This past Saturday, I joined an estimated 500,000 people in our nation’s capital to demonstrate for women’s rights in America. The Women’s March was historic in both its size and reach—as marches were held throughout the US and across six continents—uniting individuals from every race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, creed and walk of life. Despite the massive crowds in DC, kindness, patience and civility reigned. These were not protesters whining or screaming profanities and bashing men. In fact, I was surprised to see the great number of men marching alongside women, in passionate solidarity for women’s reproductive rights. Men of all ages, races and backgrounds chanted “Her body! Her choice!” There was no demonstration of anarchy among the marchers, no destruction of property or violence against others. The DC police did not wear riot gear, but instead remained friendly and helpful in assisting folks or directing marchers when streets were closed. Not one single arrest was made.
The incredible sense of community that was forged among these marchers is a tremendous reminder of our power when we come together. Community is our power. In her compassionate and powerful keynote address for the Women’s March, Gloria Steinem stated that “we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough. And this also unifies us with the many in this world who do not have computers or electricity or literacy, but do have the same hopes and the same dreams.”
Social media can be isolating and ineffective in terms of enacting real change. How we unite as a community is essential in bringing about serious political change, along with resisting those who seek to undermine us. Critics were quick to warn that the march wouldn’t accomplish anything. Before I left for DC, I was confronted by several female colleagues who questioned why I wanted to march in the first place. One claimed that the Women’s March would be “a disorganized, ineffective mess like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.” Another remarked that women should “stop complaining because they can do whatever they want. They should be grateful for what they already have in this country.” Such comments are rooted in ignorance, white privilege and a severe lack of empathy. They fail to consider the harsh realities that threaten the lives and limit the choices of black women, transgender women, undocumented women, Latinas and many, many others who do not get to “do whatever they want” just because they live in America.
The backlash against the Women’s March, especially from other women, echoes the abusive misogyny that I encountered while growing up working class, in a traditional, patriarchal, Roman Catholic family. As a young girl, I received a lot of conflicting and essentially damaging messages from some aunts and older female cousins on what it means to be a good, desirable woman instead of one who is bad and essentially unlovable. Never be too smart or outspoken was a constant warning. The goal was to shut up, look sexy and marry rich. Only through a man could you have some power in this world. The word “feminist” was an ugly word, one that equated to “manhater.” I had no clear idea of what feminism meant until I entered college.
There was so much fear among these aunts and female cousins—fear that quickly became angry and hostile if their views were challenged. A good woman was beautiful, subservient and “knew her place” among men. She followed the rules without question. Anything to the contrary threatened the possibility of being a good woman with a place among a traditional family, a traditional setup of power. Women are so often the most dangerous misogynists, because in their stance against women’s rights, they send damaging messages to young girls and other women, undermining both their sense of identity and power in the world. It took me years to shed this misogynistic conditioning and feel at home in my own skin.
Women must empower one another. When we listen with compassion and validate the lives of other women, especially those outside of our own race, religion and orientation, we deepen our understanding and awareness of others. We are reminded that what unites us, despite our differences, is the preservation of human rights. How do we keep the positive momentum of the Women’s March going? We must continue to engage and invest in our communities to share information, take direct action and mobilize politically through organizing progressive collectives. The infighting among liberals must stop. The “us vs. them” mentality only weakens any real concerted efforts to challenge Republicans in 2018, where Democrats will be defending many more red state seats than Republicans will be holding seats in blue states. It’s going to be more challenging for Democrats to keep and gain future seats in the Senate, but in strengthening our communities, working together with other Democrats and trying to engage with those who did vote for Trump, we can help influence swing states, and broaden the minds and hearts of other Americans.
On an individual level, we must show up physically for one another in addition to calling elected representatives, writing letters, signing petitions and donating to organizations that support human rights and women’s reproductive health. We must challenge racism, hate and discrimination, as well as “alternative facts,” otherwise known as lies. We must challenge women who undermine other women.
I never experienced the unity and empowerment among others than I did on January 21st, 2017. Never did I feel more proud to be an American. As Gloria Steinem said, “this is a day that will change us forever because we are together. Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible president we too often go home. We’ve elected an impossible president, we’re never going home. We’re staying together. And we’re taking over.”