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Naked imagination repels tyrants


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I feel like I've been hyperventilating since November 2016. Haven't we all?

But today, I stopped by the Achievement House mail center on Higuera, where my son supervises adults with cognitive disabilities. When one of the clients greeted me, he said that he really liked Joe because Joe reminds him to "take a breath" when he gets "too excited."

So, I'm going to take a breath and remember to hope.

Close your eyes and think back to a moment of hope and inspiration.

What I see is me linked arm-in-arm with my daughter as we marched with half a million women down Constitution Avenue during the Women's March in January 2017. Black, white, brown, rich, poor, gay, trans, and straight women united in the joy, purpose, and vision of speaking truth to power.

Going back farther, I see myself and 1,400 other activists occupying the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant site in New Hampshire in 1977. Pledged to non-violence, members of the Clamshell Alliance were highly organized into small pods of support groups. We set up a camp village on the site until we were arrested. During our two weeks of incarceration, we made all decisions by consensus.

What came out of our disparate actions? Nothing immediately tangible. We didn't stop Seabrook, and in the two years since Trump became president, his administration has embarked on a litany of outrages that imperil our democratic institutions, the rule of law, our voting rights, racial and economic justice, our environment, our planet. No wonder we can't breathe.

However, both Seabrook and the Women's March were glorious, empowering, visionary actions that grew out of human imagination. We made history, and we affirmed the power of our resourcefulness to change destiny and plant the seeds of change. Essayist Rebecca Solnit wrote, "The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to fight, rather than surrender to despair."

Let me tell you about a stirring moment of hope and imagination. While we were held in an armory in New Hampshire, the authorities enacted stricter and stricter rules to demoralize the protesters and encourage us to bail out. At one point, the commander announced that all the men in our support groups would be transferred to regular jail cells. But he was foiled by the brilliance of Elizabeth Boardman, a Quaker activist, who must have been in her 60s at the time.

When the guards arrived holding billy clubs and in full riot gear to cart away the men, they confronted all the prisoners arranged in two concentric circles, women standing on the outside, arm-in-arm, and men seated on the inside. Piled in the middle were everyone's shoes. Boardman then calmly announced that if the guards attempted to forcibly break into the circles, the prisoners were going to take off all their clothes, lie down, and go limp. Yep, everyone had agreed to this by consensus.

So what happened? Without female guards to physically handle hundreds of naked women, which would violate prisoner rights, the commander conceded the decision.

I am not suggesting that resistance goes better naked, despite the fact that it was a near-naked Indian lawyer named Gandhi who liberated the Asian subcontinent using the imaginative tactics of non-violence. Who inspired Gandhi? The courageous British suffragettes battling for the right to vote. In 1906, a group of women occupied the British Parliament, refused to pay their fines, and went to jail. Who did Gandhi inspire? Martin Luther King, who passed the technique of non-violent social change to the civil rights movement in the U.S. and to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

As Solnit said, "Ideas are contagious, emotions are contagious, hope is contagious, courage is contagious."

Hope opens the door to possibility, to alternatives. Because she inhabited hope Boardman imagined an alternative to a damaging authoritative edict.

Oh, and the Clamshell Alliance helped to inspire our own sister organization here on the Central Coast, the Abalone Alliance. Together, these groups woke citizens around the country to the dangers of nuclear power—and helped to cancel more than 100 planned nuclear projects.

And what about the Women's March and those pink pussyhats? Trump's anti-women comments caught on the Access Hollywood tape were re-imagined by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, who jumped on plans for a global women's march the day after the Trump inauguration. They published their idea on social media and posted a design for hats. "It's reappropriating the word 'pussy' in a positive way," Zweiman said.

With hope buoyed by ingenuity, the Women's March—purportedly the largest single-day protest in U.S. history—became a sea of pink that highlighted women's rights, immigration reform, health care reform, reproductive rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, workers' rights, and tolerance. In its wake in the recent midterm elections, 102 women were elected to the U.S. House and 14 to the Senate. The number of women running for office shattered records.

So, breathe, friends, and remember hope. I'll see you at the Women's March SLO on Jan. 19. Wear your pussyhat. Δ

Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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