Prove your humanity

Every afternoon for the past two months I’ve had the same experience. I’m at work, at my desk, and my phone screen lights up with a news notification. I see that NPR News logo at the top, but I’m hesitant to open it.

One day the headline read: “Army Approves Dakota Access Pipeline Route, Paving Way For…”

I knew it was going to be more bad news. I felt a sense of dread — and a sense of duty to read on. This prompted me to later express my concern and frustration on Facebook. Linking to the NPR story, I wrote:

I’m so sick of getting an NPR update on my phone and having to brace for awful news. I can’t unplug because I care too much. But how do I keep my chest from tightening with every uncaring, myopic, and hasty announcement?

I later wondered if my commentary was too self-absorbed. But by the time I looked back at the post, some of my friends had responded with practical advice on how to cope. They said things like take breaks from social media. Exercise. Try to live in joy. Try boxing.

I appreciated these instructional responses, especially the idea of hitting something. But the sentiments felt detached and superficial to me. Because just that week, the East End of Pittsburgh was under a boil water advisory.

LISTEN: What to do if the News Has Got You Down

At the reproductive justice organization where I work, we dropped everything to collect and distribute water within the communities of color that we serve. We shared print-outs on what families could do to make sure they used their tap water safely. It’s more complicated than you’d think. The whole situation emphasized the fact that our lives could be upended at any moment.

I’ve never been as frequently reminded of that fact as I have in the past few months. Trump’s moving forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite what could happen if there’s a spill. It feels like his administration’s doing away with protections I admit I’ve taken for granted. It makes me physically and mentally exhausted.

Is this the new normal? If so, how do we handle it? How do I handle it?

I’d like to start by staying attuned to what’s happening within my own world. I have friends who might soon lose their health insurance. And neighbors that just lost a family member because of immigration policies.

Diversity exists in our lives at so many levels: race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, socioeconomic status. We need to pay attention to the personal impact of this political climate on everyone we care about. The thing about the boil water advisory was, it put my work life into perspective. We’re focused on the policies that benefit the health and well-being of black women and girls, but we don’t always get to step into the community with such urgency. I don’t live in the neighborhoods that were affected, but that experience made it personal to me.

“The whole situation emphasized the fact that our lives could be upended at any moment. I’ve never been as frequently reminded of that fact as I have in the past few months.”

Thinking back on how people responded to my Dakota Access Pipeline post, I would have loved for someone to simply say “Hey let’s go for a drink.” Or, “Well why don’t we go for a hike this weekend?” To respond with support, not just advice.

It’s funny how you can become more attuned to your world by talking and spending time in person than through all of the noise online. It’s tempting to glance at Facebook posts and make brief comments, or click “like,” then move on with what we’re doing. But it’s human connection that can keep us from feeling psychologically beaten by the overwhelming news cycle. If we want to stay focused on how it’s all affecting the things that are important to us — like clean water and access to health care — we’ve got to stay in touch with each other.