December 24, 2018 at 10:00 am EST | by Richard J. Rosendall
2018: near and far, a clash of narratives
narrative, gay news, Washington Blade

Ryan Coogler (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

The holiday season with its social obligations and reminders of absent friends brings its special tensions. After a hectic day, self-care guides me home. A warm robe, herbal tea, and quiet reflection are restorative. Before heading out earlier I sent an inquiry to the outpost of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nairobi on behalf of a suffering gay Ugandan. He texted me thanks from the hospital where he was treated for injuries from a police assault during a peaceful protest days before.

On Dec. 11, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote to UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi in Geneva urging him to investigate the mistreatment of Ugandan LGBT refugees in Kenya. I stopped by her office on Capitol Hill the next day to thank her. In 1964, she went to Mississippi for Freedom Summer to register African-American voters, an effort from which some volunteers never returned. She knows the price of freedom as only veterans of the struggle can. As a standard courtesy, her letter to Grandi was copied to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite the unlikelihood of a sympathetic reception, as illustrated by Pompeo’s insulting visit to Brussels the previous week.

“Cast your bread upon the waters,” wrote Ecclesiastes, “for you will find it after many days…. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that….” A British colleague who also advocates for the displaced Ugandans writes to me about a teenage couple, one of them transgender, who need help. There is anti-gay and anti-trans bias among some of the Kenyans working for UNHCR. An American regime that seeks to erase trans people at home will not speak up for a 14-year-old trans girl waiting with her boyfriend outside UNHCR’s office in Nairobi. So my colleague and I do.

You have to steel yourself for this kind of work. There are many more in need than you can help. If you begrudge yourself every moment of relaxation, you can damage your own well-being and end up no good to anyone. The world is great and you are small. Make a few ripples where you are, and see where they travel.

There will be plenty of opportunities in 2019. The Trump regime has damaged everything from diplomacy to environmental protection to the rule of law to American values. Rapacity has replaced stewardship, fear has replaced inspiration, and spite has replaced cooperation. Migrant children are still dying at our southern border. The GOP still threatens the healthcare of 17 million people. Right-wing ideologues are still packing federal courts.

Mark Harris, a homophobic and transphobic minister and Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s ninth district, hired a convicted felon to help him win. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Dec. 14 signed legislation stripping powers from Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat him. Republicans are branding themselves as cheaters and sore losers.

Tyrants consider their assertions the only evidence that matters. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered for disputing that, and Trump’s embrace of his murderer despite damning intelligence makes us complicit.

A Greek proverb says that a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit. Trump’s unconcern for a projected national debt spike because “I won’t be here” confirms his vaunted national greatness as empty sloganeering. We who deplore Trumpism have not only reality on our side, but a more compelling narrative.

The importance of narrative was illustrated in 2018 by gifted young filmmaker Ryan Coogler. His epic movie Black Panther conjures the mythical African nation of Wakanda, untouched by colonialism, with advanced technology and children who grow up with an expectation of success. Beautifully designed and cast from across the African diaspora, it soars.

Confidence is invigorating. After American voters elected women in record numbers, once-and-future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deft Oval Office sparring with Trump gave a bracing preview of the battles ahead.

Americans have faced challenges before. If we can only connect with our diverse citizenry we can defeat the nihilist in the White House, on whom Robert Mueller is slowly closing in.


Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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