In an effort to speak truth to power in the way I am best able, I wrote and contributed a short personal essay to a movement called Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote. While this started as a collection of stories from Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling novelists, it quickly expanded to include not just writers but a military personnel, teachers, community activists, etc — all of whom are thinking beyond the individual and dedicating their votes as acts of hope for the future.
Monday, October 3, 2016
When I was 23, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala, a country then battling its way through the last years of a decades-long civil war and genocide. In what is now an all-too-familiar enlistment ‘campaign,’ the army rode into town one day, kidnapping and conscripting young boys into military service. A neighbor raced to my threshold, moments ahead of the horde, and beat upon my door. “Take them,” she said, pushing her two sons into my arms. “Help them, please, for I cannot.”
So I did. I hid them in a piece of furniture moments before the military men forced their way into my home, and I withstood the interrogation not fifteen feet from where the children huddled because they stayed silent, as I’d told them to do when I closed the cupboard door on them with a finger pressed to my lips: “No matter what happens, you must be quiet and you must trust me; I will keep you safe.”
This I know: there is nothing special about me, no abundance of grace or courage I possess, that compelled my neighbor to my doorstep that day. In fact, barely five years earlier, finding myself unexpectedly in a crowd hurling racist slurs at a black woman in the American South, I had held tight to the masses, tacitly complicit, leaving that girl undefended against the hate hurled upon her by my peers. But for the fact that I learned so young the shame of failing to live up to one’s simplest expectations of oneself — but for the fact that I vowed at 18 that I would never again support tyranny with my silence — there was nothing that distinguished me in the mind of that Guatemalan woman seeking a savior for her sons but this: I am an American. That mother raced her children to me because, like so many other vulnerable people throughout history (and even despite our country’s voluminous missteps), she relied on this truism: when you are desperate, the Americans will help you.
I dedicate my no-Trump vote to every child forced to hide in a cupboard and every mother forced to turn to strangers for help, in the hope that the president we elect to power will never scoff at their pain or build a wall behind which he can hide from their need. With my no-Trump vote, I pledge not to ‘make American great again,’ but to ensure its greatest attributes — a willingness to defend the weakened, welcome the weary, and face our fears not with cowardice but with resolve — are advanced with unflagging civility and honor. My No-Trump vote says this: Knock, for our door will always open to you.
To Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote, Click Here
ELLEN URBANI is the author of Landfall, set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Reads selection and winner of the Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas fiction award – and the memoir When I Was Elena, a Book Sense Notable selection documenting her life in Guatemala during the final years of that country’s civil war. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, numerous anthologies, and has been widely excerpted. A grief & trauma specialist, she’s served as a federal disaster consultant and her work has been profiled in the Oscar-qualified short documentary film Paint Me a Future. A Southern expat now residing in Oregon, her pets will always be dawgs and her truest allegiance will always reside with the Crimson Tide.