a living, and raising kids, I wanted to make a “decent” life for myself. Just the same, my shame continued to nag me. What kind of decent life could I have in a world riddled by atrocities?
When Trump became president and began to appoint his fascist cronies to his cabinet, I became terrified. II began to obsess about ways we Americans could drive him out of the White House. Gradually, I realized that other people shared my obsession. I passed Union Square a couple of times a week where I would see a cluster of people talking earnestly to passersby who were curious enough to stop and listen. I would hover around these groups but felt too ignorant to join the political discussions.
All I knew was that I wanted my country free of Trump and Pence. Finally a friend, tired of hearing me complain on Facebook of my fear and depression, suggested that I go with her to a Refuse Fascism meeting. At the meeting I recognized several people that I had seen at Union Square. Far from being disdainful of my ignorance, they were eager to explain points that I didn’t understand. Their main goal, like mine, was to rid our country of fascist leaders. In fact, they were the only group who were putting their energy into driving out fascism by calling for the removal of Trump and Pence through sustained, non-violent protest. My depression lifted almost at once at finding a group that faced reality and were willing to go beyond the normal channels of the system that produced this regime. Then, too, the group’s members all wore a cool, black T-shirt with “NO” printed in white across its front. Even in my eighties, I have an inner adolescent that comes to life when I put this on.
This inner adolescent rears up in the form of euphoria when I go out on the street to protest. I don’t really think that this sensation is a regression to childishness but rather a reconnection to a stunted part of myself—the part that began to emerge in my teens, the part that longed to grow, to stand up for my beliefs, and to develop them. Unfortunately we often tell teens when this part of them begins to emerge that they’re being romantic or idealistic or even silly. We are even less tolerant of adults that embrace the excitement of thinking justly and adventurously. Luckily I’m too old to worry about adult mockery. I’m the adult now.
It is exhilarating to go out to public places and tell strangers exactly what I think and to try to persuade them to discuss (and reject) fascism with me.
Of course protesting can be very disheartening. I’ve been in front of Trump Tower with Refuse Fascism many times and tried to engage the shoppers at the high-end department stores there in a conversation about Trump’s poisonous policies. I’m lucky if these people will take a flyer from me. The most discouraging ones will say that they like Trump, that the economy has never been so good. Still several people would always join our protest, march, carry signs, and chant with us. And this would encourage us.
On November 4th, 2017, we launched what we had hoped could become the beginning of sustained, mass protests under a unifying demand that the Trump/Pence regime must go. This scared the hell out of fascist mouthpieces like Alex Jones of Infowars. He and other rightwing trolls started spreading a rumor that “Antifa” was planning to take over the U.S. government on November 4th and start a civil war, even though it was clear that we were a non-violent protest group and were calling for millions of people who hated what Trump and Pence stood for to join us in the kinds of peaceful mass protests that had driven out South Korea’s president earlier that year. When fascists had to spread crazy conspiracy theories to stop us, we knew we were on to something.
Shamefully, many people fearing violence from armed Trump supporters failed to find the courage to come out, even as they told us they agreed with us. And still too many Americans were comfortable and could ignore what was happening. Too many didn’t want to give up the stability of their lives to stand up in the face of rising fascism. Too many had succumbed to the numbing effect of Trump’s distractive tactics and incremental attacks on human rights. Despite all that, thousands across the country did protest on that day and raise the demand that Trump and Pence must go. We were especially heartened by the group of protesters in Austin, Texas, who refused to be intimidated by heavily armed rightwing militia members.
We knew our cause was just and necessary for the preservation of humanity. Therefore we continued to protest. We went to Charlottesville, where white supremacists, threatened our unarmed activists with their torches, guns, and cans of tear spray, but their very brutishness hardened our resolve not to let our country be controlled by lies and violence. We went to the Kavanaugh hearings and, flouting arrest, urged the senators not to put a fascist misogynist determined to overturn Roe v. Wade on the Supreme Court. How could we give up after witnessing such examples of thuggishness and hypocrisy? Every time there is a shock or outrage, Refuse Fascism is out on the streets to break the silence.
Fascism advances in stages, and in the past year, it has taken a leap to concentration camps. We have seen pictures of migrant children at the border being forcibly taken from their parents and housed in cold, dirty cages where they have to sleep on concrete floors. This churns the stomachs of millions of people, but what those people do now, whether or not they hit the streets in sustained, non-violent protest, will decide the fate of these children and their parents. The most useful thing I can do now is convince my readers not to wait until they are eighty-one before they go out to demonstrations with Refuse Fascism demanding that Trump and Pence be removed from office.
Think about it. Can you afford to wait? Trump’s rape of the environment alone should help you answer this question. Can we make the world uninhabitable for future generations and lie easy in our graves? This regime’s total lack of humanity will affect us all. How can we passively submit to these monsters?
I am 83 years old, but I have finally embraced my responsibility to the people of the world. I finally feel like a true grown up, that my life has meaning. You can catch this feeling now. Don’t wait.