For days leading up to the March for Science I experienced a variety of feelings ranging from curiosity and excitement, to anxiety and shame. As a lover of all things science (I am looking at you Neil DeGrasse Tyson), it felt incredibly important to support the call for science that upholds the common good and to express to our current political leaders that we need evidence-based policies. Science affects so many facets of our life, from accessibility to birth control to how we will leave our planet for generations to come. It has allowed for the exploration of our universe, led to cures and treatments for diseases, shaped the way we grow and consume food, and is connected to nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Yet, when it came time to march, I didn’t.
We live in a politically charged, socially conscious time, one that can feel impossible to navigate through. On a weekly basis I often feel like I am just barely holding my head above water - and that water is full of issues I want to fight for: reproductive rights, equality, immigration, climate change, affordable healthcare, ending rape culture, LGBTQIA rights, science and innovation, animal welfare...you get the idea. As a fairly logical young woman, I am aware it is nearly impossible to advocate, protest, march, and fight for every single issue I feel passionate about. Yet, simultaneously I feel like I am not doing enough.
When I finally made my decision not to attend the March for Science, its was largely due to the fact that I felt as though I was running on empty. Working full-time in the field of reproductive rights, specifically abortion rights, means that majority of my week is spent reading, researching, and fighting against harassment, legislative bans, and a global attack on women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy. On any given Saturday I frankly need to turn my brain off and do anything else to not think about where my rights are headed. Yet, when I try to disconnect or recharge, most of my time is spent trying to tell myself that it’s ok to do so. Reactions to me skipping the March for Science were varied. Some seemed satisfied that I could “sit one out” because my job somehow gave me a pass. Others directed a quiet shame onto my shoulders, that having lunch with a friend or reading a book in the park are lazy excuses to not join an important cause. As I spoke with friends and colleagues about how guilty I felt, I realized this happens all the time.
There is a growing movement inside our own social justice movement that feels like an attempt to break one another down. It goes beyond the conversations of what we could do better or differently next time, and consciously or not, shames the participation of others. Did you show up? Why didn’t you show up? How did you show up? What did you do after you showed up? What are you showing up to next?
Marches and rallies serve a direct purpose to people seeking action, solidarity, and connection. They can provide an outlet for people who want to do something but don’t know exactly what to do. They are an incredible tool to feel heard, to learn about an issue, and to connect with like-minded people who can inspire further action. Attending the Women’s March on Washington this past January was an event I felt deeply connected to and one that I will forever hold in my heart. But if I am being honest with myself, I cannot attend every march, protest, speak-out, sit-in, or rally and that isn’t due to one single reason.
For every article I read about “self-care”, I hear from at least five friends who feel guilty for skipping a protest or social justice event. On a Monday I am told that I should take a bath, have some “me” time, and just detox. Yet, on a Tuesday I can be shamed for sitting out. And it needs to stop.
We are fighting for a world where every individual is respected, has access to resources and opportunity to lead a healthy, happy life, and has autonomy of their future. Part of that respect and autonomy must live within our movement, and allow every individual to decide for themselves how best to show up for a cause they believe in. It may be calling your Senator, or attending a march, or having challenging conversations with family, or hosting a pot luck fundraiser in your apartment, or a million other ways to shift prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, and inequality. And you know what? I trust you to decide that for yourself.
Within each of us are specific skills, knowledge, experiences, and gifts to share with the movement. Maybe you’re great at public speaking, or a phenomenal artist, or a celebrated baker, or can slay a poster with a political pun. I encourage us all to figure out where we can be the best ally and then do that thing really well. Know that you have something to offer to the cause(s) you want to fight for, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the keynote speaker on the issue.
To my fellow advocates, activists, colleagues, and friends - know that I believe in you, and in us. I trust that you will do what you need to be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy enough to continue to fight for justice and equality. I am hopeful that we preach more than “self-care” and actually try to find balance within our lives. We have jobs, families, friends, financial commitments, pleasures, fears, limitations, and ambitions. To lift up our causes, must also mean that we lift one another up. Rather than asking what else you did, I will thank you for what you’ve done, whatever it may be. And when you need support, I encourage you to ask for it, without shame.