The Netherlands doesn’t really have pennies. That’s where I was when Trump won: curled up on a couch in a cloud of mildew, stuffing bursting out of the arms and sticking to my wet face in the Netherlands. It was nothing special; hundreds of millions of people across the globe felt the same inward curl of their stomach as they watched the unexpected become reality.
The United States of America has pennies. They might even be as controversial as our new president; data shows that it costs more than one cent to make a single penny and that they’re effectively obsolete in every way, according to Huffington Post.
Yet a good amount of people are still endeared by pennies. We pick them up, sing little poems about them, and toss them into romantic fountains, which perhaps just affirms their inutile existence. We wish upon the devilish little coins and send them through the air, tightening our lips so our wishes stay true. We are still enchanted by their Americana charm even though penny candy is an obsolete adage.
I’m not an advocate for or against pennies. It’s one of those subjects I’ve yet to see mentioned on a scathing John Oliver segment or in a sardonic New Yorker op-ed — or on the feed of a particular political Twitter aficionado — so penny production and lobbying are issues largely off of my radar.
The Netherlands — known for their progressive zeitgeist which protects prostitutes, hosts one of the largest gay pride parades in the world, and currently oversees mass closing of prisons because their crime policy is so efficient — just recently voted not to elect conservative Prime Minister nominee Geert Wilders, remaining a progressive beacon of change. They have remained strongly attached to the EU and their euros. They don’t need pennies, but the United States does.
But there weren’t any pennies on Election Day. It was Inauguration Day when I began to look.
The cold and the hurt made my hands clench into fists until I found some change in my purse and uncurled my fingers, plopping the change into a red cup and labeling it a donation jar to stop “Trump’s Fascism” by adding up pocket change to eventually donate to the ACLU. My suitemates and a few other friends dumped in their own change, and the campaign was off and running. The funds have since been moved to a garishly orange Jack-O-Lantern bucket, labelled: “No Fascist U.S.A.!”
The donations tapered off quickly, and the bucket reluctantly became a twisted metaphor. Blatantly present, easy to pass by, neglected. America needs its pennies for a marathon but we’ve spent them all in a sprint.
It’s not anyone’s fault, exactly. Like money, sententiousness and verve are finite resources. Pennies are a worthless symbol of capital. But— like snowflakes — pennies have great power in droves.
Alexandra Scott sold lemonade for spare change in her front yard to gather donations for children’s cancer research, forming Alex’s Lemonade Stand, one of the most famous organizations for childhood cancer research in the country. In 2014, the ASL Awareness “Ice Bucket Challenge” campaign raised enough money through small, prolific donations as a result of a viral video challenge to identify a new gene associated with the illness. The nationwide Women’s March on January 21st, which was triple the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day, began with one woman’s Facebook post that gripped a nation and galvanized a movement of around 3 million Americans through grassroots fundraising. For each penny people waste into an old fountain for an unsubstantiated wish, it seems two to go toward tangible change.
We’re now two months into the divisive administration, and I worry I have stepped on pennies far more than I have collected them, the coins plunging into the tread on my boots cracking with dried mud yet to fall off from the day I stood in the Boston Common, moved to tears in solidarity with millions of other women. The smell of rusting zinc on my fingers fades each day.
So it is with no heroic effort that I force myself to kneel into snow banks to pluck unassuming coins out of the mud, to clutch them in shaking but certain hands and remind myself that even small things like these don’t bend. Some days they are left on counters, perhaps an offering but more likely a forgotten wish; other days I find them in lockers in the gym I visit daily, and I wonder if I have unconsciously left them as gifts for myself, reminders that even small things like these sustain.
It is all I can do to remind the world to walk slowly but to pick up pennies. To look in cracks especially.
It is easy to find change, if you look.