The Twin Forces of Love and Resistance

Friday, February 10, 2017 - 5:00 am

The Twin Forces of Love and Resistance

As Beverly Gage pointed out in last week’s New York Times, the word that has risen from the ashes of this presidential calamity is resistance. People are resisting misogyny in hand-knit hats, resisting xenophobia while eating donated pizzas at airports, resisting — above all else — their own devastation and disconnection.

It’s a powerful word — one that suggests a kind of righteous, resolute line in the sand. Something un-ignorable. Something strong. Something ongoing. The languaging of this burgeoning movement brings me a surprising amount of comfort, as if the word itself is a tent that can shelter the millions of people who woke up with a palpable heartache on November 9 that isn’t going away.

But I’m also aware of the limitations of such a word. Resistance is defined by being almost entirely reactionary. There is no counterforce where there is not, first and foremost, a force. In this case, of course, that force is President Trump, but even more accurately, the assortment of dangerous, overly certain, dualistic, power hungry politicians he’s surrounded himself with. (Increasingly I get the sense that Trump only wanted to get more famous and has now found himself the accidental conduit for men with far more broad, violent, and sinister ambitions.)

The ongoing challenge of this moment, therefore, seems to be assessing this force accurately and perpetually, and mounting a creative, collective counterforce — the resistance. That would be work enough (next to the dirty dishes and the paid work and the wiping of feverish brows), but it’s not, as it turns out, enough. We must also remember to be a force of our own. We must also remember not just to undo the damage that Trump and his men are inflicting on a daily basis, but to build something simultaneously. We must crouch in a protective posture and also embrace and dance and paint and write poems and teach and heal and surprise and dream and plan. In other words, we must love.

Resist and love. Resist and love. Resist and love.

I have a growing confidence in our capacity to resist. It seems to be happening at larger scales, in more creative, constant ways than at any other moment in my lifetime. People who never thought of themselves as political are being unapologetically political, and in inconvenient spaces, too — conference rooms at work and around the dining room table of hoodwinked relatives. People who have never been to a protest in their lives are showing up at protests. A few years ago, it was perfectly normal to ask the question: why don’t people get out into the streets anymore? Is protest over as a social movement strategy? Today, one could never ask that and be taken seriously. People whose lives were once largely privatized are now collectivizing — inviting neighbors for resistance potlucks, showing up en force at local mosques to express solidarity, writing letters and making phone calls and signing petitions ad nauseam.

But resistance alone risks becoming its own form of worship. In order to resist, you must channel your energy toward undoing the unwise and the immoral. You can become myopic, basking all your precious attention on those who don’t deserve it. Which is why one must resist violence, but also resist the inclination to become single-minded about that resistance. When I recently stumbled on Alice Walker’s poem “Each One, Pull One” it took my breath away. Among much else, it reminds us to keep our oppressors in sight, but not fall into focusing on them:

“We do not worship them / We do not worship what they have made. / We do not trust them.”

The best protection against an overactive reliance on resistance is love. And yet, I am not as confident in our capacity to love. As Krista Tippett writes of love in Becoming Wise:

“We’ve made it private, contained it in family, when its audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines. We’ve fetishized it as romance, when its true measure is a quality of sustained, practical care. We’ve lived it as a feeling, when it is a way of being.”

Just as our lives — especially white, economically privileged lives — have suffered from over-privatization, our notion of love has suffered from an over-interpersonalization. We hear love and we think marriage. Worse yet, in the age of dating apps, we hear love and we think swipe. The commodification and Tinder-ization of love isn’t just bad for our romantic relationships; it’s bad for our nation. We think of love as solely intimate, as tumultuous, as something we choose to bestow or withhold based on someone’s capacity to earn it and keep earning it.

But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow. It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.

It is perhaps most clearly understood as maternal. Just as mothers have, from time immemorial, loved without condition, we must now love this nation like mothers. We must parent it into a new maturity. We must not give up on it, no matter what. We must be prepared to be surprised at how beautiful it will be. We must do all this without knowing what form it will take, but knowing that whatever it becomes will be rewarding if it is shaped by fierce, unending, active love.

This kind of love looks like the community center in Oakland, California where I take my daughters, the walls inside covered with indecipherable art and the surrounding courts outside filled with laughter and sweating bodies. Love looks like the fairly conservative Catholic church my mother and father-in-law attend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin recommitting to building beloved community, welcoming and welcoming and welcoming. Love looks like a muralist I met in Richmond, Virginia who is interviewing elders about their lives and then helping them create a large-scale mural out of the stories that are surfaced. Love looks like The Cottages at Hickory Crossing in Dallas that just opened for the chronically homeless. Every unit already had a crockpot and a toothbrush and a television the moment that the new residents walked in.

We’re proving ourselves capable of a mighty resistance, but we must also prove ourselves capable of this kind of expansive love. The twinning of the two will be this country’s salvation.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at

Share Your Reflection


  • Brandi

    Thank you. This is a beautiful piece and spot on.

  • Leslie Williams

    Thank you, Courtney. True and beautiful words. I wrote a blog recently about this same dynamic in leadership.

  • This is absolutely it. Thank you

  • Zeyani R. S. Chrisanna

    100% Sheer Brilliance …

    But real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity. It is unconquerable because it is dumb in its own way — determined to keep loving no matter what the counter forces, no matter what scarcity small men try to message, no matter what fear they try to sow. It’s blindly trusting, also positioned as stupid in our overly strategic society. It’s inefficient, a sin in our efficiency-obsessed time.

  • Kathy Blume

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Fel Jones

    Wonderful, Courtney. Deeply insightful, personally challenging, beautifully written.

  • Theodore William Eccleston

    Thanks, Courtney, for inspiring the reworking and resurfacing of this poem.

    Xenophile Style

    Do you know the xenophobes?
    You know, those afraid of
    people with noses,
    ears, eyes, and toses?
    The aliens of earth!
    Surely they couldn’t
    have a mother’s birth
    or be raised by fathers with pants with girth.
    Well, I’m here to remind you
    this fear is all but a dreary,
    unclear, view of the humans who
    once made stew in Ethiopia
    and then moved on to other shores,
    to hong kong, singapore,
    new york and new delhi.
    We’re all from the primordial belly!
    Our siblings resting on other continental shelves
    are just as much of us as we are our selves.

    This xenophobe wardrobe:
    A fascist fashion statement
    that’s going out of style.

  • Theodore William Eccleston

    Thank you, above the inspiration to”write poems and teach and heal and surprise and dream and plan,” thank you, for these words of wisdom, humility, and inspiration. This is the energy we need, the light we need to make to give the world more brilliance. Keep on. Love and resistance.

  • Gabby

    I am of a different generation, not young. which may explain why I am extremely confident of our capacity to love expansively and much less so of our ability to resist tyrants effectively. I think community centers with diverse participation, congregations that are welcoming, murals and hearing the stories of elders are normal and ubiquitous (fortunately) rather than “radical.” I suspect the word “radical” has come to mean something different than it did when I was young when it suggested something extreme, not widely embraced, and courageous.

  • Jose Luis Soler

    Yes: “not only a wonderful feeling of connection; it is a powerful force for social transformation.”

  • Donna n.vt

    Thank you for reminding us how important this is…

  • Candyce Ossefort-Russell

    Wow! “Parenting our country into a new maturity.” What a powerful and USEFUL metaphor! I’m going to spread that idea like wildfire. I’m moved by this entire piece. Thank you so much.

  • Rachel Rosen

    Love this! Brilliant. Thank you for sharing your poignant perspective. “Real love is radical because it cannot be earned or unearned. It is tied to inherent dignity.” Couldn’t agree more.

    I also love in Oakland, and I recently wrote two pieces on this topic. Would love to hear what you think! Here’s part1 ( and part 2 ( With love for justice, Rachel.

  • Cat Greenstreet

    fantastic, Courtney. Thanks so much for articulating this!

  • Sandy

    I just feel an over-riding, gut wrenching, blinding fear in the protests. Fear is totally disparate horse of a different color. I hear it in the social media posts, the headlines and their faces. We all lie to ourselves all the time. Time to start being honest with ourselves. Just because it is the “Age of Disinformation” does not mean we should continue practicing it. Honesty, what a concept!

  • Sandy

    If it was so beautiful, why not print other opinions than veneration for the writer?

  • Sharanya Naik

    I think it might be worth clarifying what to love… You mention that the resistance is to Trump – that’s not true. It’s not even to the people he has surrounded himself with. We resist the principles they stand for. Division, bigotry, greed over caring. And we love – we stand behind and for – inclusion, acceptance, shared ownership of the resources of this country, caring for humans over wealth. Love is not a noun, it’s a transitive verb!

  • Katie

    Thank you for this essay. I’ve been thinking about the same ideas and hoping to see the healing movement grow as strong and visible as the resistance movement. A new resource that is worth checking out is My Purple USA, which has ideas and resources for re-building relationships across partisan lines.

    • Gabby

      I am glad, Katie, that you mentioned building relationships across partisan lines rather than resting peacefully and proudly bonded only to those easiest to love and feeling very self-satisfied with that.
      Jonathan Haight, a philosopher at NYU, has done research that points to this, that the effort to understand across political lines, is the most difficult frontier for both liberals and conservatives.
      It is really working across that divide that is courageous and radical.

  • Angela Johnson

    I love this.

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  • ThompsonJD

    This post speaks to a number of conversations with non-violent organizers/strategists – specifically, the need for offense and not just defense. The energy can not just be put in resisting what the powers that be, but it is actively creating the world we are seeking.

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  • Roy Reichle

    This one of the best essays I have read about the political state of America and it’s need to embrace different ideas about the nature of love. I see my Christian ideas of love in what Courtney is saying, not the way the love is often expressed or neglected by Christians, but the way love is spoken about in the words of Jesus. Love your enemies. This is what I heard in my church this very morning. It is not enough to love your family, friends, and compatriots. Every person is God’s child and therefore is to be loved as a child of God. Now, I shouldn’t have to say it, but there’s no room for naivety. Of course one must be protective in order to stay alive and carry on the work of God. If everyone is a martyr, there’s no one left to do the work. However, and this is a big however, one of the most dangerous actions is to put fear in front of love. Fear is good, it keeps us alive, but fear is bad, it keeps us apart. Let us embrace love and bring out of the merely romantic and parental and let it grow in the public sphere so our nation can continue the work towards the beloved community that all of us want.

  • Beth Buelow

    Thank you for this wise post, Courtney. I’ve struggled with this since the election: my values (and training) say to focus on what I want to create, what I want to build and nurture. And the language that’s driving the political discussion is about resisting, tearing down, eliminating. Is there room for both? Is this an opportunity for both/and, rather than either/or, thinking? The word “resist” gets under my skin, even as I know there’s mobilizing power, and even truth, in it.

    In addition to the insights you provide here, I’ve found it helpful to remember that it’s ultimately not about 45; it’s about the breakdown and dysfunction of the system that gave rise to someone like him (and put more extremists in power). By “system,” I don’t just mean the political, although that’s part of it; I mean the societal. It’s about the culture of fear, distrust, and divisiveness ordinary people are living everyday. It’s easier for me to embrace an “I don’t believe in this, I believe in that” both/and approach when I look at the big picture.

    Just this past Sunday, Christians around the world heard Jesus’s call to “love your enemies,” and that’s another tension that comes up in this discussion. You say love is “tied to inherent dignity.” That’s a beautiful way of framing it that helps us to see *how* we can love our enemies. It’s not romantic love; it’s not even friend love, or the love I have for my dog. My personal framing is to remind myself that everyone – EVERYONE – is a Child of God. Remembering to see someone that way is a form of love and compassion, yet it still leaves room to hold that person to a higher standard, which might include resistance alongside creation.

    As Gandhi wrote, “It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that person but the whole world.”

    • Jo G Prichard

      I recommend Walter Winks profound book: The Powers that Be. He discusses in detail the forceful nonviolence of Jesus, Gandhi, MLK and what and how we can love our enemies. A classic.

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  • divadarya

    Great!! Thank you. Since Nov 9, I feel closer and closer to my extended queer community; I get this.