My Turn: Tyranny fears and the rise of dissent

For the Monitor
Saturday, January 13, 2018

We are on a slide to tyranny with a narcissistic tyrant and his advisers in the White House. They are preying on our fears in order to take control and consolidate power. We need to face our fears and choose to engage.

Fear drives contraction – contraction of vision, understanding, perspective, choices and opportunity. A narrow vision with clear guard-rules can feel preferable to the terror of fear. We feel safer when fear is contained. But all human life, all life on this planet and in the universe is based on expansion.

The brilliance of this time is how clearly we can see the consequences of choosing fear.

With the current president, we have a narrowing of opportunity to those with wealth and power, a move to limit speech, access to information and science, an effort to control the independent Justice Department, and a calculated strategy to pit “us” against “them.” Creating enemies is a standard fear-enhancing tactic on the road to tyranny. “Us” are white men, particularly with money and power, against the poor, disadvantaged, immigrants, women and all people of color.

Fear narrows. Fighting fear only entrenches the narrow beliefs and anxieties of fear. Instead, try this. Sit with fear, your own fear, and breathe. Hold its hand. Do not fight. Acknowledge it. Accepting that you have this fear does not mean that the fear is real. Fear is part of being human. Some fears help to keep us alive. If your house is on fire, get your children and get out. But many fears are amplified by imagination and worry. Sit with fear to discern its true purpose. Is this fear based on reality or imagination?

Some fears beg for attention. The fear of tyranny is based on a growing list of facts. While the president lies with impunity, he has discredited the free press as fake media, calling journalists “enemies of the people,” which is a quote from Joseph Stalin. He has erased information from a number of federal websites, including health care and the environment. He has directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop using a long list of words, including fetus, diversity, vulnerable, transgender and science. He continually bashes the FBI and the intelligence services as they investigate Russia’s interference with last year’s election. The actions of the president and his aides have been to systematically destroy our trust in politicians who have sworn to serve us, the federal government and the Constitution.

Fear can be paralyzing. Respond to the fear of tyranny by choosing expansion. Take action. Choose movement that widens, action that includes, diversifies and opens. Meditate. Write a letter. Write your friends. Speak up. Run for office. Help others run for office. Protest repressive laws. Start a movement. Time’s 2017 Person of the Year is the Silence Breakers, the women who launched a movement by speaking up about their personal experiences with sexual harassment and abuse. #MeToo swept through the nation and 85 other countries with millions of women publicly sharing their stories.

Working together is what helps to shape and change our world. Pick one thing you are interested in and find a way to help.

I am using music to speak up. I direct Songweavers, a community chorus of women at Concord Community Music School. This fall, we focused our outreach efforts on singing for New Americans and inviting them to sing with us. The theme of our 2018 concert is “We are the World.” We are singing songs that amplify the following quote from Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.”

This new year, I am also going to get more active with Kent St. Coalition, the Concord grassroots resistance movement that has grown into an effective voice for democratic values. At their first meeting of 2018, I am going to teach people a song written by Melanie DeMore. Written the day after Trump got elected, these simple words are as vital today as they were a year ago.

You gotta put one foot in front of the other and lead with love.

Put one foot in front of the other and lead with love.

I know you’re scared, and I’m scared too.

But here I am right next to you.

In 2018, let’s face fear and lead with love.

(Peggo Horstmann Hodes lives in Concord.)