Why I Froze My Ass Off in a “Frozen” Costume on a Street Corner Just before the Election

Photo by Scott Smith

by Melissa Hart

On the Friday before Election Day, I shivered on the side of a busy street in Eugene, Oregon wearing a costume from the Disney film Frozen and holding a giant orange sign that read “Do You Want to Build a Democracy?” My friend Debbie positioned herself six feet away from me dressed as Elsa from the movie, resplendent in a blue sequined gown and a blond braided wig. Her sign read “Let Him Go.”

We stood inches away from trucks and cars barreling down the one-way street, and I reflected on the numerous ways I might die—a member of the opposing party might run me over, claiming low visibility at 7:30 AM, or one of our region’s numerous Proud Boys might aim a shotgun at my head. It’s been a long time since I’ve put myself directly in the path of fear; it felt uncomfortable, exhilarating, terrifying.

I used to be politically active. Right out of high school, I registered Democrats to vote, standing in front of grocery stores in Los Angeles with a clipboard full of registration cards. I canvased for my university’s environmental clubs. And then I went to graduate school and got a full time job and a husband and a kid and restricted my activism to the occasional Women’s March and Black Lives Matter protest.

This year, however, there’s too much at stake. I’ve written a hundred postcards and mailed them to anonymous voters in different states. I’ve put political signs in my yard and dressed the yellow plastic “slow-down guy” in front of my house in a homemade Biden/Harris t-shirt with a flag that reads “VOTE!” None of it is enough to combat the hate and fear and prejudice I’ve observed in my area of the world. And so when Debbie texted to ask me if I’d like to join her in a little pre-election cosplay, I jumped at the chance.

My grandmother owned a costume shop in Monterey for 40 years, sewing and renting out her creations. My siblings and I grew up in Chewbacca fur and Egyptian togas and pioneer hoopskirts. Our mother kept a barrel full of “dress-up clothes” in her living room. When she lost custody of us in the early 80s after she came out and divorced my father, we dressed up every other weekend when the court allowed us to visit her, and she and her girlfriend took us out in costume to IHOP.

Dress-up has always been a part of my life. When I moved to Eugene twenty years ago, I immediately volunteered to stand in a full-sized raccoon suit and teach environmental education to school kids. Standing in a Frozen costume alongside early-morning commuter traffic shouldn’t have scared me, but it did.

Political demonstration, even just a few years ago, felt like fun. With Debbie and our other friends and my daughter, we dressed in pink knit hats for the Women’s March and pinned on political buttons and walked—laughing and singing—from our courthouse to the park blocks downtown. I never felt threatened. Some of the people watching from the sidelines and from the tops of parking garages didn’t agree with our agenda. But I never felt as though our lives were in danger just for marching on the street in silly hats bedecked with cat ears.

These days, life feels a little more fraught. Gun sales have surged. Black Lives Matter signs have disappeared, en masse, from entire neighborhoods. Vandals have scrawled hate speech on our city’s famed murals. Men in giant pickups with TRUMP 2020 flags gun their engines and roar down the streets.

One of these men stopped in front of Debbie and me as we stood in costume with our signs Friday morning.

He’d already driven by once, she told me, and now he was back. He idled in the intersection a few feet away from us, and my stomach clenched with fear. I can drop my sign and run, I thought. At the very least, I could put on the mask tucked into my embroidered bodice in case he hopped out of his car and began to yell in my face.

Instead, I looked into his eyes, and I smiled.

The Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield calls this a noble practice—this habit of looking into people’s eyes to see the “Buddha within.” I tried, that morning, to see what united this man and me. He was handsome, my age, calm and thoughtful and quietly enraged. I wondered what I represented to him in my absurd red-braided wig and my striped satin dress trailing across the leaf-littered grass.

In some way, did I and everything I stand for frighten him?

Taking a political position, publicly, requires courage—especially in the midst of pandemic, when we’re already afraid for our lives. I think of the brave people from all parties making their phone calls, canvassing, rallying, working in polling places and post offices and wherever it is that ballots get counted. Voting’s a serious business.

Still, I’d like to think there’s room for playful political activism. I’d like to believe that both sides can tolerate a little levity, some clever signage, a bit of creative cosplay. And so, despite my fear, I’ll go out again with Debbie on Monday morning, and once more on Election Day because she’s got costumes from Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland and, as she notes, “three different ways that we can dress like a chicken.”

With so much at stake, we’ll stand in an even more public place in the cold autumn morning with our signs. We’ll urge people to vote, and hopefully inspire some of them to laugh in the process. My heart may palpitate beneath my Tigger costume; I may want to kick up the striped booties that cover my sneakers and run. But I’ll make myself stay. I’ll hold my sign high, look into people’s eyes, and smile.

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Melissa Hart is Contributing Editor at The Writer Magazine. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Rumpus, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She is the author of five books, most recently Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy in Tweens and Teens. She teaches in the MFA Program at Southern New Hampshire University.

Black Lives Matter

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We at Lascaux Review are sickened and angry at the continued patterns of violence and murder of Black men and women. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. And so many more whose names should all be said, and should continue to be said.

We must stand together with those who are marginalized, those who are victims of a system of privilege and white supremacy built on stolen land with stolen people.  And not just right now when everyone is passionate and outraged, but a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now when it’s easy to have moved on with our comfortable lives where George Floyd is just a tragic story in a long line of tragic stories we let slide past us, because we are busy living our lives of privilege.

Black people don’t get to “go back to their lives.” This is their lives.

So what are we doing about it?

First, we want to admit and be transparent with you that we’re not good at talking about race and have failed at being outwardly vocal on behalf of people of color. But we are committed to being better. We are starting by acknowledging our own roles in this broken, oppressive system and being conscious daily about the ways we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

We, the leadership of Lascaux Review, are reading books like White Fragility, How to Be An Antiracist, and others, and supplying books to all members of our staff. If they are unwilling to embrace this reading material and address issues of care, inclusion, and equity in their own lives they will no longer be invited into our literary spaces. We will not align with those who do not share our cultural values.

Second, we are calling on leaders of our local communities as well as elected officials at a national and global level to take actionable steps to dismantle white supremacy and begin the process of healing and reconciliation. We do not want to hear “we’re making a plan.” We want to see those steps in action, happening now.

Third, we are donating to the following organizations:

Campaign Zero: Because we seek to end police violence.

The Equal Justice Initiative and ActBlue Bail Funds: Because we will fight against systems of so-called justice that are leveraged against marginalized and economically-disadvantaged communities.

Cave Canem: Because we are committed to supporting Black writers who strive to find their literary voices.

Fourth: We will promote the work of Black writers. We have always promoted the work of any writers who catch our eye, but moving forward we are taking steps to be more conscious and diligent to guarantee we are highlighting the work of Black authors. We want to ensure Black writers are heard and celebrated.

Fifth: We are exploring ways to diversify our own work as a literary journal. We have always encouraged people of color or other marginalized communities to submit to our journal. Unfortunately, we don’t know how we are doing. Not all writers specify their race or gender or orientation. We constantly look for good writing and we can guarantee that we are spending time searching for and making space for marginalized voices. But we’re not doing enough, because we just aren’t getting enough. We’re working to figure out how we can do better.

Our message to Black writers: We want to hear your voice. We see you, we know you have things to say, and we want to see submissions from you. Please give us a chance to lift you up. We will actively recruit writers we see out on the internet. If you don’t come to us, we will come to you.

And finally, there is no finally. We can’t do enough. This job is big. But this list is our start, and when the list is done, we will continue to move forward. And, we hope, hand-in-hand with you.  We are committed, because Black lives matter.

—Wendy Russ, Managing Editor

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