The real work
It’s November 7, and Joseph Biden is projected to become the 46th president of the United States. The day has been an emotional roller coaster, as I reconcile my relief, jubilation, and disbelief: Donald Trump’s presidency is coming to an end. The sensation is palpable. I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, as if my jaw and face muscles have slackened, as if the pressure in my chest has decreased. I am looking forward to a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Yet there’s a foreboding sense that somehow the prognosticators are wrong; their projections miscalculated. A sense of dread that the dream I awoke to is a nightmare I have not yet awakened from.
And last, a realization. The sobering, acute, eye-widening realization of the Real Work we have before us. That evening, on Facebook and in a Tweet I wrote, “Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we begin the real work.”
The Real Work has been there all along, but these past four years have shown me (and hopefully others) just how broken our country is and how necessary the Real Work has become. The past four years showed how perilously close we are to incendiary points of no return. They demonstrated how little was needed to lay bare the destructive potential of our differences, while ignoring the calming potential of our similarities. They showed me how deeply our collective psyche has been stained by the divisive rhetoric of despots and power seekers.
However, the soul of our great nation is marred by a great blemish — our original sin as a country — the subjugation of other races. On that foundation, we built into our systems and our lives an inherent racism: a deep-seated belief that worth is based on the shade of our skin. The dystopian rantings of a narcissist have emboldened those who embrace that belief to remove their hoods and parade openly in front of us, tacitly acknowledging the depth of our original sin. Those less willing to embrace that belief have been shocked by the ease with which it surfaced in neighbors and family members. Only Real Work will be able to deconstruct the foundation and create new piers, new structures, on which we can build a better nation.
I sent this Tweet to President-elect Biden:
I voted for you all and I want you to know, we’ll be watching for you to come through for the working class. We need to see:
• Immediate and decisive action on COVID-19 and healthcare
• Children removed from cages, returned to their families
• Free public higher education
• Forgiveness of student loans
• Lower taxes for those making less than$100K, higher for those making above $400K
• Higher taxes for corporations so we see them contributing their fair share
Those will be the things I’m tracking
[Later I realized I’d left off environment/climate change]
That’s the easy stuff. The President-elect is an experienced legislator and statesman. He’s been around the federal government for 47 years, eight of those as second-in-command to Barack Obama. I have to believe the tactical, day-to-day-operational work is well-in-hand, and that he’ll have a plan to hit the ground running. I’m convinced Trump has no intention of leaving behind anything worth salvaging. Let’s face it, he hasn’t fired Steven Miller who has shown he’s capable of designing diabolical plans to create mayhem and discord.
No, the Real Work is the hard work. Learning to speak to the pain and fear of a white majority who knows its status is jeopardized. Learning to convince social justice activists how to achieve results without alienating that white majority. Bringing the people who voted for Trump to the table – not for the purpose of holding hands and singing kumbaya, but for the purpose of joining with the population that voted for him – that’s going to be the Real Work.
We need to dismantle the supporting structures that enable and propagate a bitter tribalism, and to do so in a way that makes space for their dependents to learn to live without them. We need to replace them with support structures that unify and are accessible to all tribes. That will be the Real Work.
President-elect Biden will need to reach into the bowels of a nation whose very fabric is rent. To redress the abuses of slavery and centuries of racial subjugation and then resew that fabric into something stronger and better. That will be the Real Work.
Just as I realize I can’t lay the blame for our current malaise on Trump, I also see that the Real Work cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Biden and Harris and their team. No matter how good they are and how eloquent and statesmanlike, they can be only part of the solution. The Real Work will need to be done by you and me.
To do the Real Work, we will have to set aside years of difference-building and embrace years of sameness-finding. We will have to look into our own hearts – not each others’ – and come to terms with the influences, the biases, the experiences, the stories, the ugly realities and the beautiful fantasies. We will have to embrace honesty, but also actively and unerringly to reject dishonesty. Once we have accepted our own shortcomings and determined our individual path to change, then we can embark on the Real Work.
It took us over 500 years to arrive at this point in our sullied history. The work to reverse the effects of that history and address the travesties of our original sin started only 160 years ago. The path has been tortuous and littered with obstacles and impediments. Every generation has made progress, and I’m optimistic this generation will be no different. But the past four years have set us back, and our path forward will bring progress only if we are all intentional and thoughtful in our words and actions. That is the Real Work. Are you ready to begin?
Bill Fishburn is a Spokane native who set roots in Thurston County.He ran for Olympia Port Commissioner in 2017, nearly unseating an 11-year incumbent. Among many other hats, he led the Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound from 2014-20.