Edit: I wrote this before Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to catch Hamilton, and the fallout from that. All of this goes double. We now return to your regular post.
Feel free to tap play on that video for the sounds that go with these words.
After the election, I keep coming back to Hamilton, and specifically this performance of Yorktown, seen on the right. It’s a musical that’s stunning in its audacity and its subversiveness, casting people of colour as the founding fathers of the United States and trying to reclaim the narrative of the Revolutionary War in both image and musical style. Even this short snippet holds key messages about what’s happened in the last few weeks, and where we go from here.
The World Turned Upside Down
The election result wasn’t just an upset over Hillary Clinton, it was a result that places progress made on social justice in the last eight years in danger, and threatens to move the United Stats backward even further on issues of human rights, systemic oppression, energy, the environment, and so much more. In one night, the world turned upside down. The KKK plans to march in celebration.
Democrat legislators are at best at a loss, and at worst urging the public to break bread with the people who used their votes to throw immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, women, and people of colour under the bus at the polls. The luxury of having a meeting of the minds with those who exhibit no compassion is one afforded only to the people whose rights and lives won’t be under threat from the new administration.
Freedom for America, Freedom for France
Lafayette’s line echoes the fact that our liberty is intrinsically bound up in each other’s. Even in this fictional 1781, they acknowledge that the liberty and rights of all are interconnected, with John Laurens saying “We’ll never be free until we end slavery.” It is the fundamental responsibility of those with secure rights to help secure those rights for people whose are in jeopardy, and Hamilton owns that. It’s not enough for one person, one nation to enjoy those rights. The work doesn’t stop until the yoke of systemic oppression is lifted from everyone. Yes, that means the work never stops. Hamilton owns that one too.
We’re in the shit, somebody’s gotta shovel it
Hercules Mulligan risked life and livelihood in a dangerous role best summed up in that line. The work of resistance isn’t always glorious, but honourable. It can mean quiet risks, and the dirty jobs no one wants to do. Contemporary ally culture is predicated on trumpeting the glory with as little work as possible, and has already been given an opportunity to do so through the display of safety pins. Like Mulligan says, there’s always shit, and somebody has to shovel it, so if you’re not, ask yourself who is. Are marginalized voices bearing the burden of taking risks for their rights? Be an accomplice instead of an ally.
Gonna start a new nation, gonna meet my son
The political is personal. I’ll say it again for the people in the back.
The political is personal.
It’s every day. It’s bound up in our identities, our bodies, our jobs and our opportunities. It’s in our homes, our streets, and our schools, in our ability to be who we are and love who we love. In one line, Hamilton expresses his responsibility to people not yet born to shepherd this world into the best thing it can be for everyone. Over and over again in the song, he recognizes that there’s no room for him to falter, and no room to fail.
It is necessary for power structures and the world we make with them to benefit all people and oppress none. Full stop. This is the central thesis of social justice movements. Of feminism. Of anti-racism and decolonization movements. It’s political because its’ bound up in the ways we organize power, and it’s personal because the organization of that power shapes who we are and who we can become.
Hamilton reminds us that art and resistance are entangled, and that history has its eye on you. Not just President-Elect Donald Trump. You.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum