Whenever I can’t think of a topic for a column, I walk around and ask people, “What makes you angry?” I’ve found that this is the easiest way to learn of topics that deserve more attention. In asking this question, I encounter topics that are urgent—topics that matter.
This Saturday, I was doing my usual pre-column canvass of my floor’s hidden rages when I got a CNN alert. It read: “Attorney general to extend U.S. recognition of same-sex marriage even in 34 states that don’t consider it legal.”
I felt happy. I felt hopeful. I didn’t want to get angry. I wanted to take a moment to realize that in a lot of ways, things were…OK. So that’s what I’m doing today.
Of course, there is so much more to be done in the battle for equality for same-sex couples—so many injustices still to remedy, and, even after that, there’s so much to be done in terms of gender identity acceptance.
But it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short time. The night before that Saturday afternoon, I met a man who told me that he spent some time in the Navy until he was kicked out for being gay. My own uncle died of AIDS, and the end of his life was a time during which his president declared that his problem with the gay rights movement was that it was “asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which [he did] not believe society [could] condone.”
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is now repealed, and, last summer, I stood outside the Supreme Court as key provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act were deemed unconstitutional. It seems like every few months I get another notification like the one I received last Saturday. We are, steadily, righting an enormous wrong.
I also get angry about the racism that still infects society at every level, and I get angry about violence that could be prevented by common-sense legislation. I get angry about extreme poverty. But sometimes I take a moment and think about the fact that our president is black, and sometimes I take a moment to note that violent crime rates have dropped steadily since 1993. I think about the fact that the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to halve extreme poverty rates was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.
And then the anger mixes with other, more pleasant emotions.
The same night I received that CNN Alert, I went to the Me Too Monologues. They’ve always made me feel a little confused, and, as I sat there, I finally understood why. They’ve confused me because, both times I watched them, I sat not on the main level, but up above where you can see the whole crowd below.
The monologues make me angry. When I look at the stage and listen to stories of how people have been affected by society’s flaws, I feel disgust and disillusionment and urgency to change.
But then I look around, and from the second floor I can see the hundreds of people crammed into hot, uncomfortable Nelson Music Room, sitting on painful stairs, their butts already aching from waiting for over an hour in the hall outside. Anger about where we are mixes with happiness at how far we’ve come and anticipation for where we’re going.
Activists traditionally try to get you to pay attention to the anger. Discontentedness is, after all, a necessary ingredient for social change.
But I think people are less eager to participate in social movements when a great deal of anger is present, because it’s exhausting. Anger’s a wonderful catalyst, but there comes a point when we need other things: recognition of the progress that’s been made, belief that people are almost universally well-intentioned, realistic hope that things could be different.
The audience of Me Too—their tears and laughter and standing ovations—forms an essential element of my enjoyment. Our best forecast for the future is that things will not be how they are, for, even in the present, we see things changing for the better at a rapid rate.
So today, I want to stop and take a moment to recognize that Eric Holder, the country’s first black attorney general, declared that “In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages.”
It’s a good day today—because we’re going to make tomorrow an even better one.
Ellie Schaack is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Monday.