I am a pro-choice, aqua-haired, middle-aged liberal living in Portland, Oregon. I probably disagree with Nicholas Sandmann on every major issue. But we have something in common. In the last month we have both endured what is fast becoming an American ritual: our 15 minutes of hate.
Sandmann's crime was a smirk while wearing a MAGA hat. Mine was a YouTube series I launched in December with another journalist in which we discussed the excesses of the #MeToo movement. This and the show's name, #MeNeither, inspired an ex-employee of my husband's coffee company to send an email to staff, characterizing the series as "vile, dangerous and extremely misguided" and adding that it "throws into question the safety of Ristretto Roasters as a workplace."
She also sent an email to the media.
Within days, a quarter of the Ristretto staff quit and the company lost major accounts. I was repeatedly called a c*nt and was challenged to at least one fist fight. My husband was told to leave his wife or lose his business.
As someone who covers this stuff, I thought I knew how rough it might be to get dragged in public. It's different when it's tearing up your life.
If you do not think this can happen to you, you have not been paying attention. Here's a guide for how to survive it:
STAY CALM: You will not expect the first strike, and thus will not know why every electronic device you own starts blowing up at once. You will be confused to read something that makes no sense or is presented in a way to make you look like a danger to society. Remain calm. Do not shoot off any responses, and for God's sake don't post anything on social media.
Notice that what at first seemed manageable is now starting to rage.
Inform the people who need to know what is going on. Assure them they are safe. Hope that this is true. Hope the messages left on your cell phone, about how you are a rape apologist and a piece of human garbage, will not spread to anyone else. Now is a good time to let calls go to voicemail and to set your Instagram to private.
Remember you are only human and might get a little panicky. If your spouse says "I just drank five pint glasses of water" and tells you his hands are sweating, like, a lot, assure him that it's anxiety and everything is going to be OK, though it does not feel that way today, and it does not feel that way because it is not.
CALL YOUR LAWYER: Gauge from his reaction how dire your situation is. Apparently not very: He is half-laughing when he says, "So Portland's social justice warriors are at it again?" Appreciate that legal action is futile, that the message is out there, carried with every tweet and text. You can't sue the internet.
ACCEPT THAT REASON HAS LEFT THE ROOM: Do not try to have rational conversations with the masses. They did not know you before this started and have no reason to trust you now. Wonder if you have been this quick to condemn things you knew nothing about. Wonder if you, too, might have hated the monster they are fighting.
This monster is not you. It is a collection of fears and buzzwords and tropes and memes.
Do not read the Facebook posts, the Reddit threads. It will be tempting because you are looking for allies, and you may find a few. Mostly you will encounter anonymous voices shouting about what a despicable person you and everything you stand for are. Really, stay away from the comments.
BUILD A WAR ROOM: If the attack is following script, by Day 2.5 things are frenetic, news outlets calling and emailing and trying to contact you on social media. Decide who will do interviews, who will answer emails, who will stay on top of Google alerts. This last helps when the first major story states that you "could not immediately be reached for comment." Within a minute of it posting, you can call the reporter and say she did not try to contact you, and while she makes the correction, you now know what's it's like to deal with reporters who have different standards of truth-telling than you do, which on top of everything else should not be crushing, but is.
REVENGE FANTASIES: After what feels like being kicked in the throat for a week, do what you swore you would not do: Go online and fight, giving your version of the situation and also, maybe, trying to hurt those you see as hurting you. This will definitely and 100 percent blow up in your face.
Once you have further destroyed the people closest to you, the people you are trying to save, remind yourself that inquiry and civil discourse are the best inoculation against fanatical disagreement. Be willing to both administer and receive it.
PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH: Spend time with friends. They will quickly show you who they are, bringing over pizza and bourbon and staying not a requisite "Are you cheered up yet?" amount of time but five hours. Binge-watch Russian Doll, where the lead character is having a much worse time than you and which makes your spouse laugh, a super-sweet sound you have not heard in a while.
PRACTICE GRATITUDE: Be grateful no one has (yet) shown up on your doorstep. Be grateful your kids are as loving and bratty as always. Cry a little at the message from your daughter's friend, saying, "While I don't agree with everything you state, and as someone who was sexually assaulted, I am thankful you are creating a dialogue, [which] has helped give me a platform to talk about this in a multitude of diverse conversations."
Tell your spouse you are sorry he has a mouthy wife, and that you are sorry that he is on precipice of losing the business he's built for 15 years because of the anger provoked by two women having conversations about sensitive issues. Marvel that not once has he asked you to not keep doing the work you do, not once.
MAKE CONTINGENCY PLANS: Accept your business/reputation might not survive. Understand it's not the initial assault but the markers of radioactivity left behind, so to speak, that do the most damage. Take stock; take a breath. Do your best to believe that while people get swept up in these fights, they're not really committed. More than anything, the campaigns are exhausting and disruptive and don't fix anything. Would it not be better to discuss our differences over a cup of coffee?