Yes, I did cry during the inauguration, which I hadn’t planned on watching. I did watch it, though, and I did cry, in part because of something like relief or catharsis after four years of rallies and marches and meetings with my Congressman and phone calls and text banks and policy research and vote tracking and postcards and, and, and. All of the time and energy and fear and hope I put into trying to make things better over the past four years, or at least trying to slow down the damage being done, all of it came back to me all at once and filled me up until it overflowed out of my eyes. Joe Biden was inaugurated and yes, I cried, and everywhere I looked—which is to say, mostly online—people shared that they, too, were crying and celebrating, finally letting their shoulders come down, their jaws unclench, breathing easily for what felt like the first time. I wanted—want—to join in, to sing along We won! We won! We won! We won! but all I can feel is how upside-down the world is.
I know it’s important to celebrate the wins, even the temporary ones. I have spent the past four years telling people the same. It is surely good and right and sensible to celebrate in this moment, to relax, to revel in hope. We earned it, we did. But I haven’t relaxed, and I can’t celebrate. 400,000 people are dead in the past year of a virus that could have been controlled. And children are still separated from their families, migrants are still imprisoned in camps, police are still gassing protestors, and so, and so, and so. I am pulled not to celebrate but to mourn, not to a festival but to a funeral.
And I am angry, too. I am angry that in his first speech as President, Biden called for unity without saying unity with whom, for what, and at what cost, and who will bear that cost. I am angry that the local newspaper ran an op-ed this week from a rich philanthropist calling for civility and denouncing cancel culture, as though facing criticism for one’s actions is as bad as violent insurrection or virulent infection. I am angry that my senior Senator defended her colleagues’ attempts to undermine and destroy our democracy. I am angry that lying House Republicans are not being ejected from Congress but are apparently walking unchallenged onto the House floor with concealed weapons. I am angry that so many of us are so ready to move on, to forgive, to forget, with no real reckoning, so desperate to “heal” that we will leave our wounds to fester. I am so angry, and I don’t know what to do with it.
Maybe I’m tense and anxious and sad and angry and tired because after all of it, I still love this country. I’ve always loved it, even knowing for my whole life that it didn’t love me back, even knowing all the ways it has never lived up to its promise, all the ways it has failed and been cruel and terrible. Despite everything, this is my home—and look what they have done to my home. I feel like I’m looking at a house that was destroyed by an arsonist who took the time to piss on the ashes before he left, and, yes, it is good and important that he’s gone but there’s still so much to do just to clean up, let alone get started rebuilding. The embers aren’t even done smoldering yet.
(I know, too, that consistent anxiety doesn’t just disappear when the immediate threat passes, and that it often just transfers to something else. I know that however well-reasoned I may think that my worries are, I’m not immune to the ways my brain works.)
But, look, I am trying. I see, too, the acknowledgements that the work isn’t done. I see the organizers rolling up their sleeves, I see the people who are writing clear-eyed analyses of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I’ve been watching the Executive Orders and memoranda roll out, and I saw Schumer say no to McConnell this morning—I know this is in large part due to the work of activists all over the country. I’m trying to take heart from all of that, and to turn toward the opportunity we’ve made. I’ll get there; I think I will.