A fun and energetic friend our age recently invited all the “blue girls” (Progressives, Democrats, Liberals) she knew to gather at her home in our mountain community. The purpose was chiefly social, post-pandemic, but the afternoon also provided a strength-in-numbers perspective to everyone who had both engaged and suffered the politics of the last five years. While most had spent years, on-and-off, in the area, many of us didn’t know each other very well, if at all, much less that we were like-minded about politics.
Our host was upbeat and began with a toast celebrating Biden’s election and the return to rational thought and expertise — even the desire and ability to govern — in the White House. But the afternoon’s subtext was an expression of anxiety, frustration, and outrage at what most of the women considered the GOP’s assault on our democracy. They were — they still are, actually — deeply concerned about Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election and its fallout, about sinister and oppressive legislative activity at the state and local levels, especially in places like Idaho and Texas and Arizona, and even about recent rulings reflecting the increasingly Conservative composition and character (or lack thereof) of the Supreme Court.
There was, as they say, a collective wringing of hands.
And a bit of a quandary about what to do. Now.
Which is the challenge for all liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats and even moderate voters who once aligned with what was once the Republican Party. But these women in particular know what used to work: for decades they have worked on campaigns and at the polls, canvassed for candidates, marched in Washington and in their home towns, served on non-profit boards promoting women’s rights, civil rights, immigration, environmental rights — even salmon and wolf rights — and economic and social justice, formed coalitions in support of candidates and causes, and in many cases, made hefty financial contributions as well. So a large part of the communal angst I sensed that afternoon seemed to derive from a painful awareness that what used to work is not working now and will not work anymore. The political landscape is no longer rational. It is no longer grounded in shared values or a common good. Ideas don’t matter. It’s all about power. Plus, older women are pretty invisible.
I think it is particularly difficult for women our age to process this realization. The state of our nation and the current political environment can feel like a repudiation of all we’ve done. Or it can just feel utterly exhausting to have engaged so passionately in so many causes over the years and to have so little to show for it today, as, for example, when abortion rights and voting rights both have been so brutally and yet so easily stripped away. We might well wonder if we have the strength and energy to find new ways to fight the fight. Or if that’s even the way we want to spend our time now. I have heard several once- passionately active older women say they’re done, that they’ll leave the organizing and the campaigning and the volunteering and the protesting to younger folks. But I didn’t hear that from the “blue girls.” Instead I heard . . . , well, not much. The silence seemed a testament, in my mind, to truly not knowing what to do, not knowing, even, where to look for direction, or if and how the challenges can be reframed and addressed in creative new ways that might work where the old ways have not.
As discouraging as this deep and fundamental uncertainty felt, emanating as it was from a bunch of otherwise very strong, capable, committed and experienced women, it was also somehow motivating, even hopeful. These blue girls represent a force for good available and ready to be activated. They’re not giving up. They still care. They know what matters. And they’re open to changing their ways even in their later decades, so as to be more effectively the change they want to see in the world.
My personal skill set, alas, does not include the ability to create and develop the requisite new ways to advance and effect liberal, democratic (small d) ideas and issues. But I can recognize winning, more effective strategies early-on, and I can — and will — give voice to them and amplify them. So I’m on the hunt now for signs of creative leadership and the people developing the most effective ways of impacting the body politic at the local, state and national levels — so that the blue girls and I can join them.