Here for It w/ R. Eric Thomas, #201

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
Hi!

This week: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!

Also, the Moonlight election, Trump locks himself in White House, and everybody’s talking about someone named The Count.


OH HELLO HOW ARE YOU ARE YOU OKAY? HOW WAS YOUR WEEK? I am sorry for the all caps but alas I am simultaneously the MOST TIRED I HAVE EVER BEEN and also THE MOST AWAKE I HAVE EVER BEEN. I’m so tired I spent the morning trying to figure out ways to get away and just recharge and my brain said “Go on a cruise!” A cruise?! In this reality?! And I was like “Hmm… tempting.” But by the same token, I’m so awake that I am currently googling the phone number of every Black and Brown person in Georgia so I can text them “LET’S DO THIS, BABY! (It’s Eric, by the way. Myrtle’s cousin?)” (I am not actually doing this but I have started donating to Fair Fight Action and will be volunteering with their GOTV initiative next weekend and regularly through the Senate runoff. You should join us! Myrtle said she’ll come through.)

I know I don’t need to tell you but last week was the most month-long week in a year of month-long weeks in a four-year period of month-long weeks. And then yesterday, which was the new national holiday known as Surprise Election Day, was a month all its own. I didn’t even go out into the streets yesterday and I’m exhausted. Between the enthusiasm, the hope, and the warm weather, it had big Pride vibes and the only thing better than Pride is Surprise Pride. But the last thing I wanted after surviving a year of month-long days was to get sick, so I stayed at home and screamed in my heart. What a journey! I started the week looking like Julianne Moore in the pharmacy scene from Magnolia and I ended the week looking like Julianne Moore at the end of The Hours when she plays a 40-year-old woman wearing old age prosthetics who comes to visit Meryl Streep to fix the faulty kitchen sink. (It’s been a minute since I saw The Hours but I am fairly certain this is the plot.)

Next year I would like advance notice about Surprise Election Day. This is the only election fraud I will condone. Just gimme a little hint about when Surprise Election Day is coming so I can take off the week before to rest.

I realized yesterday that the last time I took a break was September of 2019. It’s been a busy year, despite the fact that I spent much of it inside my house, applying old-age prosthetics. As I got dressed for the unseasonably warm day yesterday, wide awake in the shock of escaping the Trump presidency, I pulled out a shirt I bought on that last trip. It’s a pink shirt with a large block of text that I got from a little store in Provincetown, Massachusetts, one of my favorite places on Earth.

I stole away for like 49 hours to Provincetown, Massachusetts right after Labor Day last year. I just needed a break. It felt pretty apropos of the busyness of that year that I was going on vacation after summer had ended. Call me Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens: The Musical because I’m spending another winter in a summer townnnn. I didn’t have a long agenda and during the day I worked remotely, but I needed to recharge and I jumped at the chance to fly to Boston and then ride a ferry across the ocean and then drag an overnight bag up a cobblestone street in the name of relaxation. If I had known that that would be the last time I’d get away prior to *all of this* I might have stayed a third day.

Since the season was winding down, there wasn’t much going on in P-Town, which was fine by me. I ate, I took cute pictures in my shorteralls, I made friends with a sailor at the piano bar, I read a novel by the sea, I saw an Audra McDonald concert (okay, this definitely doesn’t qualify as “not much going on”, I know). And mostly I shopped. I found the pink shirt at this places called Adam’s Nest, which sells a wide variety of queer-related novelty shirts, some of them pretty saucy, some of them political, some a combination. They’ve got shirts with vintage slogans on them, like ActUp’s “Silence=Death”, they have BLM shirts, and they have shirts with vintage sailors making muscles. Something for everyone. I love diving into activist history, looking at the language and the methods used by those who pushed for progress in the past. Trying it on to see if it would still work to get us free in the present. That’s what appealed to me about the pink shirt. The block of text in the center of the tee begins with the sentence “An army of lovers cannot lose” in bold. It’s a paragraph excerpt from a pamphlet handed out by a group called Anonymous Queers at the 1990 Pride march. The pamphlet is called “Queers Read This” which is pretty catchy, I think. You get handed the pamphlet and you’re certainly not standing around wondering who is the audience for this and what action do they want me do with this? Clarity.

Queers Read This, which you can read in its entirety here, is a desperate, furious, hope-filled call to action for a population under siege and oppressed by elected leaders and fellow Americans. It spoke to the moment—the height of the AIDS crisis—and also to the condition of second class citizenship in America at any moment. The pamphlet and the shirt go on to read “Being queer is not about a right to privacy; it is about the freedom to be public, to just be who we are.  It means everyday fighting oppression; homophobia, racism, misogyny, the bigotry of religious hypocrites and our own self-hatred.” It goes on from there, beautifully, achingly, soaringly, for a while.

I read the whole thing in the shop and felt wide awake with the passion of activists and organizers who came before me, who made possible the world that I walked through in the present. It felt visceral, like a manifesto scribbled in the middle of the night and nailed to a door in the middle of town. It was a declaration of worth, a cathartic and angry shout of worthiness that I identified with and perhaps felt bubbling beneath the surface but wouldn’t truly feel the force of until a year and a half later when Surprise Election Day would combine the white hot fury I’ve felt for the last four years with the white hot hope that always sits at my core and send them both shooting out of the middle of my being. Suffice it to say, I bought the shirt.

Next to it was another shirt with a smaller bit of text on it. It read “This Year, More Fun Less Fear” and I assumed that was also an activist slogan and snatched the shirt off the shelf with a quickness. I was surprised to find tears springing to my eyes. I don’t know why. I guess I was so overwhelmed with the idea of chanting “This Year! More Fun! Less Fear!” in a protest or calling it out as a gesture of solidarity or resistance. It seemed like a slogan that acknowledged the darkness all around while also making a bold declaration about what the present could be. I imagined activists in the 90s shouting it with such vociferousness that their words had made possible the more fun, less fear-full present I lived in. And I imagined I could shout it so loud that the year to come would be even less fear-full, even more fun. I, too, could shout a more just future into being.

I bought both shirts, packed them in my overnight bag, got back on the ferry then the plane, and went back to my regular 2019 life. One day, I got to wondering about where the second shirt’s phrase came from. I’d read the whole “Queers Read This” pamphlet because I follow instructions, but I didn’t know where “This Year! More Fun! Less Fear!” came from. So I Googled it and I came up with the Adam’s Nest website first, so I kept scrolling. More Adam’s Nest results. And then some inspirational photo blogs. And then… nothing. No Xeroxed pamphlet, no old protest sign. I needed the activist origins of this phrase! I felt it calling to me through the decades and I wanted to answer the call like I was an eligible voter in Georgia.

I wasn’t satisfied to just let it be a mysterious slogan from a past protest, now repurposed as a t-shirt. I needed answers. I’m a journalist and I work for a fashion magazine after all. I would not rest. And by that I mean, I made one phone call. To Adam’s Nest. I was like “Hi! What’s the political history of this shirt?” And they were like “It’s just a fun phrase so we put it on a shirt!” I was like, “Okay, but what protest did they chant it at?” And they responded “…um, no protest? It’s a mantra we like and so we put it on a shirt.” I was gobsmacked. “Surely there must have been an activist origin for this! I’m so inspired,” I said. “Good for you,” they said.

Every time I pull out the This Year, More Fun Less Fear shirt I laugh at my past self, near tears in a store in P-Town after inventing a struggle and a protest to accompany that struggle. But, despite the fact that it’s just a slogan on a shirt, I also get inspired every time I pull it out. Because it’s not like last year, this year, and years past weren’t full of fear. And the invocation of more fun in the face of fear, in the present, in the future, is affirming, especially when I think about it in the context of a march, a protest, an organized action. It wasn’t “This year, more hanging out, less working toward justice” it was (in this imaginary protest that I made up in my head) the idea that fun could be, as the pink shirt said, “the freedom to be public.” In my life, that has meant marches and meals and more, parties and protests and politics and Provincetown, sometimes all of this at once.

I thought of those two shirts yesterday, the one with a clear historical message of activism and the other that started off as a Pinterest post and ended up making me cry from inspiration I created completely out of thin air. And I don’t think there’s a neat metaphor about our political moment or the defeat of Trump or the historical victory of Biden and Harris. Words on a t-shirt are often just words on a t-shirt. But words in our hearts, words out of our mouths, words that become actions, can change our world. Words that transform through work into policy changes, into liberation, into Surprise Election Day are powerful and yet within our grasp. Say it loud: THIS YEAR, MORE FUN LESS FEAR.


Republicans Want To Stop Starting Or Start Stopping The Ballot Count, Unclear Which

As we head into the third day of the American Idol Election Extravaganza, members of the Republican party are bitterly divided over how best to obstruct a free and fair election. It seems no one filled out the Doodle poll labeled "Coup planning meeting" and, well, here we are. The issue is votes, and whether they should be counted or not counted or counted but then uncounted or discounted with a coupon. Early on Wednesday, Fox News declared Vice President Joe Biden the winner of Arizona's electoral votes, which is a real "the call is coming from inside the house" situation. Enraged by even the whiff of justice or fairness, Trump-supporting protestors descended up the Maricopa County Election Department where they started chanting "Count the votes" at a building where they were actually counting the votes, they had been counting the votes, and they would continue counting the votes. They stood outside a structure that was built for the sole purpose of collecting and then counting votes and they screamed "DO THE THING YOU DO! Or we'll be mad!" Ah, democracy!

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Man Of The People Locks Himself In Borrowed House

Donald Trump, a noted Beetlejuice, was summoned years ago by a minority of the electorate too embittered by the grief of realizing the American Dream is a fallacy invoked to reaffirm a caste system that keeps most on the bottom and is now invoking squatters rights. This, of course, is an ironic turn of events given the aggressive anti-tenant tactics employed by Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is like if the Chuckie doll was a haunted porcelain Victorian figurine created by a racist algorithm.

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Trump Should Tap Warren Beatty To Call The Election

"We want all voting to stop," Trump actually said in this reality, accidentally revealing "the big plan." Trump then said he'd take the case to the Supreme Court despite the fact that there is no case right now. I had already taken my Queen's Gambit green pill for the evening so the rest is a little hazy. I may have dreamed the rest of this but it's possible Trump continued, "I've asked Chief Justice Warren to step in and make a ruling," not referring to deceased Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren but perhaps to actor Warren Beatty, who declared La La Land the winner of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar despite results that revealed Moonlight was the winner. Trump did indicate that he'd be willing to hear Earl Warren's opinion as well but then changed his mind upon learning that Warren, a Republican, had ruled in favor of Brown v. Board and other anti-segregation cases.

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Random Thing on the Internet

I began the week warning, as Evilene does in The Wiz, that I was not interested in receiving any bad news. No bad news. I sang a whole song about it. Tony-worthy! And the week ended, well… here! Can’t wait to find out what next week brings. Perhaps a cruise?!

An army of lovers cannot lose,

Eric