On Wednesday, as news of Hillary Clinton’s defeat sank in, one of my colleagues asked, “Are you all getting lots of I love you texts from friends who you don’t often exchange I love yous with?” Yes, we agreed, we were indeed receiving emails and texts and Gchats profligately packed with heart emoji, often from unexpected sources-and we were dishing them out ourselves. Even those of us of the English disposition, who rarely use the L word, were telling friends and colleagues that we loved them -it felt like a necessary form of reassurance at a time when so many people were expressing legitimate, proximate fears for their safety and happiness, based on plans and policies the new president-elect had spelled out quite explicitly during his election campaign.
Later that day, I got an email from an old friend-someone I got to know more than 30 years ago when I was a collective member and she a contributor to off our backs, a radical feminist newsjournal that published between 1970 and 2008. She signed off with a typical valediction from that time and place, one I haven’t used unironically in decades, but which feels absolutely right just now: Yours in struggle.
When I wrote letters as a representative of the collective, responding to reader submissions and letters of praise or complaint, “yours in struggle” was my standard sign-off. And I meant it in all sincerity. This wasn’t an empty habit, like the “yours sincerely” and “yours faithfully” I’d been taught to use in school. It conveyed that I was engaged in the same struggle-for women’s rights, against misogyny-as the recipient. We were in solidarity against the forces of systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia that could so easily seem overwhelming if we didn’t organize ourselves against them.
To the extent that words can keep the people who use them accountable-and if I didn’t think words were powerful, I’d be in another line of work-the phrase conveyed a willingness to be held responsible for my own words and actions as well as those of the collective and the magazine. I might be writing from a place of business, but I wasn’t taking care of this correspondence just because it was my job or to make money, but because I was part of the struggle.
It was also an indication that I was serious about waging this fight, and as such I valued honesty over politeness. One of the great feminist books of the 1980s was Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, in which Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith spoke truthfully to each other about their experiences and perspectives as an Ashkenazi Jew, a Christian-raised white Southerner, and a black American, respectively. Not everything they wrote was easy to hear and synthesize, but when making change, comfort isn’t the highest priority. The struggle is.
In recent years, I’ve allowed myself to think that the fight had succeeded. Writing those words now, I realize how foolish that was. As we ponder how the Trump-Pence administration threatens trans, gay, Muslim, female, Latino, and refugee people, it’s time to recommit to the struggle.