A Charlottesville ER Nurse speaks after two years of decompression
Well. It’s been two years since I wrote this article. It seems both like it was only yesterday, and 50 years ago at the same time.
Our community hasn’t been able to escape the specter of it. And every time I see another community that’s been rocked by the same hate… it’s hard to explain. I already internalize so much being a nurse. Nurses are too damn good at shoving that stuff down deep inside where it’s “safe”, never admitting it exists, ever, to anyone- but it’s some combination of apathetic acknowledgment/gnawing hopelessness mixed with a searing, white-hot fire to fuel a righteous mission to work tirelessly to make sure it never happens again.
Because I know what those communities are going through. I’ve seen how it’s affected the families and surviving victims. I’ve watched what it does to the first responders. I’ve listened and cried and prayed with the community impacted. I know what goes on behind the scenes that nobody sees. The hurt that even the people affected won’t voice.
Things are quieter this year, though writing that here sends warning klaxons through my head, just like someone wandering into my ER and saying, “Gee, it sure seems slow in here, hyuck!” Never, ever taunt Murphy, or his Laws. But it’s true- we had a lot of warning bells in 2017. The Nazis came right out and loudly said what they intended to do, and then pretty much followed their script to a T. This year it’s quiet… but an ominous quiet, the kind of quiet where you suddenly notice you haven’t heard your kids playing or arguing and bolt into their room to discover they’ve dismantled their painting set and decorated the carpet, walls, and floor.
God, I hope I’m wrong.
It’s really brought me back to whole reason I got back into politics in the first place. Seeing how dangerous white nationalism is, like a pot simmering just below boiling, where the water looks tepid but it’s just waiting for the first opportunity to scald you. Because, I’ll tell you, in 2010? I was done with politics. DONE.
2008 was the first year I truly broke free, and moved from being a recovering Republican to a progressive. I’d seen then what everyone else found out in 2016: “conservatism” was a crock. Nobody truly believed in it other than College Republicans and a few pointy-headed folks at the Heritage Foundation. It was all a cover for situational ethics and moral relativism in the pursuit of winning at all costs.
So I started worked with the Obama Rapid Response team. I dove in the middle of the Clinton/Obama, MyDD/DailyKos progressive blogosphere split, working to corral the PUMA folks. Exposing a prominent one as a McCain staffer still sticks with me as a personal point of pride. Knocking doors with my little girl for Tom Perriello and Barack Obama. And everyone I was rooting for won! Especially here at home, with Perriello winning his race in VA-05 by a scant 500 votes, it really felt like I made a huge difference.
Then Creigh Deeds’ Virginia gubernatorial campaign in 2009 got blown out of the water in the Tea Party year. I watched as people tried to throw Obama and the Affordable Care Act under the bus, as the unity and strategy of just a year or two prior went out the door. And I worked three times as hard- even though I was still in nursing school full-time, still with my little girl (now a toddler instead of a baby)- to get Tom Perriello re-elected.
Tom was one of the few that stood unapologetically, voting for Obamacare and refusing to run away from it. The donation I made to him after that vote remains my single biggest political contribution ever. I had to finagle my budget around it for six months… but, I figured, anyone who stood up like he did deserved it. Because of his unapologetic advocacy and tireless fighting, Tom lost by such a close margin in 2010- a couple thousand votes flipped would’ve done the trick- even though people in much more “liberal” districts got blown entirely out of the water.
After 2010, it seemed like everyone in the Democratic Party worked studiously to ignore that example. Ignoring that unapologetic advocacy, progressive populism, hard work, and constituent services could make up enormous ground with voters. Ignoring grassroots folks in favor of the same old “Solomon” politicians, who’d “cut the baby in half” and crow about “centrism”. Deciding they could combine that gutless “centrism” with a “prevent defense”, where they figured the country would get younger and more diverse and automatically vote blue without any actual work required.
I was done. I had a little girl who, between full-time school, work, and trying to make the country a better place, I’d already lost too much time with- time you never, ever get back. I had made personal sacrifices of time and money I wouldn’t ever get back. No wayI was going to give these people even a second more of my time or energy. Not for people who didn’t seem to even give a damn about me in the first place. So I was done. Out.
And then 2015 happened.
I saw how dangerous Donald Trump would be as a serious candidate for President- and then he became one. Employing some of the same skills that let me suss out the McCain staffers posing as Clinton supporters, I saw the explosion in activity of these white nationalist groups. I knew how dangerously scary they were. That there were enough of them out there to push the margins. So I worked as hard as I could to make sure Donald Trump wouldn’t become President.
He did anyway.
And here we are.
Maybe the hardest part is knowing how much more work there is to do- because it’s backbreaking. We have to push forward against incredible odds, against people who want to do nothing more than tear us apart. Than to destroy anything and everything we claimed to stand for, because if they can’t “win”, they’ll make sure nobody can. And we have to push forward because we cannot afford to lose even a single inch of ground. There’s nothing behind us but ruin and despair, and the cost of us giving up or getting it wrong will be immense. Incalculable.
I’d say it’s better not to know, but that’s not true.
It’s easier not to know. Not better.
I got home late from work yesterday- today? Last night? Just a few hours ago, whatever you call it. Took my shoes and scrubs off in the garage, scoured my arms for probably a lot longer than necessary with pumice soap. And wandered to my kids’ room. I stood in the doorway, watching them sleep, peacefully. With no idea of the weight of the world that was pressing down. The future that laid in store for them if their dad got it wrong.
If I ever wondered whether the fight we have to undertake to save our Commonwealth- and our Republic- is worth it, all I have to is watch them to know a single, immutable truth:
It’s worth fighting for.
It always has been.
It always will be.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, VA, and candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Donate, volunteer, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign, today!