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How to grapple with fascism? How to survive a country that doesn’t want us to withstand it? There ’s not a way to self-care out of an exhausting and dark future, there’s no physical action that can totally protect us. Face masks can help pass the time and “purify” your pores but you still have to face the news and the fact some people really aren’t here for you. Don’t get me wrong: Self-care is essential for survival, but survival isn’t enough and it is exhausting. Being afraid of the future isn’t enough to change it, constant recovery is not the same thing as fighting for something truly survivable.
It is hard to understand beauty as a concept that can be useful during these times because it is not, not really. It’s been a weapon used against people since time immemorial. The exacting standards of beauty we're burdened with are, if anything, tied up with the violence we're seeing now. The relationship between American beauty standards and white supremacy is a long and entrenched one, and white supremacy is reflected in ugly ways, including police violence against African-Americans (more than 800 black people have been shot and killed in 2016, which isn't over yet) and the increasing rate of violence against Muslims — up by more than 78 percent in 2016, the highest since 9/11. The value of the body is the crux of our struggle for power. People who aren’t white are getting nailed right to the cross: beauty defiled, reminded that our bodies and our power are not welcome here.
So: What place does beauty have in fighting fascism when it’s mostly been used as a tool to uphold it? For now, let’s consider it a practical one. Your body is all you have right now, along with your voice. You must be compelled to move them both. There is no other option. Forget the safety pins — or don't, but don't let them be your only accessory against fascism. You can and should be more practical. If you plan to protest, here are some tips for your go-to bag you might find useful, accumulated from years of practical use.
- Don’t wear your contacts because in the event of pepper spray or other gases, your eyes will get even more messed up. Wear your glasses and keep your contacts in your pocket. If you end up breaking your glasses (or they are broken by the police), you can perhaps use the opportunity to buy a new pair that directly benefits a community in need. 100 percent of the proceeds of Article One eyewear goes back to the community it is based in: Flint, which is still in dire need of help.
Beauty conceptually has been a tool used to stand out and individualize yourself, but it does not serve you or your community to be easily recognizable and thus tracked down. You can wear your lipstick, sure, fine, but wear a mask, too. Cover your face. Or consider, perhaps, anti-surveillance makeup, but given the immensity of surveillance culture, just wear the mask and move it along.
- Keep sterilized water with you at all times, and milk of magnesia. You know how the pre-eminent beauty tip is to stay hydrated? You may also need to be able to clean wounds and wash out pepper spray. Water doesn’t actually help get rid of the effects of pepper spray, you want milk of magnesia for that.
- The Matador Network, a network of activists, also suggests sunscreen. Sunscreen in a time like this? Let the earth burn us all, you might be thinking. I’m inclined to agree with you, but pepper spray sucks even more on sunburned skin than it does normally. If you’re going to bring a sunscreen, make sure it isn’t oil-based: Oil can exacerbate the effects of pepper spray. This goes for all cosmetics: The oils of beauty products can end up making pepper spray hurt more.
- Standing your ground means you might start to smell. Honestly whatever, smell has been a psychological tool in war since before civilization (it’s true!), don’t feel ashamed about it. You can, of course, bring baby wipes, and you will feel less grime-covered and more comfortable as you peacefully protest wherever you are. I’d suggest packing them alongside practicalities like a small first aid kit of Band-Aids.
In the event that the police begin to round people up for arrests, you’re going to need someone to call to bail you out so you better write that number on your arm in something nearly waterproof. Your eyeliner can double as a legislative tool but I really hope you carry a Sharpie or pen with you. If you don’t find yourself needing the National Lawyer’s Guild’s number scrawled on your arm in waterproof eyeliner, you still may want to write down the badge numbers of any officers you see at the protest who are beating up protesters. In fact, please do.
- An optional thing you might want to pack is also a scarf. I’m packing one for multiple reasons: In case someone pulls off the hijab of someone I love and am protesting with, I want to be able to offer her cover immediately. I’m also bringing it to cover my face in the cold because I will probably be out here in this cold for awhile. I’m bringing it to potentially wrap wounds, too. It’s a silk scarf — did you know silk was used a lot in World War II? Many wedding dresses were made out of parachute silk. The robe I wore the day my grandfather told me about the internment camps of the last world war was also made of silk. It is the same silk robe I wore when I called up Planned Parenthood to schedule my IUD appointment because I don’t know if I’ll be able to have reproductive resources when Trump is inaugurated. So, silk, a history of silk, and scarves: sometimes violent, sometimes protective. Usually both. Beautiful and awful in equal measure.
So now you have a pack to prepare yourself. Where do you go? Everywhere. If you're too cold or scared or it is inaccessible for you to protest yourself, then you still have many opportunities to buy these supplies for people who are fighting on your behalf. Consider donating supplies (or money for supplies, given there are a lot of Amazon wish lists floating around) to the protectors at Standing Rock, consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, consider volunteering at a local organization or chapter of one.
Hope should shove you out the door, with this bag to prepare you, or not. But go.