A few days have passed since the political landscape was turned upside down. Many of us are still having difficulty wrapping our heads around the political “winner takes all” reality we now find ourselves in. I had to take a break from social media because the sense of collective angst was at times, overwhelming. Besides my feelings as a woman in this shifting landscape, wondering if women will retain their reproductive rights and disturbed by the misogynist rhetoric. I cannot stop thinking about the people in my life: my friends of color, my kid’s undocumented friends who have been here since they were young, and LGBTQ friends who are more like family. I can’t imagine how difficult these days must be for them as the disturbing implication settles in; that this country is not truly interested in empowering them to share equally in the American Dream. We cannot let them stand alone.
So, what’s next? Something came across my Facebook feed on election night from my former Atelier teacher, artist, Mark Kang O Higgins, which expresses the challenge before us; “With the results of today, it is tempting to retreat even further. But if anything, the lessons of this election should lead us all to realize the danger of apathy and non-engagement with the public sphere. This should be a clarion call for all of us to get up off our couches, stop watching crap and advocate for what we believe in.”
I’m a very practical person. I have a habit of asking a simple question when life brings uncertainty, unexpected circumstances, even pain or chaos. What is mine to do? It’s a very useful question to cut through to what really matters within the context of my life at the moment. The answer to that question for me lies both in continuing to do some things that I am involved in, but more importantly, to look for other ways to expand my involvement in making this world, more specifically this country a better place.
I haven’t had to look far. Seattle, along with most cities on the West Coast are experiencing a homelessness crisis of unprecedented scope. I have witnessed this worsening situation through my years of volunteer work at Mary’s Place. (a group of shelters for homeless women and families) It’s humbling and puts your own worries in perspective to get to know folks for which the very real necessity of food and shelter drives each and every decision every minute of every day. Now, I teach Art to the children of the shelter and my husband helps the kids with their homework after school. I have seen first hand, the power of art in the hands of homeless children: it not only brings joy to their world and but nurtures their spirit. My husband’s time with the children provides absolutely critical one on one attention to support their learning. I am quite sure that every shelter in every city has a true need for volunteers of all sorts. You will find that you can never give as much as you yourself receive from the incredibly amazing people that you meet.
I have also found it helpful to get out of my neighborhood and out of my box, so to speak. In August I participated in a potluck with Muslim and Non-Muslim women at Idris Mosque here in Seattle as a part of artist’s, Ann-Marie Stillion’s project, Unfurled. I had no idea what these women’s daily interactions in a Non-Muslim world looked like and deeply admired their grace and strength in dealing with the America which they encounter. By the end of the evening, we discovered that indeed a sisterhood among women still exists regardless of our very different experiences.
As an artist my world includes many other artists. As artists, history shows us that art has always had an important place in reflecting the culture and creating the scaffolding for new ideas to take root. I invite my colleagues; artists, curators and gallerists to join me in looking for ways to further expand the platform beyond the regular audience; let the artwork inspire difficult conversations and remind people of the beauty of creativity and the possibility to inspire change.
I can only share from my own experience, but you only need to take a glance around in your own community to find a place to make a difference. It will look different for everyone and that is part of the beauty of this diverse society we live in. If life already feels too complex, too busy or too overwhelming to think about these things right at the moment, do something simple; join the #safetypin movement to let those who are feeling unsupported know that they have an ally on the bus, on the train or in line at the grocery store. The new political climate serves as an open invitation to step up in specific ways in order to form a more perfect union, a democracy which works for everybody, grounded in acceptance, respect, and compassion. I will keep asking the question, “What is mine to do?” Will you join me?