Emily O'Neill once quoted me as saying that every moment of joy in the face of oppression is an act of revolution; I will die believing that, and I don't know about you, brothers and sisters, but I think revolution's what we need right now, and bad. Every day it seems like some new horrific thing is happening in this country, rights being stripped away or simply refused, transfolk murders, police brutality, horrific shootings, wrongful imprisonment, the growing clarity with which we face the total submission of our government to the big money that could not care less about most of us. Some days just reading the news feels like swallowing spoonfuls of poison. Some days I just feel dark and full of despair. And on days like that, I need to remember what I'm doing here. So here they are, folks, the articles of the only revolution that I know.
This country is two countries splitting every moment down the center. It is the private property of a scant handful of fanatics in the grip of a fear and greed I think so far unequaled in the chronicles of humankind, the natural heirs to the country's history of violence and oppression, the moral great-grandchildren of those who slaughtered the native peoples of this place and called it their own by right of conquest. It has a child poverty rate that places us above only Romania among the "developed nations." It's a place where religion is still considered a valid justification for hatred and even veterans go homeless, where the cost of education chases students even after death. And yet, now, it is also a place where now queer folk can marry in some states and Dear Abby columns hold advice about the etiquette of threesomes, where slowly but surely the right to live outside the restrictions of an archaic "norm" is flowering, a country where people still occasionally allow themselves to dream.
Each news story I hear about some small and shrunken soul trying to wrest our right to live with honor and dignity away from us makes me cry out in anger because I want to believe in this country, in the magnificent artists and the dedicated peace workers, the healers and the thinkers, the farmers raising happy chickens and the musicians in love with the glory of a chord progression, the poets and the storytellers, the teachers, the true spiritual leaders, every person in this country who wants to give what they have, who remembers what gratitude feels like instead of thinking that there is not enough happiness or food or love or money unless you take it away from someone else, who wants a chance to make life something worth living.
I believe that anger is a force for justice, and I believe in the power of protest, the strength of voices shouting in unison; but I also know you cannot crack a stranglehold upon your dream by flailing against the fingers on its throat. The only way to break its grip is to make your dream bigger, to swell it, to grow it outward and upward so it opens and unfolds like a tree damn well exploding full-fledged from an acorn. If you have got the shakes like I do, if your tongue lies heavy in your mouth with horror, if you want to lie down and cry or break everything in sight and yell this is not the world I believe in, well, it is up to us. So make love. write music. paint something so gorgeous it makes you want to weep. go out and dance. cook for someone. make one stark raving lovely moment just to say: this is what we are capable of. Because fear and anxiety and darkness and greed will take everything from us if we let them, and they will have nothing when they're done as they had nothing when they begun, and this is the heartbreak of it all: it would be easy to call the people who plunder and steal and murder and write laws to keep us quiet evil, to think they will be satisfied when the world is in shards around them. But they will be just as bewildered and impotent and lonely then, just as afraid of dying, just as frightened and completely empty. And all that taking and taking and taking will have been for nothing, see, for nothing.
We need protest and we need outrage, but we also need celebration: of the things we love, the things we dream of, the things we're fighting for. So become a fountain, a spring, an underground river of creation. Go put some joy into the world. Go dance and thumb your nose at anyone who tells you that you don't have a great big beautiful soul to make the world larger, to fill it so full of fresh bread and and blessings it can't be eaten up. Go sing hallelujah and praise God if you have one, praise the skies, praise your mother, praise the page you write on, praise the pen and the tongue and the body and its blisses and its strangenesses, go praise the mysteries, praise your teachers, praise memory and longing, praise the smell of the air after rain. The one thing that is incomprehensible to those who seek to take is the act of giving gifts. If I fill myself up with bitterness, choke on my fury, get up from my garden to go throw stones and curses, they will just smile: already they've stopped me from making things, from giving thanks, from bringing joy. Remember this. Each act of joy is an act of rebellion against everything that seeks to make us small, obedient, apathetic, weak, helpless, empty, broken, hopeless. Singing is a protest. Holding hands is a protest. Making love is a protest. Joy is a commitment to healing, and grace, and celebration. Joy is a reason not to give up. We need joy in who we are and what we have and what we dream of, you see, because we've got to keep making this a world worth living in.