The Toughest Year of My Life

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By Mark Naison

Like so many others, I saw the election of Donald Trump as a rejection of our core principles. His ascension to the presidency left us traumatized, depressed … and fearful. I continue to bear the weight of comforting, of reassuring, and of defending people who feel vulnerable—including students, colleagues, and people I work with in the Bronx. I do so in uncharted waters. How much of an immediate threat do the racists and White nationalists—who saw the election as a license to attack people—pose? How much long-term havoc will Trump’s travel ban, mass deportations, wall along our southern border, and new tax laws wreak on our society?

I must be strong and steady because I lived through previous crises and I am never afraid to take unpopular stands. Being consumed with rage and losing my temper are luxuries that I cannot afford. The risk of inciting the kind of communal violence that I want to avoid is not an option. While the thought of beating up Nazis and White supremacists may seem appealing, I realize the necessity to calm people down and to prepare them for a protracted battle on behalf of causes that they support.

Therein lies the challenge. I must organize meetings, forums, and private gatherings to bring people together in ways that empower them as members of a larger struggle. Doing that requires that I reshape myself as a positive leader in dark times. I continue to do things to help me in this pursuit. I listen to live and recorded music, reach out to people whose activism inspired me, make new friends, and turn to a time-honored method of dealing with adversity: getting into shape. By changing my eating habits, playing tennis, and walking long distances, I reduced the amount of physical pain that I deal with on a daily basis. As the pounds peel off, I feel better than I have in years.

The confidence that I gained—in place of the weight—gives new energy to my political life. I know that we can outlast Trump—and his supporters—and ensure that they do not undermine the work that we continue to do to strengthen schools and communities and to build partnerships between Fordham and the Bronx. The notion of living and being active for the next 20 years no longer seems improbable.

After this difficult year, I see myself as a resistor and as a survivor. I—and many others committed to this struggle—will outwit, out-maneuver, and outlast those who seek to turn back the clock by seeking a higher moral ground than those currently in power.

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