One Way To Walk Through The Fire Of Fascism & Disaster
An Option For Navigating The Huge Crises We Face
The Big Picture
I’ve started to write this post five times. I’ve tried all the photos. The question has been… where to start? How many of us have that question about so much that’s happening? Where to start?
All the things are happening.
Here’s a tough look at the big picture in this moment:
We have big threats. Big questions. Big climate impacts. Big hate. Big extremism. Big legal questions. So many states are implementing laws and measures that remove progress and hurt Americans that you can’t keep track of who’s doing what. There’s action to remove progress and protections in a range of areas; to erode schools; to damage universities; to weaken academia; to erase documented history; to bury literature; to erode equity; to put kids to work by weakening child labor laws; to endanger the health of women and girls; to hurt and limit LGBTQ+ people… the lists go on and on. A former president who attempted a coup is making racist and stochastic terror threats against legal officials in a position to charge him with crimes; without condemnation by Republicans. That same ex-president is holding the very first rally of his 2024 campaign in Waco, Texas today; a clear call-out to far-right, anti-government extremism. The declared covid-19 emergency is ending, even while the US government is not doing outreach and education about how repeated covid-19 infections increase health risks and right as many Americans will lose access to critical covid-fighting tools. Other diseases in humans, birds, and animals are evolving in unnerving ways. Climate-intensified disasters are increasing and persisting even as we do nothing to make them less bad… and don’t change anything to be better ready for them. Wildfires and hurricanes are spectacularly more destructive than they used to be. More communities will drown and burn down and blow away as climate change intensifies. The weather has gotten weird; it’s affecting plants, animals, crops, and fishing. The Democratic Party has been muted in the face of so much. Americans are overwhelmed. Decades of refusal to invest in Americans or to require livable wages are taking a toll even as CEOs make millions and the wealth gap increases. There is no major national, coordinated effort to push back on a growing authoritarian and increasingly fascist movement in the US. If the US falls to fascism and stops backing democracy worldwide, other democracies are likely to fall prey to authoritarian nation-states that US power currently holds in check. The world is already not taking major action to collectively mitigate and prepare for climate change. A worldwide shift to authoritarianism as a more dominant force would shift the priorities of big international players toward resource fights between the powerful… and away from collective climate and humanitarian problem-solving. Humanity is in a long moment of transformation. What future will we choose?
Where does one start with all that?
How can any one of us find a way forward, and through?
In the face of such spectacular and unprecedented challenges, we’re often dealing with it by… pretending all of that stuff isn’t happening? By living life like everything is normal? It seems that we are; or that the majority are.
Of course, much of the culture war, right-wing extremism, and right-wing media talk in the US is focused on actively pushing back against any of the realities in that giant paragraph above. There’s denial… and then there’s flagrant, willful, hyperactive obstruction of reality.
There’s also trauma-freeze. Trauma and shock often lead to a fight, flight, or freeze response. The volume of shocks that are common when there’s an active authoritarian movement are designed in part to keep people frozen, paralyzed, and divided to keep them from mobilizing effective pushback.
And there’s survival mode. It goes with the shocks… but it also comes from decades of American rot from policies and reality that make it hard for everyday Americans to survive and thrive.
The resulting anger, frustration, and resentment are part of what contributes to the authoritarian movement even as our tough American reality has derived from Republican policies not to invest in Americans and American communities. The culture war that launched when trickle-down economics were implemented by conservatives has fomented decades of anger and resentment; even while related Republican policies have widened the wealth gap and kept wages suppressed and stagnant.
It’s hard to fight when you’re in survival mode… whether from economics, from other authoritarian shocks, from the pandemic, or from increasingly intense disasters. Today people in Mississippi are dealing with a highly damaging 100-mile tornado path. This is already a state that doesn’t want to invest in healthcare or water infrastructure systems; those refusals primarily impacts people of color.
How much will Mississippi’s non-support of Americans make it harder for tornado-impacted communities to get help and move forward? Similarly, in the recent devastating toxic Norfolk Southern train derailment, Ohio’s governor refused to apply for federal disaster aid that would have helped everyday Americans in a myriad of ways.
In the midst of all this, as a country we’re certainly not trying to aggressively work on any of these huge, wicked problems. We haven’t for decades; as fragmentation in the US has deepened and spread. We did a bit of wicked problem work during the pandemic, but we also stopped before the government got too helpful. Before that, the last wicked problem that seemed to get real, collective national attention was the Affordable Healthcare Act which passed in 2010. That’s thirteen years.
We’re not working collectively on making these huge challenges less bad. Now it’s too much to realistically address while we’re this divided. The fire continues. We have to get to the other side of it, but for now we also need to deal with the spreading wildfire.
So how do we find ways through all this… even as we watch things metaphorically and realistically burn?
An Idea For Navigating All This
The metaphor of the spreading, out-of-control wildfire can help us navigate this moment in the US.
The thing is… at least some of the stuff up in this country is going to metaphorically (or sometimes realistically) burn down. Stuff we like. Things we built. Places that are a part of our lives. Schools. Curriculum. Libraries. Businesses. Community pieces. Infrastructure. Opportunities. Where money goes. And so on.
In a really bad disaster like this one is becoming; people get hurt, too. Some die. Not metaphorically. Not even a little bit.
We’re already there. Families are moving out of states or the US as a whole because things are too dangerous for their people. Others are considering moves. But many have already been harmed, damaged, traumatized, or killed… whether from AR-15s, from a culture war on public health that worsened covid-19 causing tens of thousands of deaths, from bullying, or from restrictions and limitations on women’s healthcare and on healthcare for trans people. Just to list a few examples.
More non-metaphorical death and destruction death is likely. It just is. We’re in a long disaster. Death and destruction happens in a disaster.
I’d like to stop at least some of that death and destruction… but a whole lot of it is outside of my sphere of influence. I’d imagine that’s the same for most of the people reading this.
I don’t think we’re going to be able to stop a lot of the coming death and destruction.
Like a wildfire burning through heavy fuel… sometimes nothing will stop the fire until the fuel thins out or the weather changes — or both.
When you see the firefighting efforts for the big wildfires… sometimes they’re not necessarily trying to stop the fire in a particular place. Because it won’t work to stop the fire right in that moment.
Instead, firefighters sometimes try to re-route the fire… to protect people, places, neighborhoods, schools, nursing homes, or other critical infrastructure… or to keep it away from areas where the fire could get even worse or do more damage if it started burning there.
That’s good metaphorical thinking for outside wildfire… especially in the moment we’re in.
In the midst of all this chaos, damage, hurt, and metaphorical burning down of things… what if we can push the fire away from certain areas while it’s super burning super hot like this?
What about if we work on holding together what we can while we get through the fire?
What about if we triage? If we prioritize our limited resources and action capacity for higher-priority fights, or for critical pieces of society that we definitely need and want to keep intact for humans for the longer term?
That’s a big ask.
It’s a big change; especially if you’re used to fighting for specific, close-in results.
It’s hard to step back. It’s hard to look at the bigger picture.
But it can help.
It can help us fight differently. It can help us be more effective. It can help us breathe. It can help us be slightly less overwhelmed and frozen.
It can help us let go of certain things that might be harder to hold through the fire… while we go after what we need in the bigger picture and in the long term. Also while we make sure that we keep critical things that our society needs in both the short-term and the long-term to serve and protect vulnerable Americans.
That does not mean willingly sacrificing certain communities for certain agenda items.
It can mean walking away from certain fights so that we can keep the democracy and the essential infrastructure intact.
Making those decisions is no easy feat, but it’s worth considering. Not just to keep our sanity, but also to help make better use of our limited capabilities and resources. Some of which are already heavily stressed or eroded from years of fights against growing extremism and through a pandemic.
Any family, community, or organization might want to consider making some of these decisions right about now. Urgently. Because stuff is intensifying.
It’s time to have the awkward talks. This can be one of them. Perhaps this post can be a catalyst or an excuse to have these awkward talks in your home, your business, your office, your church, or in any group you’re in.
One More Fire Metaphor
Here’s a related perspective. When you’re doing a prescribed burn in a forest area… you’re doing it because in the long term you want the forest to be healthier. You may be trying to help certain endangered fire-adapted plant or animal species to survive and thrive for the future. As such, some animals (and trees) are going to die when you do the prescribed burn. It’s hard to make the choices, but the longer term vision is for the survival of the whole threatened ecosystem.
What fights or other priorities could we back off of so that we’re better able to fight the big fight? To keep the democracy? To keep essential infrastructure?
Everyone’s going to have to answer that themselves, but we can also support each other as we consider it.
We can talk about this question with other people, family members, friends, groups, communities, and coalitions that we're working with.
We can bring this question to the table.
And then we can figure out how we can shift our priorities in light of this unfolding US disaster, and what those updated priorities might be.
Empower yourself and your people to have these talks, to explore the threats and risks, and to start making decisions.
Options For More Support
Shift the Country is creating space to help with all of this.
Check out our event list, where we offer “Strengthening & Support Sessions” among other things (here’s the first) with coaching, community, and solidarity for people working on decency, humanity, survival, climate, and democracy. We could totally talk about this kind of prioritizing in those calls.
Also, we’re doing events to help create one heck of a ruckus in communities everywhere around the US this summer. The first event to help us create that phenomenon is Sunday — tomorrow. Sign up, and/or also help us let folks know about these events. The more people, the bigger the shift. We grow from here.
The first week or two of these Zoom calls might be quiet as we’re relying on word of mouth to get the word out until we get advertising money. We’re repeating sessions to help us bring folks in and ramp this up. That ramp-up will help us build a solid core group to get this shift going.
Be well be safe. Volunteer with us. Spread the word. Share this post with your people and any groups you’re involved in. Subscribe or donate if you’re able.
We’re here to do big things and to dream big… even as the fire spreads.
We can get through this. We can do good stuff while we’re at it. We can make sure democratic society is intact, functional, and hopefully even completely transformed on the other side.
Walk with us.