When the Political is Personal: On Powerlessness and Empowerment

A few days ago, I walked into the Davis cemetery, to the hidden acreage in the back, where someone has thoughtfully planted a native habitat. There, under the cloud-streaked California sky, I laid down on the cold, wet Earth and wanted more than anything, to crawl into a hole and stay there.

This is how I am feeling. I am terrified by what is going on in our country. I am overwhelmed. I am saturated with despair, soaked down to my bone, heavy and limp, like a dripping wet sponge.

And, it is not just because I am watching my moral integrity, democracy and the existence of reality be attacked, although those are certainly important things too. It is because I feel powerless. It is because I, like so many women, have the visceral experience of being overpowered by a man, of being rendered powerless, of feeling physically intimidated, of being cut off and ignored and having no say in something that affects me deeply and trying to speak up and being silenced again and again.

It is a terrible experience that rattles me to the bone, and now I am watching it play out on the national level. One of the slogans of the woman’s liberation movement was “the personal is political.” Now, I feel like we are living in an era where the opposite is also true, the political has become deeply personal.

I know I am not alone in this. I know that for my Native or Black or Latino or Muslim or LGBTQ sisters and brothers, this must be terrifying for you too. And, regardless of your identity, we all have deeply engrained experiences of being overpowered and rendered powerless.

Trump and Bannon strike something deep in us, something that is timeless and deeply human. In my high school literature classes, we talked about “the human condition”, the struggles that are innately human and I think this is it: this timeless struggle between power and powerlessness, between justice and corruption, and oppressor and oppressed.

When I think about this, I find a new place of empowerment. I can see how Trump permeates my being in a deep way, and reminds me of all the experiences of powerlessness and intimidation I have had in my life, and how that is exactly what he would like. He wants the populace to feel powerless and shut down and intimidated, and that is something I refuse to give him.

I feel almost religious about it, like it is a sacred opportunity to stake a claim on my own power and my own worth and I do not want to miss the opportunity to do so. I am starting to forge a new kind of resistance within myself, one that is a deep embodiment of my own self-worth and a commitment to fighting for that for everyone else. A phrase from Gloria Steinhem in her speech at the Women’s March keep rattling around in my mind, “No more asking Daddy.”

No more asking Daddy. It does not matter who is in power or what they say: I have value and the right to a good life. And so does everyone else, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Black, Latino, LGBTQ, disabled, Republican, Democrat, whatever. I feel like it is something I want to shout out from my window, paint across every building, write on post-it notes and hand out to every person I pass on the street.

You matter. You are worth something. I will fight for you.

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3 Comments on “When the Political is Personal: On Powerlessness and Empowerment

  1. Your writing (and your example) with such deep sharing of personal thoughts and feelings of both pain and resolve brings me hope and encouragement. Thank you.


  2. I am deeply in tune with this article. My heart wants to lay down and jump up and scream radical poetry and embrace everyone including myself who is over taken by fear. Thanks.


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