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Surviving the Toughest Year of My Life

Mark Naison Dec 5

The year since the election of Donald Trump has been one of the toughest times in my life. Not only did Trump’s election represent a rejection of many of the principles I have spent my life fighting for, it left many of the people that surround me traumatized, depressed and fearful. Never in my life have I felt more pressure to comfort, reassure and defend people who felt vulnerable, whether they were my students, my colleagues, or people I worked with in the Bronx community —  and I had to do so in uncharted territory.

How much of an immediate threat to people’s personal safety were the racists and white nationalists who saw the election as a license to attack? How much of a long-term threat were the policies Trump planned to implement, be it the travel ban, mass deportations, the construction of a wall or the destruction of Obamacare and changes in tax law?

All I knew was that people around me needed me to be strong and steady because I had been through crises before and because I was not afraid to take unpopular stands.

But how could I do that when I was filled with rage? Losing my temper, I realized, was a luxury I could not afford. Not only could it get me in trouble, but it could potentially incite the kind of communal violence I desperately wanted to avoid. As much as I wanted to beat up Nazis and white supremacists, I realized that it was more important to calm people down and prepare them for a long hard battle for causes they believed in than to stir them up for actions that might be emotionally satisfying but could land them in jail.

And herein lay the challenge: I not only had to organize meetings and forums and private gatherings which brought people together in ways that made them feel stronger and less alone, I had to remake myself into a person capable of being a positive leader in dark times.

I had to remake myself into a person capable of being a positive leader in dark times.

I tried everything that would help me do that. I listened to music, both live and recorded, that gave me courage and inspiration. I reached out to people whose activism inspired me and made a large group of new friends. But I also turned to a time-honored method I had of dealing with adversity — getting in shape. Starting in June, I dramatically changed my eating habits in a way that significantly reduced the amount of pain I dealt with on a daily basis, either from playing tennis or walking long distances. By the fall, pounds were peeling off and I was feeling better than I had in years.

The confidence from that experience peeled off into my political life. As the pounds came off, I started to become confident that I had to power to outlast Trump and his supporters and make sure they could not undermine all the things I was doing to strengthen schools and communities and build partnerships between Fordham and the Bronx. All of a sudden, living and being active for the next 20 years no longer seemed improbable. I was fitter and in less pain than I had been in many, many years.

With this year under my belt, I not only see my self as a resister, I see myself as a survivor. I will outwit, outmaneuver and outlast this malevolent group of leaders that seek to turn back the clock. And will do so knowing that many people in this country support what I am doing, so long as I keep my activities on a higher moral ground than the people I am fighting.

A version of this article first appeared at Mark Naison’s blog, “With a Brooklyn Accent.”

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Photo credit: Kenneth Malcolm.