Hamilton: Soundtrack to the Resistance

Hamilton: Soundtrack to the Resistance

In a time of great crisis, the play's songs, and its story, fueled a movement.

The election happened. That night, I chain-smoked half a pack of cigarettes, not yet knowing that I was pregnant with my second child.

The days that followed were a blur of tears, greasy hair, and nausea, which I thought was from smoking all those cigarettes and not a little bit from the now-real prospect of a Trump administration. The future looked bleak. I was frightened for my daughter and myself. I was frightened for my friends, especially those in marginalized groups. I was frightened for our nation.

There didn’t seem to be much reason to hope.

Within days of the election, though, I received two tiny grains of sand around which I could begin to build a pearl. The first was a Facebook invitation to a protest in Washington D.C. My husband’s response was immediate: “You have to go.” My friend Brittany offered her car and her parents’ home in northern Virginia. Plans were set for the Women’s March.

Next, video emerged of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence’s arrival at a Broadway theater to see Hamilton, already the city’s hardest ticket to get. He was greeted with boos and jeers from much of the audience. Then the video jumped to the end of the play and Brandon Victor Dixon’s reading of the cast and crew’s prepared message for Pence, expressing their alarm and anxiety over the coming administration, imploring Pence to represent all Americans, to make our nation great for all instead of just the wealthy, white, and straight.

Conservative pundits quickly crafted an “us versus them” narrative and suddenly, it seemed, Hamilton became ours. It belonged to those of us who had privately, and then publicly and en masse, committed to resisting Trump, his administration, and a complicit Congress. In the morning after the election, the world was abruptly full of hidden enemies, a menace that threatened my safety and my very existence. I’d search strangers’ faces in line at the grocery store, pumping gas, greeting me at church. Were they Trump voters? Had they brought this calamity down on us? But in that video and in the climbing numbers of RSVPs on the Women’s March Facebook event page, I saw a theater and a nation full of allies.

When January 1st, 2017, dawned, my hope was mixed with righteous anger and a sense of purpose. And I had the Hamilton soundtrack on my phone. I couldn’t stop listening to it. The songs energized me as I prepared for my first major act of resistance. I felt a kinship with the men and women who, two hundred and forty years earlier, got fed up and took to the streets. I identified with the hot-headed Alexander Hamilton. I was ready to fight.

I was not the only one who brought Hamilton to the Women’s March. I saw several signs carrying the phrase, “Rise up!” Another warned: “History has its eyes on you.” As my friends and I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, past the inauguration bleachers, I was exhilarated. When I saw crowds on the balcony of the Newseum cheering us on, when we passed the Trump International Hotel and a shout of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” went up, when groups of people stood on the Ellipse flipping off the White House, I felt a lightness that I hadn’t experienced since before the election. The spirit of American democracy, with all its contradictions and conflicts and comfortable white lies, captured so strikingly in Hamilton, seemed to be slipping away from us – the people – in the wake of Trump’s election. But here we were, almost a million strong from coast to coast, striving to reclaim it, declaring that we wouldn’t let it go without a fight. We were going to save our country. We were doing it. There were enough of us. How lucky we were to be alive at this historic moment.

Back in Orlando, I attended a few protests outside Marco Rubio’s downtown office. I brought my daughter, barely two years old, who shouted and clapped her hands. It felt like this might matter, like we might make a difference. But as 2017 wore on, the crowds grew smaller. The daily minutiae of life proved as relentless as Mitch McConnell’s attacks on parliamentary procedure. I kept up with news and the latest Indivisible action items. I kept calling my representatives and senators. And I kept listening to Hamilton. By the spring, my daughter could already shout-sing her favorite songs: “Work! Work! Eliza! Peggy!” She interrupted a conversation I was having with a friend to say, “Talk less!” “Smile more?” I responded. She ran away giggling.

By the Fourth of July, when I was great with child and not feeling particularly patriotic, the situation I had feared on Election Night 2016 had gone from bad to worse. Each day brought crazier and more frightening headlines than the last. The news cycle was manic, unremitting, paralyzing. For most of the year, I had read only Twitter, where the newest nightmare was sure to break first. The few books I tried to read didn’t last. I couldn’t make it past the first few pages before the compulsion to check my phone, to find out what fresh Hell the Republicans had wrought, took over.

In that same time, Hamilton had gone from being an acclaimed work of musical theater to a cultural phenomenon. And if Lin-Manuel Miranda’s star had been on the rise in 2016, in 2017 he became a household name. I became a total fangirl. I bought Moana on Blu-ray only after I found out he wrote all the songs. I clapped with glee when Daveed Diggs appeared in Season 3 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And I may or may not have had a sex dream about Leslie Odom, Jr.

(I totally did, and it was glorious.)

The day after my son was born in late July, I was back to resisting, calling Marco Rubio’s office from bed. Nursing a newborn, I implored my senator’s voicemail for a vote against the GOP healthcare bill, knowing it wouldn’t matter, insisting on doing my part anyway. My children’s future seemed every day to hang in the balance, and I cried every time my phone shuffled to “Dear Theodosia.” In the days that followed, I was giddy with relief to see Diggs dance across my phone’s screen in GIF form singing, “You don’t have the votes,” as my Twitter timeline celebrated the failure of, first, the motion to proceed, and then the skinny repeal. But those moments of victory were fleeting. There were new outrages every morning.


Listen to Dianne read her poem, "Pantocrator":


I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say the resistance is exhausted. In the last months of the year, it seems the GOP tax bill has loomed for weeks over our heads like a committee of vultures waiting for vermin to die, but maybe it has only been a few days. The pace of the news cycle makes it impossible to remember. By the time this piece is published, the tax bill vote will seem months old. I and many other members of the resistance have struggled under the emotional exhaustion of spending holidays with the Trump voters in our families, trying to maintain peace despite feeling keenly the responsibility of holding them to account. I’m also physically exhausted from caring for a newborn and a toddler, fearing always for their future. As 2017 winds to a close, my inner monologue repeats a tweet Miranda aimed at Trump in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria: you’re going straight to Hell. As of this writing, that tweet has almost 350,000 likes, probably because it’s the most succinct way to sum up how many of us feel – all the disgust, anger, frustration, helplessness in the face of easily preventable suffering, be it Puerto Ricans still without electricity and clean water, children watching ICE arrest their undocumented parents in the school carpool line, or US Capitol police dragging wheelchair-bound men and women out in handcuffs. It’s hard not to despair when my social media timelines in 2017 have been a long march of Muslim bans, the stealing of public lands, the gutting of the State Department, the trashing of net neutrality, concerted right-wing attacks against the FBI and intelligence community, the ceaseless threat to affordable healthcare. The Women’s March was almost a year ago. If it seemed then that the America we knew and loved was slipping away, we now know for sure that it is.

And through it all, I am still listening to Hamilton. My daughter knows to ask for it by name every time we get in the car. I feel an instant connection to every fan I meet, as though we are sharing a secret or, at the very least, a recognition of a kindred spirit, someone else who is tired, anxious, and mad. In a year that has sorely needed it, Hamilton gives us hope. Hope that whatever divine providence got the colonists through an almost unwinnable war will bring our nation through this current test. Hope that our precarious republic will survive this clear and present threat. Hope that America is still that great, unfinished symphony.

At the very least, it lets me yell, “Motherfucking southern Democratic-Republicans!” when I’m waiting at red lights, and that makes me feel better.

header image: "womens-march-07866," alans1948 / wikimedia commons

 

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