Seeking Solace After Trump’s Muslim Ban

Trump’s executive order is not just political, it’s personal.

By Saira Khan

It was around 30 degrees on Saturday and the crowd in front of me at John F. Kennedy Airport appeared to be in the thousands. People were packed into a space across Terminal 4 (international arrivals) and more were lined up along the bus stop and taxi stands. Some had already been standing and chanting for nearly five hours. There were people overlooking the crowd on all levels of the parking garage. An upside down American flag hung from the fourth floor, someone had spray painted a peace sign and “no borders” onto it. I made my way in, unsure of what to do. I was alone and didn’t have a sign. I was able to find a spot on the third floor of the garage where I planted myself for the next few hours. I didn’t know what to expect at the protest but I do know I wasn’t expecting what I saw.


On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a sense of dread and anxiety that I haven’t felt since last year, when I learned that my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Late Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order fulfilling his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The order temporarily bans travel from seven Muslim-dominated countries for refugees and visa-holders. There are reports that the White House is looking to expand the ban to include Pakistan, which is where I am from, and where my parents currently reside. The order makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities; Trump later clarified that he specifically meant Christians.

My sister texted me early morning, “Baji, this Muslim ban is really scaring me.” I had no words to comfort her. As American citizens, the executive order doesn’t affect us yet but the sense of otherness it is fostering is real and immediate. I was born in Pakistan and have spent most of my life in the United States. My sister was born in the U.S., has spent most of her life in Pakistan, and recently moved to New York. Trump’s executive order is ostensibly about religion, but it feels racial. It’s hard to dismiss this as mere politics; it’s personal.

When, late Saturday morning, I saw a handful of tweets and Facebook posts from activists, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, and immigration organizations calling on people to gather at Terminal 4 to protest the executive order and stand in solidarity with those being detained, I knew I had to go. I needed to do something to shake the loneliness and helplessness I was feeling.

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I spent the early afternoon speaking with friends who were immediately impacted by Trump’s order: people who have been told by their lawyers to cancel travel plans for the immediate future, people whose families can no longer visit them, people who feel the effect of this ban so deeply that they worry even voicing these concerns publicly will result in retribution.

By the time I made it onto the A train to JFK, around 4:00 p.m., it was full of protesters with signs declaring their support for refugees. “We are all refugees,” read one, “No more hate,” read another. Upon arriving at Terminal 4, I was greeted by four NYPD officers in full riot gear. The protesters were nowhere in sight. Outside, there were dozens of officers and a steady stream of flashing red and blue police lights. Further ahead, I heard the faint chants of protesters. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but as I got closer the size of the crowd became apparent.

A week ago, I had attended the Women’s March in New York City, for which the turnout was approximately 400,000. While it was empowering to march with women for our rights, I did not feel the sense of solidarity and emotion that I felt on Saturday. The crowd at the march appeared to be largely white, and, historically, white feminism hasn’t been sympathetic to people of color (much has been written about this, so if you want to know more I recommend reading this and this.) I felt no bond and no sisterhood  with the strangers marching with me. I expect all the women and men I know to fight for my rights as a woman, but I have lower expectations from people when it comes to fighting for my rights as a Pakistani woman of Muslim-descent. Our struggles, as women of color, aren’t their struggles and thus it’s easier to talk about gender than it is about race.

I was expecting anywhere from two dozen to 100 people at JFK. I’m not much of a crier and I surely don’t cry in public, so when I saw the size of the protest at Terminal 4, which appeared to be over 1,000, and my eyes welled up with tears, I felt naked and vulnerable.


In the garage, as the temperature continued to drop, my fully-charged phone stopped working and my hands became colder. A young woman handed me a packet of hand-warmers. Another woman handed me a bottle of Gatorade, “to stay hydrated,” she said.

I didn’t chant at the protest. I couldn’t bring myself to. I stood there, mostly in silence, at the top of the parking garage, taking in the crowd, and felt the sense of dread I had woken up with slowly melt away. I saw women in hijabs, men in yarmulkes; there were black people and white people and brown people all around me. This wasn’t a protest for overarching women’s rights. This was a specific protest against an executive order that discriminates against a specific sect of peopleit’s likely that many of those in attendance weren’t directly affected by Trump’s ban. The ones who came out that day had cancelled their plans and stood in the cold with no purpose but to voice their dissent. As a woman of color, macro- and micro-aggressions tinge every aspect of my life. I’ve learned to expect the worst from people. On Saturday, this expectation was challenged.

While I was at the airport, my sister was at Cadman Plaza, in Brooklyn, awaiting Judge Ann Donnelly’s ruling on an emergency challenge to the order by the ACLU. It was shortly before 9:00 p.m. when the stay was granted.

“When I got here there were a few dozen, now there are soooo many,” my sister texted me.

(In all the rejoicing, it’s important to remember that we still have a long battle to fight. The stay blocks only part of the executive action: it prevents the government from deporting people who arrived in the United States during this chaos, or people who were already here. The stay does not state that they must be allowed into the country; another hearing is set for Feb. 21. And we still don’t know what is to come from this administration.)

I made it home around 8:50 p.m. and my sister came home shortly after the ruling was issued.

“How’re you feeling now?” I asked her.

“I cried a lot and I’m still really scared about what’s going to happen. But I feel a lot better. Does that make sense?” she asked.

“Yes, it does.” I said. And I meant it.


I, Obama: A Robotic Look at the Last Four Years

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama was called “cool” and “aloof.” This experimental piece of fiction uses quotes from news articles and takes them at their word.

By Monica Torres

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In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.” —“Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“[In I, Robot, Will Smith’s character] Del Spooner is literally composed of the very technology he abhors, and his visceral disdain for robotic technology signals a curious self-loathing at the core of his identity. In the end, as with all of Will Smith’s science fiction films, order is restored as a result of his character’s heroic sacrifice. In the specific context of I, Robot, the righteous hero restores order as a Black man.” “Towards a Black Science Fiction Cinema: The Slippery Signifier of Race and the Films of Will Smith” by Stephanie Larrieux

“A lot of people pull back into their own specific identity, their race, their tribe, their religion, and that’s a dangerous thing because it can splinter people.” President Obama to Will Smith

…a surprise appearance at Axelrod’s going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: “Gotta go.”

“Gotta go, gotta go,” said Robot, hands shaking. Robot cannot make it stop. Robot bows, the guillotine falling down, as it waltzes from “Thank You For Your Service” to “Thank You For Your Contribution.” It’s a fast tempo: eyes meet, leech, let go. All the President’s Men, tisk tisk. Y is it so srs? Robot cannot make deals if it is never in the same room.

Its manual is confusing and cosmopolitan. The first of its kind, Robot is

above it all
frosty, to be generous
“clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled)
the most closed, control freak administration

Mixed reviews! But when Robot speaks dream to us, we fall back in love with the way Robot shapes The American Spirit, the arcs of our human condition, the white whales of despair. We track the tears running down, promising to do better, to stand no more ground, to leak no moar, but it’s all a lower-cased no. Robot cannot do more than register upper-cased ‘O’s. After tragedies, Robot stands before podiums and our throats swallow up its tongues, too hungry to hear.

We love Robot’s Amazing Grace, but here’s the reality: When a human representative screams, You Lie!, in its face, in front of everyone, in an unprecedented breach, our blood sings. Fight him! When another buzzes, Hell No You Can’t!, we say Awww Yissss It Can. Smack back! Show us what’s under that spacesuit. But Robot never raises its voice. Nothing gets unzipped. This is no Jesse Jackson model. Annoyed, we

asked Michelle Obama how it was possible for her husband to maintain his equipoise amid so much hatred. “You have no idea how bad it is,” she said. His practiced calm is beyond reckoning.

This half-Kansas, half-Kenyan-(sekrit Muslim?born-Illegal?!) upgrade has gotten so good that we don’t know who is playing whom. Moneyed suits jerk nods out of Robot, but Robot’s hands raise the strings. Religion teaches children the first law of Robotics: Thou shall not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. But, amendment! there are always executive exceptions. Call of Duty flies into homes and the cranial signature leaves a crater right above Robot’s eye, right into that faraway foreign child’s

aspects of modern politics. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires,” he told disappointed aides during his stubbornly lackluster preparation for the second debate

We watch Robot circle its white fence round and round. One day, Robot breaks protocol and escapes(!),

Walking two blocks from the White House…during the government shutdown –the farthest he had journeyed by foot outside the complex in five years.

I’m thinking, Robot apologizes after we returned it to the complex. We sic more insects on Robot, but Robot bugs us back. Manmade insects with human triggers and metal skin. A drone is a machine that is only as honest as the intelligence that guides it. The bugs follow patterns of behavior, their mouths searching for blood. A signature strike does not require absolutes of who is being targeted

even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

Origins justify children held in cells. The suspicion of the engineers gets embedded into the mainframe, enforced by back-facing cops wary of their front-facing users who do not look like them.

Robot waves its hand. Machines blink around Robot and record. Not me, Robot sighs. Them.

he complains that people imagine him to have a “joystick” that allows him to manipulate precise outcomes.

Robot fists promises, but after setbacks, shootings and shutdowns, this political machinery rings hollow. Even when the product fails to sell, look at its editorial chisel. Robot’s family breaks news on a schedule. The wife’s two armstoo strong for a wifecause scandal. The wife watching our weight does not. The two daughters, their hemmed J.Crew smiles, reach milestones the Robot can repeat to its circuits. Robot choreographs laughs with Joe’s and Susan’s, beers clinking together.

Years ago, Robot invited a Henry to solve r-a-c-e over beer and approvals ratings dipped, ruh roh Robot. We, meaning this ‘we’ and not those ‘we,’ don’t say that word out loud. Robot wields We the People as only a silver tongued shapeshifter of its calibration can. Twice as good means being less than human and Robot transcends all expectations. When you listen to Robotic speeches, listen to the number of universal “we’s” deployed. The number you hear measures the distance between us.

Fast-forward to The Defeat. We tighten the tourniquet, ready for the final days, the next four years(!!!!), but Robot still breathes dream in and out, so outwardly collected. In its Beep Beep Goodbye, Robot acknowledges Threat to Democracy but reassures us with Good of Humanity, even here, even now, because Robot

was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of “I.” By speaking so, he wasn’t simply avoiding a singularity he didn’t feel, he was also drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can’t see it stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too.  

And Robocop becomes legend, Robot’s determined silhouette shadowing the wasteland. Marching the path of Kings before it, we demand a sacrifice for our sins. If I had a son, Robot dreams, he’d look like those Neuromancer dreams, split atom by atom, until even we cannot see

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

and we cannot recognize when the personality simulation became the bitter screen of the soul, and we make the mistake of believing it is almost human.


Quotes taken from “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “The Lonely Guy” by Todd S. Purdum; “A Brief History of President Obama Not Having Any Friends” by Arit John; “The Obama Administration and the Press” by The Committee to Protect Journalists; “Going the Distance” and “Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency” by David Remnick; “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” by Jo Becker and Scott Shane; The Obama Paradox” by Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein;Speaking in Tongues” by Zadie Smith; Is Barry Whiffing?” by Maureen Dowd  

Scenes from the Women’s March in New York City

On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On Saturday, January 21st, a record-breaking amount of people took to the streets on every continent to participate in peaceful protests in solidarity with women’s rights. We joined the hundreds of thousands of women marching through the avenues of our city and felt the hope and momentum to keep fighting, learning, and organizing. Even if you’ve already leafed through plenty of photo galleries over the last few days, what harm is there in taking a look at a few more bad bitches shutting it down? Here are our favorite sights from this historic day, shot by the High-Strung team.

Dear Mr. President, This Is What Resistance Looks Like

An open letter to the 45th president of the United States.

                                                                   Dear Mr. President,

I know, I know, you like to grab us by our pussies. You’ve been trying to deny it but you know how they say actions speak louder than words? Your actions have only echoed your words. You cheated on your first wife with your second (you once described this period of your life as a “bowl of cherries.”) You married your third wife in 2005, which was, incidentally, the same year your infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss,” you said. Sprinkle in some of the sexual assault and harassment allegations against you and let’s face it: we have a pretty clear picture of how you view us.

You’re a familiar adversary, Mr. President. I have known men like you for my entire life. Several women I know were in abusive marriages, most of my school friends dated controlling, obsessive, and, at times, abusive boys. I grew up around boys—now men—who weren’t looking for companions, they were looking for women to possess.

I’ve been resisting men like you for a long time: Men who believe they can say and do anything to women, who believe that only we should change diapers and that sexual harassment is the woman’s problem. You’re not the first person to have said this, and you surely won’t be the last.

It’s not just your sexism that’s tired. Your Islamophobic rhetoric is old too.

Last year, when you attacked Muslim women, by way of Ghazala Khan, the mother of the late U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, for not speaking as she stood next to her husband, you perpetuated a stereotype about Muslim women that served as the American call to war post-9/11: that Muslim women need saving from their misogynistic counterparts.

You surely can’t have forgotten about Laura Bush’s radio address about the oppression of women and children in Afghanistan or the countless op-eds, articles, and covers dedicated to documenting the plight of Muslim women. Overnight, people went from not knowing where Afghanistan was on a map to advocating for the rights  (they thought) Muslim women should have. Naturally, this savorism manifested itself in Islamophobia. In the years that followed 9/11, globally, we’ve saw the passing of laws banning hijabs (in some cases, men actually ripping them off of women) and an uptick in hate-crimes against Muslims. Remember the response when the Muslim lawyer Saba Ahmed who wore an American flag hijab on Megyn Kelly’s show? And let’s not forget about the language of Brexit.

This language of white saviors reared its ugly head again on Saturday. As millions of women around the country took to the streets to protest your presidency and proposed actions, many of your followers took to Twitter to remind us that we (American women) don’t have it so bad.

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I can’t help but recall that the last time such concern was feigned for Muslim women, Iraqi women ended up with a Constitution that caved to the religious right and guaranteed women equal rights—as long as those rights don’t contradict Islamic law.

The thing is, Mr. President, misogyny knows no borders, no color, no religion. It knows gender and the shape of our bodies. It follows us from our homes to our workplaces, permeating every aspect of our lives. It is on the streets in the form of catcalls, in bars in the form of grabs. Sometimes, it lives deep within the people we love the most and comes out when we least expect it. It bleeds us. It breaks us.

Last week, you saw what our resistance can look like. We protested you on all seven continents. According to experts, nearly 3.3 million men, women, and children across the United States marched to voice their dissent. More people turned out against you on Saturday than in support of you on Friday. And this was just day 1 of your presidency.

So, Mr. President, trust me when I say this: you can eat your cake in the White House for the next four years, but know that we’ll always be standing outside, ready to rain on your parade. We’ll always be marching in the streets. We’ll always be shouting our dissent. We’ll always be asking questions. We’ll always be resisting.

Enjoy the White House while you have it.

Sofia Carrillo is Making Horror Out of Dollhouses

An interview with one of the directors behind the upcoming female-driven horror anthology “XX.”

By Gabrielle Sierra


Chances are you haven’t yet heard of Sofia Carrillo; an artist, animator and director who up until now has produced beautiful short films from the seclusion of her Mexico City studio. But Carrillo is sure to gain some attention over the next month due to her contribution to the all-female horror anthology, “XX.” Described by its producers as a response to the lack of opportunities for women in film, the movie is set to hit theaters and video-on-demand February 17th.

“XX”, which made its debut at Sundance, features four vignettes directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Annie Clark (better known as the musician St. Vincent). Each film is bridged by original animations directed and created by Carrillo, adding a mystical and eerie vibe to an anthology that already looks scary as hell.

We reached out to Carrillo to ask her about the film and her role in it, as well as the ups and downs of being a female director in the male-driven horror industry.

How did you get involved in “XX”?

I received an invitation from Todd Brown, the producer of the film. I “e-met” him maybe 7 years ago and then I met him live, so we had been in touch a bit before he wrote me and invited me to the anthology. The line-up of the directors has changed a few times but I’ve always been excited with the directors of the anthology. I feel honored to be part of “XX”. I felt honored since the beginning, when Todd first wrote me about it.

Your contribution to “XX” is animated. Can you discuss this choice and tell us a little bit about your background as an animator?

At the beginning I wanted to be a painter and/or a writer. I´ve always been in love with fantasy and surrealism. I got into the film school because I wanted to do animation. Cinema, for me, is the perfect combination of story and paint. When Todd wrote me about “XX”, we were aware that my contribution was going to be animated, but, the question was how was I going to match my animated interstitials with the live action segments. I always trusted in Todd!


So how did you decide what animation you wanted to focus on? What was your goal with your pieces?

We first began with the idea to do something with the rooms of a doll house, so I took Todd´s idea and turned it into something else. I was given a brief logline from the directors’ stories. I have this obsession with the “hidden energy” of objects since creating my short film “The Sad House” [La Casa Triste], that energy that goes from the person to their objects. When objects survive their owners, what happens then with those beloved belongings? The answer became almost natural to provide life to the dollhouse. This house is kind of lost, sad, without her master, walking around, an old house searching for something, and finding it in the tiny doors to other worlds, the live-action worlds. I wanted to make it very feminine, mysterious.

Is there a film in “XX” that really resonated with you? What about one that scares you the most?                                                                                                                                                  

Each short film is scary in its own particular way. The whole anthology has resonated with me. Beyond the genre, I really think it is becoming a protest in this particular moment we are living.

How did you decide what segments to create for each piece? Did you work with each woman to create a unique bridge? Do you have a favorite segment?

I worked all alone in my studio. I had an idea of the stories, but never the script. Let´s say it was like a “jump of faith”. I had to trust my instinct! I met Jovanka Vuckovic last year, but I have just met Roxanne [Benjamin] and Annie [Clark] at the premiere. I have not decided which one is my favorite, I love the four of them!

What do you think animated horror can do or communicate that live-action horror films can’t?                                                                                                                                  

Animation is about giving life to an inanimate object. Animation comes from reality itself, it is a perfect technique to bring the extra “strange feeling” to a horror tale.

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What are your influences?

I wouldn’t say influences, although obviously everything you see stays in your head, I prefer “connection” and I really love Jan Svankmajer, Brothers Quay, Ladislaw Starewicz.

Can you discuss your experiences as a female director in the film industry?

This is my first experience collaborating outside of México with Canadian and American filmmakers. I never thought it could be like this, sincerely, working with Todd and his partners, and when I met Jovanka [Vuckovic]… it just feels awesome. These are very passionate people making movies, just like home.

Can you talk a little bit about your journey into American cinema? What are some big differences you have encountered?

Probably the biggest difference is going to be the reach of the audiences. During production, I worked in Mexico, I had the same adventures that animation usually has, including a really haunted old house. I guess I was very lucky to work with the producers of “XX,” because I felt free and respected all the time. In fact, very, very free.

Let’s talk about the horror industry. Are there any specific stories that stand out to you or times you felt you were treated differently as a woman?

About a different treatment, it sure happens. Mostly, I guess, it is about getting yourself out of your own way and just go for it… I keep saying this to myself  since I heard it from a great woman filmmaker, Ruba Nadda.

What is something you would like to see more of in horror films? What about something you are sick of seeing?

I love the subtlety of it, when the ordinary becomes horrifying, and it is so close to your normal life that you just can´t sleep. In fact, it is funny because I really can hardly stand to watch a horror movie, and when I do, I don´t sleep for days. With my first short films, people began to say that I was doing horror shorts when in my head, I thought I was doing nostalgic or melancholic stuff. This is a funny case of “how did I ended doing the one thing that I just can’t stand?” I’m beginning to embrace and love my dark side.

Any thoughts on the “final girl” trope in horror films?

I find this “final girl” trope in horror movies to be very interesting. I am fascinated and sometimes ashamed by what I see revealed through this character, and I think this reflects on how women have evolved in society. Personally my own “final girl” is built on the idea that if you have a final female character in your story it keeps an idea of life continuing in your film.   

“XX” is being released less than a month after the US presidential inauguration. Do you feel as though an all-female anthology has particular importance right now?

This film is really a huge victory for all the crew involved. It sure has a particular importance in US right now and personally it has even more importance. I feel proud of being a part of this anthology, and mostly, very proud of my crew, our work and my Mexican nationality.

What are your plans/goals for the next year?

I´m in the first steps of the writing of (hopefully) mi opera prima, because is an animated feature length, it might take a few years, I have to be patient as a Jedi. May the force be with me!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


7 Media-Inspired Suggestions for Not Losing Your Mind in 2017

Advice from an amateur but avid media consumer struggling to stay informed with staying afloat.

By Fríða Óskarsdóttir


You may have read in any of the 30,000 think pieces published in 2016 that the media landscape is changing. We – as readers, consumers, and citizens – have changed along with it. Compulsively trying keep up with current events in a tense climate can come at a cost. I wake up and refresh local and national news apps, listen to one of 20 or so podcasts in my rotation on the train to work, and receive  long-form recommendations daily from friends that I then plan to read later. By the time the weekend edition of the paper arrives I’m in a daze from tweetstorms and clapbacks, fake news and the people who fake it.

Being constantly plugged into the Matrix leaves me at times feeling like my brain is burnt and others that I remain woefully under-informed. As I’m sure is true for many who don’t work in journalism, social media was a prominent factor in spurring my interest in the news over the last few years. But in the current climate, the volatile mixture of online activism, fake news, and hostile comment threads makes me wary of what I share. In spite of this, I think that learning how to navigate the personal and political in a time of great divide should be at the forefront of our lives. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but in a time of alternative facts, I hope to stay vigilant.

I decided to examine my relationship with the media and how I use it as a source of information, reflection, and connection. The following points are the ways I’ve found to try to keep myself awake, in check, and inspired.

1. Hold yourself accountable.

In uncertain times, I like to remind myself that I’m in control of the information I take in and put out. Sometimes it’s all too easy to paraphrase and misremember statistics and while acknowledging your sources is important, it isn’t always enough. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow urged being a critical reader of the media on the post-election episode of their podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” (full episode here):

“Ask questions as you’re reading something. Even from [the most reputable] news sources, you can say ‘Who am I not hearing from in this article?’ ‘So this is ostensibly about how people are feeling after the election – but who’s really quoted here? What sorts of ‘experts’ am I hearing from? Is this news source trading access to give people anonymity?’ There is a whole skill set of being a critical reader and thinking about how the news that gets to you is constructed. A good tell is: did this writer call people? Did this writer go somewhere? Or is this piggy-backing off something else?”

2. Focus on lived experiences of others.

Studies and statistics are important, but they shouldn’t completely discount people’s varied personal experiences.  A recent New Inquiry piece from David A. Banks explores the tendency of some of the most popular podcasts to gloss over sociology for more abstract neurological phenomena, leading to “a sense of obnoxious explainerism.” This is particularly helpful to remember as someone who all too often responds to an anecdote with, “You know, I just heard on…”

3. Broaden your scope.

News and politics are so much more than the day to day, but the immediate often takes precedence over all else. Instead of sharing every breaking news item or those pieces that reinforce your point of view into the echo chamber, I find it’s helpful to reach out individually to the people close to you who may think differently than you do. Sharing art, movies, books, podcasts, or articles that you think they might like may lead to common ground in other areas. Not everything has to be political, and that makes it political.

4. Find the sweet spot.

The most powerful movements combine symbolism with action. This was embodied by the viral push to donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name. As highlighted in this New York Magazine piece by Lisa Ryan, the campaign was both brilliant and effective: of the over 315,000 donations the organization has received since the election, 82,000 were made in Pence’s name.  

5. Listen.

One of the first pieces of media that brought me out of my post-election stupor was an episode of “This American Life” entitled The Sun Comes Up, which laid out conversations between people in the days after November 8th. The dialogue spanned mothers and children, recent and long-naturalized immigrants, police officers and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. To me these offered solace in the reminder that America will always be home to vastly different ideologies, regardless of how helpless I feel in mine at any given moment.

6. Do the damn thing.

While making your voice heard is vital to broad cultural shifts, sometimes just the smallest action is what it takes to chip away at the despair that crops up from one too many deep-dives on Google. I can rant as many times as I want about Betsy Devos’ terrifying lack of experience in public education, but it makes more sense to volunteer at READ 718 instead. There, I spend a few hours a week reading with one of my many fourth-grade friends, covertly indoctrinating him with feminism and witchcraft. Also, when you tell people you volunteer they automatically feel inferior to you, so, bonus!

7. Write your own story.

The first thing I did on November 9th was sit down with my friends and plan the revolution this newsletter. Meeting, organizing, scheming, and dreaming has absorbed so much of my dread and focused my rage into art, community, and laughter. No one else can create what you do, so get started. And don’t forget to sign your friends up for our newsletter!

Single With a Side of “Torshideh”

For Iranian women, the pressure of marriage comes with a sour twist.

By Sara Afzal


All the children sit around the table as their grandmother prepares the traditional Iranian feast. The pickled sour vegetable garnish known as torshi is placed alongside the steaming saffron rice with green beans and beef. The youngest girl finishes everything on her plate except the green mush. “Sara, eat your torshi!” the grandmother commands.

As a child, I never really liked torshi. It looked like a dark green compote with the occasional carrot and tasted too sour and vinegary. As a twenty something woman, torshi became less about questionable veggie spread, and more about the word torshideh–literally meaning soured, but used to describe an unmarried woman whose clock is ticking into her 30s. Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The term torshideh haunted most Iranian women who suffered through tremendous marriage pressure from their families. My parents pushed me less in that department, a positive side effect from their divorce. Still, I was not immune to the term. My older male cousins threw the jabs as soon as I was in my early 20s. “Sara, you don’t want to become torshideh now. Learn how to cook Iranian food so you can be a good wife. Oh, and go pour us some tea.”

Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The pressure to get married is overt for all young Iranian men and women, but the taboo is especially faced by unmarried women, as the word torshideh demonstrates. Yet, while women are encouraged to marry young, divorce is still frowned upon. In Iran, women are not legally permitted to attain a divorce as Sharia law gives men the sole right. In the U.S., about 40 to 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and in Iran, about 20 percent of marriages result in divorce. Of course these stats don’t imply that marriages in Iran work better than in the US, it just means it’s harder for women to get out of them.

Luckily, my parents were far from traditional. They left Iran during the tumultuous political years that would soon tip into the chaos of the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, and they were determined to build a new life in America. My mom, Nahid, was raised by Muslim parents who disapproved of her living with my dad, Ali, without being married. So the two students studying art and film at UT Austin decided to tie the knot spontaneously with no planned wedding ceremony. They got hitched wearing faded Wrangler jeans at the courthouse in Austin, Texas. On their wedding day, instead of a traditional ring, Ali gave Nahid a set of multicolored plastic bands that was later passed down to me. The retro pink, red, blue, and white rings once all worn on my mother’s ring finger sit inside of a small jewelry box I still have today. The rings may have lasted, but the marriage didn’t.

In Iran, about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30.

My parents’ unorthodox marriage and eventual divorce has given me a complicated relationship with the Iranian way of looking at marriage. Like most children of a failed union, I can’t think about marriage without thinking about divorce. The truth is I’d rather be labeled torshideh like expired milk than get married for the wrong reasons, and I think this is a modern concept that is not accepted by an older generation of Iranians. Arranged marriages are still common in Iran, but at the same time, there has been a strong shift towards dating around and marrying at an older age, much like in the U.S. These contradictions between the modern and traditional are very apparent in Iran, a country where about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30. The emergence of this youth population has been linked to the loss of young men fighting during the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and also the government’s encouragement of larger families during the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Living in the U.S. makes it easier to avoid the anxiety of being called torshideh. Surrounded by powerful women who look at marriage as an option and not a compulsion has empowered me to feel confident in my own hesitation. It’s more of a “if it happens, it happens” with no impulse to dream up a wedding day fantasy. I’m most thankful that my parents have not adhered to the norm and pressured me to marry “a nice Iranian boy,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of my family is as lax. The last time I went to Iran my grandmother, who loves to arrange marriages, said, “If you come back again, I will find you a husband.” I haven’t been back since.

A Friendship Interrupted: Loss During the AIDS Epidemic

A story about loving and losing a best friend during the AIDS epidemic in New York City.

As told to Gabrielle Sierra by her mother, Samantha


I first met David Poole in 1975. I was 23 and he was 25 and we were both working at the New York Public Library. He sought me out as a friend and I don’t really know why; it felt like we lived in different worlds. He was an openly gay man living in a fifth-floor walkup in the East Village, with a bathtub in the kitchen. I was a Brooklyn hippie commuting to the city every day, balancing work with night classes in community college. But David and I became fast friends and he brought me into his world.

There was so much about David that was unique. He biked everywhere and was brazen too; if a taxi cut him off he’d spit on it. It was David who first brought me to a sushi restaurant and introduced me to clubs like Paradise Garage where we would dance until dawn. He was a great dancer and knew everyone. In fact, it was a friend of his who introduced me to the man I would eventually marry.

David was a true-blue friend and utterly unselfish in his relationship with me. I’d never had a friend like that before and never have again.

David had a tremendous love for exotic plants and he sacrificed a room in his two-room apartment just to grow orchids. He had a complicated lighting and misting system that would go off on a timer. Depending on which one went on, he would either hand you sunglasses or an umbrella. Geckos ran loose in the apartment to eat roaches.

David was a true-blue friend and utterly unselfish in his relationship with me. I’d never had a friend like that before and never have again.

He first had suspicions that he had AIDS in 1985. Many of his friends were being diagnosed and he was right in the thick of the community. There was a lot of promiscuity and drug use; David wasn’t monogamous so the possibility was real. There were so many lies and misinformation surrounding the disease so it was hard to know what to believe. People believed you could get it from spit on the ground, from someone handling your food or touching the poles on the subway. There was a lot of fear.

At first David wouldn’t go to the doctor. He developed oral thrush and even though it really freaked him out he stayed in denial. But as more and more people around him started dying he grew consumed with the idea that he had AIDS. He was eventually diagnosed in 1986.

David and Samantha

The doctor didn’t flat out tell him he had AIDS; they wouldn’t say it then. They listed ailments related to the disease but never said the actual word AIDS. After that he started to go downhill fast. He grew weaker. The library asked him to resign from his job.

A few of David’s friends and I began a desperate hunt for AZT, a medication used to treat HIV/AIDS. We contacted the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and they directed us to a doctor who would prescribe the medication but it wasn’t available at any pharmacy. We would be told it was on order and to come back tomorrow only to be told the same thing the next day. I went to different pharmacies, all over the city, every day, for nearly a month. They knew he was dying, knew so many people were dying, and they still lead us on. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. He didn’t get the AZT until he was too sick.

“They knew he was dying, knew so many people were dying, and they still lead us on.”

We tried to take him to the hospital but they wouldn’t admit him. Multiple doctors literally turned their backs to us. We contacted the GMHC again and they told us the only way to get David into the hospital was to bring him to the emergency room and walk away, because legally they had to take him if he was abandoned and in need of care. Walking away, leaving him all alone and so fragile, was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Once he was admitted, it was the same story. No physician would state that he had AIDS, they would only discuss what was happening to him. Eventually I cornered his doctor in the stairwell and asked him to just tell me off the record if it was AIDS. He said yes and I broke down. I guess I had just been holding on to this scrap of hope that since they never said it, it wasn’t real.

While David was in the hospital I found out that I was pregnant. I was going to the city every day to visit him at the hospital and I had no intention of changing that pattern. People gave me shit about exposing the fetus to AIDS and said that my stress would affect the pregnancy. Their concern was fueled by their ignorance and fear. Most of his friends didn’t visit him for the same reasons.

Before David was admitted, my husband and I had purchased tickets to visit my in-laws in Puerto Rico. As the trip got closer, I became more and more hesitant about going. But eventually two close friends of ours agreed to stay with him in the hospital, so we left. I called frequently.

His struggle with AIDS didn’t end in death.

We were just a few days into our trip when I grew concerned about David’s mental and physical state. Each time we spoke on the phone, he seemed more and more confused, repeating his fears to me, forgetting things. The disease was spreading to his brain and he was deteriorating quickly. I decided we had to go home right away. We bought tickets and I called to let David know I was coming. Our friends answered and said he wasn’t talking anymore. I asked them to put the phone to his ear and I told him I was on my way home and that we’d be back so soon. By the time we landed at the airport David was gone. He was 36. I didn’t get to see him again, I didn’t get to say goodbye.

His struggle with AIDS didn’t end in death. We couldn’t bury him. We went to multiple funeral homes only to be turned away. We would argue or offer more money but they would still refuse. When we asked how they could deny us, they said that by law they could refuse us service. It was surreal and devastating.  

Thank goodness for the GMHC. They instructed us to go to a certain place to cremate him, but then no one would take his ashes. Cemetery owners were terrified to put him in the ground. My lovely best friend.

David, the author, and her dog Max

David’s life of kindness, easy friendship and love of nature helped us find an answer. He had been close with the groundskeeper for the Quaker cemetery in Prospect Park, a nice guy who used to let him come in and garden. When he heard that we couldn’t find a place for David’s ashes, he came to the rescue. The groundskeeper and I drove out to New Jersey and picked a tree we thought David would love. Then we illegally dug a hole for the tree and his ashes in the hidden idyllic cemetery. The tree is still there. It is amazing looking – a huge tree, beautiful and blue. We had a small ceremony there and a couple of us spoke.

I miscarried the baby very shortly after David died. People blamed it on the stress and all that, but I never thought about it that way. It was just the way things happen.

I was the executor for David’s will and he had a ton of odd and interesting stuff. We donated his plants to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and divided the rest of his things among friends and various charitable organizations. One day my husband and I were packing up at David’s apartment and we began searching for the geckos to take home with us. We knew there were four but since they were all loose, we were struggling to find them. We finally found three but it just seemed like the fourth was gone. I was extremely upset and I kept apologizing saying, “I’m sorry David, I’m sorry we couldn’t find him.” I was despondent when my husband said my name and pointed as the last gecko found his way onto my shoulder.

I have tried my best to honor David the place he had in my life. In the 1990’s I made a section on The AIDS Memorial Quilt for David and traveled with The Names Project around the country. I protested when children were being kept out of public schools due to AIDS. Through my job I now work with LGBT organizations and am an organizing member of a Safe Zone for all faculty and students at my school. I am proud to say my own children are liberal-minded and sensitive and thoughtful; what I went through with David had a hand in the way I raised them.

My wonderful friend will never be able to enrich the lives of my children as I know he would have.

But the panic I saw in people’s eyes and their actions during that time struck me in a deeply profound way. To see those sworn to protect the public turn their backs on us. To know that if some people had their way they would have left David and the rest of the gay community on an island to weed itself out was heartbreaking. It was murder. My wonderful friend will never be able to enrich the lives of my children as I know he would have.

I don’t think I’ll ever lose my fear and dread: not of Ebola or terrorism or threats to our planet, but the capacity of hate we humans can muster when we are afraid.