The Democracy of "Yes!...And"

Improv-ing Ourselves to a Better America

A dear friend once told me “Annie, you are the person who mourns the deepest when others are grieving, and rejoices the biggest when others are celebrating.”

Well, the past 4 years held a lot of mourning, and this past week held a lot of rejoicing.

A female Vice President! Who is Black/Indian! 

A President who immediately affirmed policy protecting the LGBTQIA community!

A government stating that climate change is real!

Not having to wake up to a doomscroll of political dread!

Being absolutely freed from the corrupt, callous, and destructive “leadership” of a narcissistic despot!!!!!!!

Here’s the truth, though: While I felt a lot of joy this week, and my chest was a good bit lighter, and I was incredibly moved by Amanda Gorman’s incredible speech, and loved seeing Michelle Obama in all of her “DAMM, WOMAN!” jewel-toned belted pant-suited Diva Queen-ness, and my soul was uplifted by the light-hearted ribbing of Bernie and his mittens, I still felt myself holding back a bit of That Big Happy that I saw others feeling.

On Wednesday I sent a post to my paid subscribers with a never-before-heard tune, an angry breakup song with a lot of F-bombs in it. It felt weird to post on that day, in one sense--here’s this epic, momentous, serious and special occasion, and I’m sharing a song telling narcissists to fuck off? How negative can one be?

It’s not that I wasn’t happy. I was. But I also felt like I was peering at everything from the corner of my eyes—wary, watchful, waiting to be proven wrong.

Even as I breathed a sigh of relief and watched the inauguration with joy, I also felt a very just, logical, self-protective caution. Almost a resigned normalcy. “This is just any other day,” I thought. “We celebrate, we take a breath, and we keep going.”

Because this isn’t “over.”

And like my friend T.J. Tallie (Professor of History, published author, fashion icon, beloved fan-favorite Jeopardy champion, all-around bad-ass, and Co-Founder of the Fried Avocado Friendship Christmas Club) said recently to his vast Facebook community:

“Hi, just a reminder that the Trump administration was not an aberration. Just need y'all to remember that.”

What must it feel like, to be a part of any marginalized group that has been consistently and historically oppressed in this country, and to hear privileged people talk about Trump’s presidency as if it was the polar opposite of what they’ve been experiencing in America from day one?

“This is not who we are, I can’t believe this happened, I’m so glad we made it, we’re in the clear now, we’re safe, glad that’s done”—all of these comments discount the lived experience of those most harmed by our country’s history.

While Trump truly was a gargoyle, he wasn’t separate from our country’s legacy. He was a product and an outpouring of a United States built on colonialism, greed, and white supremacy. That system doesn’t “go away now” because he’s gone.

Look, I’m not saying we should be grumpy about everything, always, forever and ever and on. We can have both hope and caution.

Damon Young (of the amazing Very Smart Brothas) really speaks to holding space for joy while still maintaining a necessary wariness in his article about the Bernie mittens.

“…And so from the time President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in, to that surreal moment where Mike Pence rolled off with a motorcade as if he fucking matters enough for one, I wanted it to end.

This sort of dread, which is somehow both existential and literal, ain’t exclusive to Black Americans. We weren’t the only ones who felt it during Barack Obama’s inauguration, and we weren’t alone in feeling it yesterday. What distinguishes us is scale. It’s not a departure from the norm, it is the norm. A default, earned through centuries of knowing our country better than it wishes to know itself. White disruption, white violence, and white terror are always just around the corner. Sometimes it’s on time, sometimes it’s just stuck in traffic.

But we still, somehow—always—find space for joy. And that space ain’t really found. It’s manufactured. Fought for. It wouldn’t exist without an effort to conjure it.”

So, Yes: We can fight to hold space for joy AND be aware of the reality of America’s garbage. We can cling to ye ol’ prompt of improv-ers everywhere by “Yes!…And”ing.

Yes, And…ing is a technique that improv comedy troupes use to practice building on the story, without erasing what’s come before. Think of it as the opposite of “Yeah, but…” or “Well, actually….” It’s like a form of conversation that’s creative, collaborative, and constructive. (Ok, and sometimes corny).

In the case of addressing America, Yes…And-ing can acknowledge how far we’ve come while still remembering the work we have to do.

Yes! We have a new (non-gargoyle?) President and have said goodbye to Drumpf’s tyranny!

And…we were thissssss close to losing that democracy.

Yes! We have a Black/Indian woman in one of the top leadership positions in the White House!

And…we still need to dismantle the systemic sexism and racism that made this such a long-time coming. 

Yes! The inauguration was speckled with a diversity of skin color and skills.

And…we need to hold other agencies and industries to the same level of diversity and inclusion.

Yes! We have to “work together” to move forward.

And…we need to hold our government officials accountable and recognize the collateral damage that bipartisan unity inflicts.

Yes! Lady Gaga looked regal AF while belting out the anthem.

And… J-Lo sang a pre-recorded autotuned version of “This Land is Your Land.”

(Ok, maybe that last one only greatly irks me, a struggling musician, but you get the point. OH! And I forever stan Garth Brooks and his low-key cowboy glam now.)

We know that we don’t heal the wounds of the past by ignoring them—by pretending everything is “fine now” and we can “move on.”

Like the poignant line in Amanda’s gorgeous poem said so perfectly:

“being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it”

So, yes, we rejoice in our future. And we step into our past to repair it.


THREE GOOD THINGS

  1. Must Watch: “The Work Continues”: Cornel West & Maria Hinojosa

  2. OK SO THEY MADE A SWEATSHIRT OF THE BERNIE MEME AND ALL THE PROCEEDS WENT TO MEALS ON WHEELS AND IT SOLD OUT AND I NEED IT I LIKE REALLY REALLY NEED IT IM SORRY IM YELLING BUT SOMEONE PLEASE FIND IT FOR ME

  3. Jon Legend performing “Feeling Good” at the inauguration IS IT.

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