Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

This Millennial and Elder's Poignant Discussion Over Trump Shows How Far We Have to Go

United States Narrative Activism
by Mary Sojourner Nov 17, 2016

The day after the election, Matador Network Head of Social Media, Kae Lani Kennedy, 27 and MatadorU faculty Mary Sojourner, 76, dove into a conversation about what they both saw happening. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.


Hey, Mary,
President Trump? I feel like someone shit the bed, and now I have to lie in it.

People have been telling me to calm down, stop crying, and just accept the results of this election. When a person voted Trump for his policies, they also agreed to accept the racism, the bigotry, the sexism, and all the hatred he represents. As a Native American, African American, and White woman who is also a rape survivor, I am re-traumatized. Too many Americans watched this candidate/president mock the disabled; listened to his vulgar language towards women and call Mexicans rapists and Muslims extremists; heard him proclaim that this will not be an LGBT friendly presidency — and still hired him to take over the highest office in the land. My nation is enabling him and saying, “Yeah, we don’t care what he’s done to you. We don’t care that he’s hurt you.”

I am horrified. I am embarrassed. I am scared that a man who has legitimately hurt and endangered people will represent us on the global stage. His policies are horrible, with some being downright unconstitutional, but what scares me most is what Trump has inspired in his voters. I now know that bubbling beneath the surface of many Americans, more than I ever imagined, is a silent hate, a secret racism, sexism, and homophobia that Trump was able to exploit. Electing him as President is validation for that hate, a hate that some of his supporters now feel free to act out on.

In less than 24 hours after the election, a few blocks away from my home in Philadelphia, a storefront was spray painted with swastikas and “Sieg Heil, 2016.” A neighbor’s car was tagged with “TRUMP” and “BLACK BITCH”. A Muslim woman’s hijab was ripped off by another woman who yelled “You’re not allowed to wear this anymore, so go hang yourself with it.” These are not exaggerated stories from 1930’s Germany, these acts are happening here and now. Stories from around the nation are pouring in of racial name calling, vandalism, and violence.

On Monday night here, a line 1.5 miles long formed to see the Democratic rally in front of Independence Hall. Thousands of supporters looked towards Old City, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman who might become President. Now those streets are filled with protesters. This is the story on the streets of America. This is a story of outrage.

Yet I fear the outrage fading amongst liberals, and when the outrage fades, it lowers the bar of what is acceptable. When the outrage fades, the passion to keep fighting also fades, and we start to accept what was once unacceptable as the new norm. I am curious — at what point will offenses by those in power not be acceptable anymore? How did we become so passive? How can these statistics be true? 131 million people voted in this election. 151 million shopped on Black Friday in 2015. Kae


Hey back, Kae,
Over fifty years ago a dozen or so Negroes and White people stood in front of the Woolworth’s five and dime on Chicago’s Fifty-Third Street. (It would be twenty years before Jesse Jackson popularized “African-American” and fifty years before I’d see the term “Woke” white people used to describe anti-racist whites.) We were dressed in suits and our best dresses. We spoke politely and if a passer-by turned down one of our leaflets, we only smiled.
We were part of demonstrations organized by SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Our leaflets encouraged people to boycott Woolworth’s to pressure them into allowing African-Americans to eat at their lunch counters in the South. Our organizers had instructed us to dress conservatively, speak politely, and confront no one. The campaign worked. Woolworth’s opened all their lunch counters to everyone.
For the last ten years, I have watched protest movements surge and ebb. I’ve taken part in easily thousands of demos, witnesses, civil disobedience, non-violent actions, planning meetings and been arrested in fights for the earth. I’ve seen infiltrators come into movement meetings and begin turning us against each other: pacifists vs. anarchists, gay women vs. straight women, African-Americans vs. Whites, the list is endless. I’ve seen infiltrators propose illegal and violent actions. I not only have seen this government and corporate sabotage, I’ve read government documents outlining the infiltrations.

I’m fifty years older than you, Kae — and I have the same questions you have about the passivity of the general public. And three more: 1. What is the possibility that “progressive movements” keep breaking down because they are being engineered to do so? 2. If it is this bad now, what are we looking at for the next four years? 3. Where are outraged millennials — I know many — and what strategy can a coalition between the old and young evolve?

Your turn.


Hey Mary,

Times sure have changed. I feel like protest etiquette is lost on my generation. I used to listen to stories from my grandfather about the Civil Rights Movement and what life was like in Jim Crow south. He grew up as an African-American and Native American man in Greensboro, North Carolina where the lunch counter sit-ins began. His stories taught me that real change, not temporary solutions, can only be achieved through passion, persistence, and patience, because swaying minds means swaying the heart first — and that takes time. Progress is a garden that needs tending to. No wonder he still works as a landscaper!

I haven’t spoken to him yet about this election. When Obama won my grand-father cried because in his lifetime he went from watching other African-Americans die at the hands of the Klansmen to watching an African-American become Commander-in-Chief.

I know that not all Trump supporters are racists. But I do no
t have the heart to explain to someone I love, a person who lived during a time when there were actual laws that said “Negroes” couldn’t even drink out of the same water fountain, that my generation just went back on what his generation fought for.

Protests today are nothing like what I learned about in History class or my grandfather’s stories. There seems to be too little strategy and far too little structure. It’s just a bunch of people yelling about something that they’re pissed off about.

It seems to be that since the Arab Spring, revolutions are now reduced to events posted on Facebook. We’ll check into protests, like Standing Rock Reservation, but never actually fly to North Dakota. Millennials use trending hashtags to spread the word, and then show up to take selfies at marches. There’s a loose agreement that our protests are peaceful, but once the flag burners show up, the legitimacy of our marches goes up in smoke faster than the flag does. I don’t want symbolic gestures like flag burning — I want action.

Sometimes in the throes of a Millennial march, you begin to discover that people are not on the same page. Some are fighting for Free the Leaf, others for No Fracking, some for Black Lives Matter, some want their Pussies to Grab Back. Too much of what brought us together gets lost in noise. We fight with one another over who is more politically correct and who in the mob is “woke” enough to hold the megaphone. The average outraged Millennial is so turned off by the behavior that they don’t participate. Besides the marches, too many don’t know other ways to protest and people begin to lose interest because the change wasn’t as instantaneous as a same day delivery with Amazon Prime. And it seems that once an outrage stops trending on social, once the cause’s momentum is slowed by the virality of a video of a farting, the original purpose begins to fade, and we become apathetic.

But there is hope. Some of us Millennial activists have learned from our experiences with Occupy and Black Lives Matter. We understand, now, the importance of planning, of strategy, and of organizational structure. We meet and discuss what is going on and what we can do to move forward. And we need help for older activists for those discussions.

Discussion is one of the skills the Millennials didn’t learn because we overdosed on social media, a type of media engineered to feed us only things we’d like. And for years, its algorithm put us in these bubbles, these “echo chambers” where all we read and watched validated our own beliefs. We too often didn’t take the time to imagine life from any other perspective than our own.

We need to discuss with one another, and we need to discuss with people who think differently. So what can a Millennial discuss with someone 50 years our senior? We are finally listening.
– Kae Lani

Yes, Kae, to so much of this. I hope that more of my generation — and the generations between — are both talking and listening. Discussion. It’s one of the skills the Millennials didn’t learn because we overdosed on social media, a type of media engineered to feed us only things we’d like. Yours is not the only generation to be trapped in the eerie feedback loop of social media and algorithm control of Google results. One of the tactics of those who benefit from conflict between generations is to stereotype all of us: Millenials are selfish kids. “Senior Citizens” are tech dummies. And, thereby isolate us from each other.

A former friend of mine, an academic liberal, dismissed Occupy: “They don’t have any real demands or agenda.” She was wrong. I followed and participated in Occupy with great excitement — and came away from the experience more convinced than ever that the power trinity of corporations, government, and media had both commodified and trivialized Occupy to their own ends.

So, here we engage in a radical action, a collaboration that defies the power brokers’ efforts to divide us against ourselves. A millennial woman and a woman in her mid-seventies take the time to write and think with each other. We are left with many questions: not the least of which is how can all generations speak out and strike out against the suffocating oppression that is moving toward us? How can we change the shape and efficacy of our side of a conversation that is more critical than it has ever been? How can we work together and resist the efforts of those who would splinter us into useless shards.

In the work,

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