Signs of Hope

They aren’t big or flashy. They are about the size of a bread-box. But they are eye-catching. I’m talking about the signs I noticed in my neighborhood: the first one, a hopeful sighting, the second, an affirmation, and the third, a trend. I was on a Sunday evening walk, when I noticed this:

It’s a declaration, an incantation, a prayer. I love that it begins, “In this house, we believe,” which is a statement of true faith. Right now, our faith is being sorely tested. From conversations with friends, and scanning my Facebook feed, I know that I’m not alone in wondering where my country went. Basic American values like fairness, freedom of speech and religion, and everyday common courtesy and kindness seem to have been tossed aside like yesterday’s trash.

To put it crassly: Donald Trump is ruining the American brand. If I no longer feel at home in America despite being born and raised here, how must economic migrants or political refugees feel? Thankfully, a few principled Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are speaking out. Northern California Democrats are introducing legislation to overturn the refugee ban, and many organizations are challenging the new administration in the courts.

There are many reasons for hope, but these simple signs declaring that “Kindness is everything” in yards outside houses in my Oakland neighborhood have lifted my spirits tremendously.

Here in the Grand-Lake district, we are diverse and open-minded. I vote at my local Baptist church in every election, and I shop small merchants on Lakeshore Avenue. On any given day, I can hear a half a dozen languages spoken before I reach the bus stop in the morning. We are every shade from ecru, to café au lait, to burnt toast, and every religion, or none. We are runners, bicyclists, square dancers, and practitioners of hip-hop. Whenever something happens – the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, Prince’s death, or a hostile takeover of our government – we gather to mourn, celebrate, or protest.

Lately, it’s mostly protest marches. Here is what we believe:

Black Lives Matter

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

No Human is Illegal

Science is Real

Love is Love

Kindness is Everything

 

Visit facebook.com/inthishouseproject and like their page. Namaste, y’all.

A Sea of Pussy Hats

The Oakland Woman’s March, 60,000 strong, snaked around Lake Merritt and through the streets of the city on a windswept, mostly dry, Saturday. The mood was celebratory – and defiant – following the inauguration of Donald J. Trump the day before.

Pink, rose, and fuchsia pussy hats – knit caps with cat ears – adorned the heads of men, women and children, making bright pops of color against the concrete buildings and slate gray sky. The San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Band, installed at Grand and Harrison Street across from the Cathedral of Christ the Light, blasted out trumpet flourishes and catchy drum riffs.

I folded into the leading edge of the march, walking under signs that read, “You’re so Vain, You Probably Think this March is About You,” “Free Melania,” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” The image of Trump’s clenched fist, one of the most bizarre optics of his all too bizarre speech, was countered by thousands of protesters, many with children in strollers, marching through my city.

What Barack Obama has called “the audacity of hope” is the best way to describe the mood; that, plus a kind of infectious joy and in your face resistance to our newly installed president. All of us had other things to do, and places to be, and yet we chose to be right here, declaring our allegiance to the First Amendment and the rule of law.

Millions around the world joined in the protest. As images from Antarctica, Sydney, Berlin, Paris, London, Washington, D.C., New York, Denver, St. Louis, Chicago, and Los Angeles popped up on my Facebook feed, I was comforted and inspired knowing that the world is watching, that we are not alone, and that whatever happens next will not happen under the cover of darkness.

We may be living through a “post-truth” era, but smartphone video has forever changed the ability of power to hide its abuses. We ordinary citizens have extraordinary power to shape our destiny – and it’s clear we’re not afraid to use it.

As I wrote in one of my posts as the marches unfolded, “Patriarchy, your days are numbered.”

One of my extended family, a guy, commented that he thought this was a divisive sentiment, that I was excluding men. On the contrary. To me, patriarchy is a rigid system of attempting to control others and how they think and act. It’s quite possible to be female and yet part of a patriarchal power structure – Margaret Thatcher comes readily to mind. Clearly, men of good will are very much part of the movement resisting Trump and standing up for our freedoms.

When patriarchy crumbles, and true, human-centered values flower, we all win. As Gloria Steinem said at the Washington, D.C. event, “This is the upside of the downside.” We are at a tipping point. It is up to each of us to stand for love, compassion, equality, and true care for our planet.

I walked home from the march with a renewed sense that this is not only possible, but unfolding before my eyes. This is our moment. Let’s seize it! For ideas on next steps, visit https://www.womensmarch.com/100/ and follow #WhyIMarch.

 

Travels with Mohammed, a postcript

When I began the Travels with Mohammed blog, I called it a “blovy,” a combination blog and love story. As our journey began, we were over the moon with excitement, our itinerary a list of beautiful adventures free of the constraints of reality.

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If you followed Travels with Mohammed, you saw firsthand the beautiful sights and delicious meals, the skylines of Paris and Barcelona, the pristine blue of the Mediterranean Sea in Mallorca. Many of you wrote me that it was as if you were traveling with us.

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Five weeks in Europe was a grand adventure. We sat for hours in cafes, savored the red sandstone cathedral in Basel, the winding streets of the Marais in Paris, the canals of Girona in Spain. We drove from hill town to hill town in Provence, chasing one magnificent vista after the next. We even swam in that salty, blue Mediterranean and hitchhiked from the beach back to the town of Deia. We went without package deals or tour guides, totally on our own, free to wander to our hearts’ content.

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But this “trip of a lifetime” came at a cost. Five weeks of togetherness in three countries proved challenging. All the normal travel mishaps befell us, testing our patience and our resolve to be our best selves together.

The GPS in our car didn’t work, leading to fierce arguments and hours of driving around Provence in circles. We didn’t know that Perpignan had two train stations, one for the high speed TGV, another for regional trains. We couldn’t find the rental car return, which was buried on the second level of a parking garage attached to the station. We came within moments of missing our train, shouting at each other in the elevator, saved only because the train was late. I came down with a dreadful cold, and Mohammed spent our first day in Girona sightseeing alone. Suddenly, we couldn’t seem to agree on which restaurant to choose for dinner, let alone the next logistical challenge of our itinerary.

I could go on, but if you’ve done any independent travel, these things have happened to you too. By the time we got home, our relationship was hanging by a thread. When I describe this to friends, they just laugh, and tell me their own travel horror stories. Some couples seem to take travel stress in stride, and find ways to repair the cracks. We tried. But it didn’t work. And so, with great sadness, Mohammed and I have parted company after 18 months, some of the happiest of my life.

I had no idea that being together 24/7 for 38 days would lead to the dissolution of our relationship. I wish it hadn’t. But I can’t bring myself to regret one moment of our trip, even our fiercest arguments. We were in the moment, living life with passionate engagement, which is what makes travel so intoxicating.

A tour or a cruise would have been less stressful, it’s true. But nothing can erase the vivid memory of speaking garbled French with a woman on a park bench, or waking up to the sounds of Paris coming alive in the morning, or getting lost in the the Jewish quarter of Girona, or getting picked up by a young Spanish couple in a dinged up Honda, our skin salty from the sea, and being driven back to town. May I please do it again very soon!