I take good news where I can find it in Trump’s woman-hating, neo-Nazi, gay-bashing, Muslim-registering, anti-Semitic America. Last week, it arrived from a climate change conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where delegates from 197 countries united to approve a statement urging immediate action in the face of Donald Trump’s promise to pull out of the Paris Agreement and defund international efforts.
In one of his last appearances as secretary of state, John Kerry delivered an emotional speech declaring that despite Trump’s election, the US fight against climate change wasn’t over. Market forces would ensure a transition to a low carbon world even if policy didn’t, because investments in renewable energy were absolutely exploding. And the vast majority of Americans supported action even if a powerful minority didn’t.
I hope so. I really do. But the real reason this news cheered me a little was that I also learned that California was exploring how to join the climate talks as a subnational party if, or when, Trump makes good on his threat. In short, California is looking for ways to resist.
There’s a good chance the state can. The UN Convention on climate change declares, “Any body or agency, whether national or international, governmental or non-governmental, which is qualified in matters covered by the Convention, and which has informed the secretariat of its wish to be represented at a session of the Conference of the Parties as an observer, may be so admitted unless at least one third of the Parties present object.”
Even if they get thwarted by the Trump admin or its Russian ally, nothing stops California — or New York or Oregon — from passing more stringent regulations. Now, at least, American states can still find ways to resist on an international level every time the official representatives of our country act against our interests. They can also guarantee abortion rights and minimum wages. For once, the tradition of respecting states’ rights in the US may work in the favor of progressives.
In other good news, individual cities like New York and San Francisco have declared that they won’t participate in mass deportations and other unconscionable, bigoted acts, like any efforts to register Muslims. On Sunday, some New York politicians from the local, state, and federal level even jointly marched against hate and condemned Trump’s administrative appointments. While press conferences aren’t enough for the long run, they show that our daily protests have paid off. For now. Because no politician ever opens their mouth unless they think it will win them votes.
In the long run, we’ll have to do both. Lay down in front of bulldozers and, like California, look for back doors not just to resist, but progress. Which means we activists have to commit ourselves to unraveling how our various levels of government actually work, understanding for instance the relationship between the beat cop and the Justice Department. The State Department and a queer film festival in Ankara.
Too many of us have seen our LGBT rights as a simple Christmas list of important issues, not as intertwined civil rights dependent on the health of our democracy and things like free speech and assembly. Clean votes. From now on, queer issues must include not just marriage equality or gender recognition, but the gerrymandering of voter districts, the suppression of voter rights, an independent judiciary actually committed to administering justice equally regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race.
Not to say we should ignore specifically queer issues, but that we should see them in context. If you thought trans women of color had it tough before, imagine trying to work for their safety under a Justice Department led by a neo-Nazi. Every anti-bullying law everywhere will be under attack as well, along with hate crime ordinances. Those queers who couldn’t access marriage in anti-gay regions will face even worse obstacles. AIDS, in this new anti-gay, anti-Obamacare era, will probably hit us hard along with an epidemic of despair and self-loathing.
The worse things get, the more important it will be to demonstrate and put our queer, our brown, our black flesh out there, reminding politicians that we are not abstractions. And reminding ourselves of the power we have acting with, and for, each other.
It’s not easy to take to the streets right now. Even experienced activists are still shell-shocked, and frightened. And we should be. It’s easier to throw protesters in jail. And many of us are older, and already concerned about the vulnerabilities of our bodies. Getting hit by a cop or a bystander may not just put us out of commission for a few months, it may kill us.
And yet. And yet... “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” This we learned from Audre Lorde.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.