I’m having difficulty putting into words my experiences this past weekend at the Women’s March in DC, and this is extremely troubling to me. I’m hesitant to share, because there is much in the way of whinging, hand-wringing, and fragile white lady tears here. It is also a fairly rambling account, with little in the way of complete thoughts, cohesion, or a satisfying conclusion. My apologies.
There were no complications about how I was feeling while I was there in the thick of it. My feet were cold, but my heart was filled with love and warmth, and proud–so fucking proud–to be marching with my sisters and over 500,000 other protesters on Saturday. Tears of hope and wonder streaked my chilled, grimy cheeks as I took in the sheer magnitude of the crowd and all of those who were present to be vocal about oppression and stand up for our reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, civil rights, worker’s rights, immigrant rights, disability rights, environmental justice and against those who would threaten those rights. All of these folks were there in solidarity despite the complex politics of the march, and I thought (in retrospect, perhaps a bit naively,) “wow, this is sisterhood”.
As I snapped photos of all of the wonderful, clever, fierce, compassionate signs,I came across a few that gave me pause.”You’re here now, but did you vote in November?” a few of them inquired in bold Sharpie strokes. Yes, I absolutely did, you better believe it.
“Great to meet you”, another cardboard cutout enthused, “will we see you at the next Black Lives Matter protest?” Well…sure? Maybe? I guess I hadn’t planned that far ahead yet, if you want my honest answer.
“SUPPORT YOUR SISTERS–NOT JUST YOUR CIS-TERS” a placard directly in front of me admonished. Hm, I thought, glimpsing the neon nethers of a pink, plush, bedazzled vagina hoisted over the shoulders of a few protesters in the crowd the next street over.
I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable at this point. I thought I was there for all of these reasons; I have a responsibility to represent, protect, and protest for all of these folks and their interests. I know I’m all about all of these things, don’t I? So why was I starting to feel challenged and more than a little defensive? What kind of situation did I actually take part in, I asked myself, pressed in from all sides by a sea of white faces.
Back at home, I was reading more and more fed-up commentary from my queer and non-binary friends about the pussy-centric protest language present at the rally. The next day I then read an essay by women’s right’s activist Brittany O., titled Why I Don’t Support The Women’s March On Washington, which asserted that white women co-opted the message of historical moments in Black History, a controversy which caused some of the initial organizers to step down as they felt they could no longer support the event.
At some point during the day, I read this quote, “If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary,” and I thought about the money that I didn’t have to scrape together to pay for my plane ticket to DC. I recalled the welcoming family (the sister of a coworker of one of my sisters) with the nice home, who hosted our stay, and the cozy beds that we collapsed in and slept heavily in for eleven hours straight after the protest.
I began uploading the photos I had taken of the signs and posters at the event, and while doing so, I started seeking out at the artists responsible for some of the imagery, at the back of my mind thinking of the We The People posters by Shephard Fairey, which, at the time, I thought quite beautiful. It was then I came across this article written by Joojoo Azad, a Muslim-Iranian writer, “Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab” –and feeling defeated, foolish, and deeply self-pitying, I began to weep in earnest.
I keep thinking of a phrase I’d read, “fragile ally-ship”. I previously didn’t think that applies to me. But often times the problem doesn’t recognize it’s the problem, and it continues blithely on, getting in the way, being a distraction, and fucking things up.
Do I not get it at all? In trying to do something I felt was important and good, did I do everything wrong?
“Get it together, sister,” I berated myself. Don’t get defensive. Shut up and listen. Listen to what all these folks have to say. Listen to the transgender activists. Listen to the black woman. One thing I read over and over is that “It’s not about you.”
“But isn’t it a little bit about me,” I push back in a tiny voice, “Aren’t some of my rights being threatened as well? Aren’t I mad as hell and scared shitless, too? Am I even allowed to ask these questions?
My sister reminded me that I am reading some things, a lot of things actually, about different people’s experiences at the protest that are statements of truth, but these should not diminish another statement of truth, which is that I took part in the Democratic process by assembling and showing that I am an ally for oppressed people. And, of course, showed up for myself, as well! . I don’t get a participation trophy, but I shouldn’t allow myself to feel somehow less than, or cowed, or like the dumbest fool who ever lived for not being a perfect activist. For not getting it right on my first try.
I have been reading and re-reading this, and trying to be okay with it. Okay with not being sure, with making mistakes. In accepting that more I know, the more I realize how little I know.
“Part of white privilege is the privilege of being oblivious to racism, unaware of how it manifests, how it feels, who it hurts. White people can learn to become less oblivious, but we will never have the lived experience of people of color. People of color are experts on racism; white people are not. No amount of reading or learning or activism will get us there. And that can be a hard pill to swallow in a society that teaches us that we can be anything, do anything. To be an ally, you will need to practice being okay with not being the expert, not being sure of the answer, not ever getting to some point where you have magically arrived. This requires considerable humility.” (source)
In trying not to take it personally, the backlash and criticism, I realize how personal to me this protest march really was. As someone who is continually plagued by self-doubt, who always, no matter what the situation, assumes she is automatically in the wrong, who has for a long time tried to make herself as invisible as she possibly could, it really was a big deal for me to be present for the Women’s March in DC. To voice my dissent along with hundreds of thousands other humans. (To actually be in a crowd of hundreds of thousands without having some sort of major meltdown. ) To stand up and be counted. To say, hey, look at me, I am here and I have a problem with not just some, but with all of this shit. And to be an ally to all of those folks who have problems with this shit, as well.
And of course I am not saying that this event, or any that follow, should be above criticism, I am not saying that at all. We all need to listen, learn, and do better, on just about every level, including and especially me. In that vein, this is an excellent read: How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101. It references many of the things I alluded to here, and things I need to learn to deal with better; specifically “getting called out” and “listening and sitting with discomfort”. It’s also a kind of hilarious where the author points out in the comments that the original file name for the piece was “don’t be a fucking becky”.
But also I can’t discount that –for me– I did something that scared me. And I am going to keep on doing these things. And probably looking like a fool and no doubt getting it wrong. And for me, that’s scary as hell. But in looking at our fraught political climate and and reading the current dystopian headlines, I can surely conjure some things that are a lot scarier.
As always, I welcome your commentary. What was your experience this weekend? As a POC? As a queer, non-binary, or trans-gendered activist? As a disabled activist? As a white, lower middle-class woman, like me?
Articles mentioned in this post:
Why I Don’t Support The Women’s March On Washington
Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab
Before You Celebrate The Zero Arrests At The Women’s March
How To Be An Anti-Racist Ally
The Women’s March Left Trans Women Behind
Listen to a Black Woman
How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101
All photos included in this post were taken by me in Washington DC on January 21, 2017.
I also asked my sisters to share with me their experiences of the past weekend, because I wanted to record their perspectives as well. This first bit comes from my youngest sibling, Melissa:
“When I was 25, I was dating a great guy. We were both in our final year of grad school, and he had a job lined up, and we were shopping for engagement rings. I thought we had been rubbing along quite nicely and that we had a splendid, promising future together. And then, one late January afternoon, he sat me down and told me he was leaving me. I wept, I begged, I berated him, and when I found that there was no swaying him, I stumbled home and ignored the phone calls of my worried friends and cried myself to sleep. It was a hellish night, and when I woke up in the morning, I was waking into a living nightmare.
Of course, passing time (and Prozac, and good counseling, and loyal friends, and keeping busy) worked its magic, and gradually the pain faded. But the memory of that first morning has never left me. In fact, it came back and visited me the morning of November 9, when I woke up to a fact that I had to try to drink away the night before. Against all expectation and logic, despite the evidence that had led me to think otherwise, my beloved, flawed, magnificent country had elected Donald Trump to be president the night before. And when I woke up on November 9, it was like I was waking up to the memory of another breakup. But this was a pain that would continue for four years–at least–and that had invaded the entire world. Donald J. Trump had been elected president, and there was no escaping the knowledge that his election was the latest symptom of a cancer that has been invading our country, perhaps our world. There was no escaping this pain, and no way to heal from it, either.
In the days that followed, I wallowed in despair, and wanted to hide under the covers and eat cheetoes for the rest of forever. I wanted to drink all of the wine, and watch reruns of The West Wing for the next four to eight years. (Perhaps not coincidentally, I had a similar reaction during my break-up, long ago.) And I felt horribly, horribly alone. Just like my worst break-up. But even in the depths of my misery, I had enough presence of mind to know that if I, as a white, middle-class, educated native-born American female (with all of those attendant privileges) felt alone and afraid, what of my brothers and sisters without the protection of those privileges?
That was why I marched. My presence there in D.C. might not have made any difference. Or maybe it did. But this was and is my message: I am here. I am present. I am an ally. I do not consent to the descent. I will not be silent. I am not alone, and you are not alone, and neither are the 500,000 people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my sisters and me. We are not alone. I don’t know what comes next, but I do know there is no escaping it, but we will face it down together. We are not alone.”