We had built a fire in the backyard on Friday because it was the first night it seemed cold enough to do so. It took forever to get it started. The wood was cold and a little damp from sitting in the garage all summer. The butane lighter was starting to run out of juice and we didn’t have any matches. We snapped sticks for kindling, crumpled up paper and scrap cardboard, lit it over and over and over again.
When the logs finally caught, we sat back in camp chairs, roasted marshmallows. I’d been telling myself and Mr. A and Kick, who is six, that we would get through the winter with this fire pit. Even if there was a foot of snow, we would shovel out a spot and have little parties out here, just the three of us and the very few people admitted into our quarantine circle.
It got dark. Kick counted stars. The logs popped and settled and I pondered building the fire back up. We could stay up late, could open another bottle of wine, could make just one more s’more. It took almost an hour to get this fire going. Seemed a shame to waste it.
Kick and Mr. A took a walk while I started a new book. They came back, sat down, and he looked at his phone.
There are, and always have been, ways to change a hopeless world. Maybe no one knew that as well as Ginsburg:
Earlier, I spoke of great changes I have seen in women’s occupations. Yet one must acknowledge the still bleak part of the picture. Most people in poverty in the United States and the world over are women and children, women’s earnings here and abroad trail the earnings of men with comparable education and experience, our workplaces do not adequately accommodate the demands of childbearing and child rearing, and we have yet to devise effective ways to ward off sexual harassment at work and domestic violence in our homes. I am optimistic, however, that movement toward enlistment of the talent of all who compose “We, the people,” will continue.
Despair is an insult, to the memory of someone like that. So what’s to be done? Fight, obviously. Fight not just with words and statements and stern tweets but with quorum calls and sit-ins on the floor, with every tool your arsenal, with every inch of your resolve be it polite and acceptable to pundits or no.
The last time this happened, this what could have been done:
First, they’d initiate a quorum call or a roll-call vote. This, of course, would require a Democrat to be in the chamber, and perhaps several other Democrats to support a request for a vote or quorum call.
However, their physical presence in the chamber does not mean they automatically count toward a quorum. The Senate does not have turnstiles to count people as they enter or exit; instead, senators usually count toward a quorum when they cast a vote or answer when their names are called during a quorum call (more on this below).
Getting a vote on a procedural matter would require some rejecting unanimous consent agreements that preclude spontaneous roll-call votes and some preparation, perhaps in consultation with the Senate parliamentarian.
Make them show up, every day, every time. Make them pick nits. Make them maneuver. Make them MAD. Make them tired. Make them work. Make them do it over and over and over again. Could they overcome this or any other parliamentary procedure you throw at them? Of course they could. THAT’S NOT THE POINT.
The point isn’t to win. The point is to fight. To slow it all down. To make them pay for every inch they take. To drag this out until it’s impossible to justify the cost of the fight. To make it politically unwise to continue. To focus attention.
And once and for all time to make it clear that when something matters you show up armed to the teeth.
For too long we’ve accepted “there was nothing else we could do” as if it’s somehow ever okay to say that as long as you’re alive. Yes, we continue to ride that Democratic pony because the choice is between that pony and an angry sexually ravenous wolverine with mange and we’re not idiots, but it doesn’t mean we can’t kick that pony in the ass. Especially when the pony keeps asking us for money.
We’re out here phone banking and letter-writing and digging pennies out of the couch cushions and throwing cash we can’t afford to give at candidates who have no shot in hell and what we want to see, as we home-school our kids and side-hustle for more side hustles to keep up with rising expenses and the absurd need for food and heat, is a level of fight that understands and honors that.
That feels as desperate as this does, as we do. That seems to suit the occasion. That takes us seriously. That doesn’t justify racism or bigotry but instead of acting like we’re in some kind of debating society calls fascism and idiocy what it is, punches it in the face and leaves it by the side of the road.
You want to say something matters to you? Then what are you prepared to do? I know people are sick of me saying this and I should probably grow up, but what are you prepared to do? If the answer from those who are empowered to represent us is something like, “sit around waiting for David Brooks to be disappointed enough to write a column about it” then get out of the goddamn chair and let someone else sit in it.
Someone who has ideas about what to do, instead of how to get away with doing nothing.
The fire burned out fast. I wanted another drink but wanted to check in on friends too and I’m too old to drunk-text with any dexterity; it was time for Kick to go to bed and she didn’t understand why her parents were upset. I pulled her close.
Someone important died, I said. Someone who cared about the kinds of things we care about and was in a very powerful position to protect people. And we need all the people like her we can get right now.
“We are going to try to make the world better for you,” I told her. “We try to do that every day.”
Less a lie, I hoped, looking at her face, than a prayer.
The coals were settling, sparks drifting upward. Her hair smelled like smoke. How long have we sat around fires, promising our children tomorrow would be better than today?
As long as there have been children. As long as there have been fires.