January 2017

OP-ED: Don’t Go Back to Bed / An Activist’s Wake-up Call


Tomás Rivera


I almost didn’t get out of bed. My phone was buzzing and beeping. Radio alarms were blaring the sound of shock jockeys acting shocked. I did not turn them off or hit the snooze button. I just lay there, facing the choice of getting up or going back to bed.


My mind cast its vote in favor of sleep, with desires to continue dreaming and promises of a world where I can fly if I believe I can. My body concurred and made its case with weariness, exhaustion. My eyelids pleaded to stay shut.


But my heart didn’t fall in line. It responded to the alarms by keeping time with their rhythm. It beat stronger and faster. It filled my veins with nutrients and pushed blood into my muscles. It refused to accept the thought of pulling my comforter over my chest or pressing my face into my pillow. Of choosing unconsciousness over lucidity. Of lying down when I should be standing up.


So I placed my hands under my shoulders and pushed. I opened my mouth to breathe in a new combination of gases. Held it for a moment. Let my lungs extract what they needed. Then pushed the rest out back into the atmosphere.


My left foot was the first to touch the floor. I could only hope that it would support my weight as I shifted from the softness of my bed to the firmness of the ground. It had every other morning so far—even those that followed the darkest nights. And I stood, my body still pleading, my mind still aching. But my heart was pounding. My mind accepted that morning had broken and that a new day had arrived.


A new kind of day. In a new world that is so similar to the old one, it is frightening.


That night many people in this country were awakened from a beautiful dream they tried so desperately to believe was real. A post-racist United States. A shattered glass ceiling. A world without struggle. Or the need to struggle.


But those of us who haven’t had a good night’s sleep in far too long have been sounding the alarms. We’ve been working to desegregate our cities and stop the spread of urban colonialism. We’ve been fighting the separation of our familias and tearing down walls put up to stop our ability to move freely. We’ve been calling murder out for what it is and demanding our lives matter. We’ve been praying and holding the line to stop poison from being piped through our lands and legacies. We’ve been coming out of the closet and into the streets. We’ve been forming unions and workers’ committees. We’ve been exposing violations and atrocities. We’ve been organizing like our lives depended on it. Because they do. And always have.


Our people have faced open racism and bigotry before, and our children have lived to hear the tales.

Our movement has faced repression and backlash before. And new generations of organizers have been born. Our hearts have nearly broken before. And we got out of bed eventually.


But I can’t lie. It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. The backlash to the first black president has begun in earnest. We knew it would come. Perhaps we should have prepared better for it. The policies of racism and misogyny have long been on the books. But the pages of those books were seldom read aloud in polite spaces. Now they are shouted with pride. A new day of an open and unapologetic politic of white supremacy and patriarchy has dawned.


Our beautiful dream is now ending in a pool of sweat and a panicked gasp. Our minds are telling us that it can’t be over. That this is how dream logic works. One minute you’re flying; the next, you’re falling. Who was once kissing you is now chasing you. “Stay in bed,” our minds are pleading. “Maybe the beauty will return.”


But our hearts know what must be done. We have to get up. Another dream is beginning. It’s starting off as a nightmare. Our hearts may feel broken, but they are still beating. The more of us that push through the fatigue of struggle and lure of sleep, the stronger our hearts will beat. As we move through our day, they will pound in our chests. They will rush blood to our feet and hands and carry oxygen to our brains. They will remind us that our lives have always depended on our ability to organize.


And we will respond to this nightmare with a beautiful reality. We will respond to yesterday with tomorrow. We will respond to oppression as we always have, with resistance. We will organize. And one day, we will overcome. And rest at last.


No staying in bed this morning, compañeras. We’ve got work to do.



Tomás Rivera is the executive director of Chainbreaker, a membership-led economic and environmental justice organization with over 600 members. Chainbreaker has been working to expand civil rights and access to affordable transportation, housing and city planning for low-income communities in Santa Fe since 2004. 505.989.858,




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