In Gender Shrapnel, I highlight the ways in which harassment accumulates without our noticing the steps along the way. I talk about how we absorb harassment for weeks, months, maybe years, and then experience high-consciousness, or “last-straw” moments. During these last-straw moments, we look back and string together all the harassment events and all the symbols that accompany them. We put it all together, we synthesize and analyze and, yet, we can go through this cycle repeated times. Our resilience allows us to take the blow and carry on, kind of like forgetting the pain of childbirth or setting aside trauma.
This month’s “blue wave” in Virginia, which, for the first time in 26 years, boasts Democratic control of all sectors of state government (WAMU; The Atlantic; Salon; The Washington Post) has happened in the White House’s backyard. Serving as a possible bellwether for other state elections and the 2020 national elections, Virginia has thumbed its collective nose at the President and the prostrate GOP. These weeks since November 5th have brought blue euphoria and, I believe, red revenge. We are on the node of built-up harassment and resultant resilience. November has been the month of impeachment hearings, clear-as-day proof that Trump ordered Giuliani to negotiate to hold back hundreds of millions of state-approved aid to serve Trump and his reelection aspirations for 2020, and noble testimony from respected and respectful state officials like Fiona Hill and Marie Yovanovitch. November has signaled our national divisions.
November has reminded me that we Democrats should be at a last-straw moment. We should have had enough, more than enough, by now. Each careful little step, each overly cautious accusation in the face of real harm, each mostly uncelebrated victory. Barack Obama was belittled and threatened and attacked, and the GOP chose to undermine every common-good initiative of his platform. Hillary Clinton was harassed and trolled and threatened, blamed for all that Trump was actually engaging in at the time, told repeatedly and menacingly that she’d be locked up, and then, in essence, she was. These messages and actions told Democrats that we were too black and too woman and too caring of our neighbors and countrypeople, that we too should be locked up. We were told not to tread, not to tread at all, because there is punishment for stepping out of line in a white, male, cis, hetero supremacist nation.
Don’t tread on me. That’s what about one-sixth of the license plates in my state tell me. The license plates peer out from the back of giant trucks that take up more than half the road and more than a single parking spot. The giant trucks tread on everything, everywhere they go, imperiously declaring their greater size and might. The Don’t Tread On Me trucks roll through the streets like tanks, claiming their right to everything, their willingness to fight, for their God-given right, to dictate and rule. They are not asking to foment and share in democratic principles.
“Don’t tread on me” is the motto of the Gadsden Flag, described in this The New Yorker piece as “a favorite among Tea Party enthusiasts, Second Amendment zealots—really anyone who gets riled up by the idea of government overreach.” The great irony here is that Tea Party enthusiasts have paved the way for ultimate Trump control of the GOP, and Second Amendment zealots allow for the gigantic NRA lobby to have a major hand in government rule. “Don’t tread on me” ethos actually has brought major government overreach. Tariffs on China, withheld aid for Ukraine, immigration policy, prohibitions on women’s bodily autonomy, and ever more limited rights for the LGBTQ community all come to mind as particularly heavy-handed government control.
Here in Virginia, red counties are pushing for so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions, through which counties pledge to defy any new common-sense gun legislation coming out of Richmond in 2020. This past Monday night in Rockbridge County, dozens and dozens of people lobbied the Board of Supervisors for just such a resolution. I feel tread upon, and I think that is the desired effect. We Virginia progressives are supposed to feel punished for a resounding November victory.
The Virginia Tech campus massacre happened in 2007. In 2017, Charlottesville witnessed a group of armed people overtake its downtown and kill a peaceful protester, while white supremacists marched and chanted, “You will not replace us.” The Virginia Beach shooting took place in May of this year. “You will not replace us” is another way of saying “don’t tread on me,” especially when the Second Amendment arms people to the teeth and allows them to increase their own threatening footprint.
On this day in this month of November in this state of Virginia, I want us to let go of “don’t tread on me” threats and the “you will not replace us” chants. I want us to prioritize how we can walk together, tread together, towards common-sense gun legislation, stronger education reforms, and greater civil rights for all.