Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This question comes from a New Yorker who is heading into Thanksgiving in search of things to be thankful for during this dark time of political upheaval.
I read your last two essays about the current situation and they helped cheer me up a little bit, but I'm still feeling really low about the future of the country. Yesterday my kid's homework assignment was to make a list of things to be thankful for, and I actually had to excuse myself to the bathroom to cry for a few minutes. Is there anything else you can say to cheer me up? What are you thankful for right now?
Way Down in Downtown Brooklyn
A native New Yorker responds:
Dear Way Down,
I'm right there with you, emotionally. The last two weeks has felt like a rollercoaster—except one that only goes down, with each day bringing more bad news. Trump's announced cabinet appointments and staff are hard-right maniacs and extremist anti-Semites, he has continued to use Twitter to distract and attack the press, and all signs point to a completely kleptocratic approach to governance, with his business and political interests inextricably entwined. The only bulwark against a complete slide into Russian-style oligarchy seems to be the Republican Senate, which has thus far professed no interest in restraining any of Trump's moves.
So what keeps me going? I've been cheered up by seeing the great demonstrations that have come together—such a diverse group of people, old and young, from all races and backgrounds. When you look at the signs, you see some are Black Lives Matter protestors, others are more concerned about women's issues, many are out protesting against Trump's immigration policy, and plenty are standing up for LGBTQ rights. We haven't witnessed this degree of solidarity on the left since Occupy Wall Street, and even then, I don't think there was as much consensus that, in Ben Franklin's words, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
My parenting and work responsibilities have kept me from hitting the streets (although Gothamist photographers and reporters have been going out as often as we can), but I did get out to a great meeting organized by Brad Lander in Park Slope last week. More than a thousand of my neighbors showed up, and there was a real sense of togetherness and purpose.
Lander gave an invocation based on the experiences of Frederick Douglass resisting slavery, along with Douglass's famous advice to all young people: "Agitate, agitate, agitate!" Then the staff of some great local not-for-profits spoke: Planned Parenthood NYC, NY Immigration Coalition, 350Brooklyn, Take on Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Movement Center. Each group appealed not just for donations, but also direct action: coming to their marches, volunteering at their events, and providing material or services.
Hearing from so many organizations and people committed to resisting the coming regime was a boost for me, but what really lifted my spirit was the end of the event, when Faiza Ali, a community liaison for the City Council Speaker's office, gave a moving speech about getting harassed for wearing a headscarf when she was a teenager in the days after 9/11, and how no one stepped in to help. She then introduced Virginia Goggin from the Anti-Violence Project, who taught the entire assembled group how to be an "upstander"—how to intervene if you see anyone getting harassed or attacked in our city. Seeing a whole crowd of people commit to stepping up like that just made me feel that somehow, with enough good people doing their best, we'll make it through this time.
I've also continued to be cheered by the unified reactions of our local elected officials, at every level, from the Governor, to the Mayor, to our Comptroller, Public Advocate, and City Council. They've given speeches, done interviews, and made it clear to anyone who will listen that attempts to change our way of life in New York will not be tolerated, and if necessary, actively repelled. It's terrible that so many millions of Americans live in states with governments less committed to defending their citizens, but I feel fortunate and grateful that we live in such a place. Yes, I know that if the worst comes that may not be enough—but it sure beats the alternatives.
What else am I thankful for? Really it's been the simple things, like spending time with my kids, who are too young to understand the news (although my 6 year old son has started spontaneously saying "they should dump Trump in a garbage can!"). I've also been doing a lot of exercise: biking in Prospect Park and to and from work as much as I can, taking walks at night with my wife, where we just enjoy talking about anything other than the news, and smelling that New York autumn smell... I think it's decaying leaves mixed with fireplaces burning wood.
I'm also looking forward to seeing my friends and family for the holiday. Some people may not have that option—try to think if there's anyone you know in that situation and see if you can invite them to your meal. That's a real mitzvah, especially in these times when we need fellowship the most. If you want to do even more, consider these great volunteer options Gothamist put together—not just for Thanksgiving day, but for the rest of the year and beyond. Local volunteerism is how we keep our community spirit going, and our poor and vulnerable protected, during what will surely be a time of cuts in federal support.
I can't pretend that I'm not feeling depressed. Trump's victory was a terrible blow to the progress we've made as a country, and the values I was taught growing up here in New York. But I know defeat is only inevitable if good people don't stand up and fight in whatever way they can, so I'm going to just continue writing essays, going to meetings, covering protests, and doing whatever else I can think of to turn the arc of history back towards justice. It's not going to be an easy time, but when you think about it, most humans haven't had an easy time: the last generation had Vietnam, the one before that World War II, etc. Sure, we might have thought that surviving 9/11, the Bush years, and the Great Recession was enough challenge for one life, but it turns out there's more to do.
Let's all enjoy the holiday, and then put our shoulders to the wheel.
N.B.: If, like many of us, you are struggling with anxiety in the aftermath of the election, here's some further reading on ways to cope with it. And remember, you are not alone! Most people who voted in this election cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, and it's likely that the majority of them are at least as outraged and upset as you are. Let's rally together!
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