Saturday morning I boarded an early light rail train to Downtown Denver for the Women’s March. With a few friends from high school and their mothers and friends, we spent the day together: fighting, listening, talking, thinking, and marching. We laughed at signs that were funny, took hope in ones that were uplifting, delighted in the children and young people who came out to support their moms, to advocate for their own rights. We chanted that this is what democracy looks like and mostly not dressed for it, stood in the cold for hours. It was incredible.
(Civic Center Park on 1/21/17. Photo from the Denver Post)
I think it’s important to tell you, to put down on paper, why I’m marching. Though many of you reading this probably assumed I would be, I had reservations. The original lack of inclusiveness and diverse voices in planning the march disturbed me; it felt like co-opting Black labor and Black ideas when we—as white women—suddenly found ourselves marginalized. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of such a myopic movement, wasn’t sure I could represent the inclusiveness I feel is often missing from these conversations. I also wasn’t sure who I would go with. Having recently returned to Denver, the politics of many of my friends here were a big unknown. It’s not always something I talked about with new acquaintances, and frankly, I simply never talked about these things with some of my friends from high school.
But go I did, and joyfully, expectantly, with longing and a little fear, and prepared–a bandana and granola bars and sliced apples and water in my pocket. Prepared for the worst (which I didn’t think would actually happen), but also prepared to take what I knew was only a first step. The Women’s March is the start of a very long fight that will be the next four years. It is a symbolic start to a particular fight, but also the continuation of a much older fight for which I have too long remained reticent, hesitant to jump in. Attacks on the rights of all people who identify as women, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, people of color and LGBTQIA; on voting rights; on sexual and reproductive rights and health; on health care; on social safety net programs; on federal lands, the earth, and our climate; on our ability to speak out and speak the truth. These are not new, but they are coming, fast and furious. Now is not a time to congratulate ourselves for marching, but a time to make connections, to find solidarity, to acknowledge the role that privilege and intersectionality play in oppression, to gear up for the next fight.
It’s already here and #icantkeepquiet.
Feminism, as it has been practiced by white women, has long excluded and erased women of color, women with disabilities, women who do not follow traditional gender scripts and norms, and countless others. This has been its failing. For all the gains we have made to put women in positions of power and improve pay equality and open more opportunities for women and girls, you can’t decrease the gender wage gap if growing proportions of women continue to be relegated to low-paying jobs, continue to be silenced. For all the thinkpieces trying to explain the election results with talk of the economic insecurity of “working class Americans,” almost two thirds of people who work minimum wage jobs are women, many of them single mothers, and disproportionately are black and brown.
That said, we have come far. My mother, an extremely accomplished nurse practitioner, recently told me how amazed she was at the opportunities I had. You were a nurse or a teacher, that’s all there was for women, she said. That these were not my only options is part of my immense privilege, one that I want to see extended and expanded to more women, more little girls. I want every little girl in Denver, whether she grows up off Federal, or in Globeville, or in Cherry Hills Village to have that chance, to know that she can be a doctor, or a CEO, or a self-employed Ph.D. economist who does contract work for international organizations.
I’m marching because I do not want to return to a time when I would be unable to get birth control because I am not married, to a time when if I did get pregnant, my list of options would include seeing a back-alley butcher, to a time when executives were wantonly permitted to sexually harass female staff or discriminate against them for promotions and raises.
Let’s not go backwards.
I’m marching because I have many times said that my professional goal is to end gender-based violence, and the current administration is already working to dismantle and reverse progress in that direction. I believe that gutting the Violence Against Women Act is a national travesty. Women, children, immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized people disproportionately face violence from their partners, parents, and people in power and VAWA exists to mitigate those harms. The law needs some rethinking to focus less on law enforcement and to better serve Native Americans, LGBTQIA communities, and minorities. It could include community rehabilitation and childhood education on consent; it should give tribes greater sovereignty over crimes that occur on tribal lands and against their members. But dismissing tens of grant programs that train law enforcement, that support women leaving abusive relationships with financial support and legal assistance and counseling, that fund hotlines and shelters, and more, only puts women in more danger.
I’m marching because I love Colorado’s wilderness, because I picked up and up-ended my entire life to be back here, to spend time with my family, in the sunshine, in the mountains. I don’t want it spoiled by climate change and reckless industry that doesn’t value the health and wellbeing of Coloradans.
I’m marching because my whole life, I’ve been told that I can do anything, that I could be anything. That there were no doors closed to me. The ones that seemed closed, I kicked them down. It’s true that for many of us, many educated white women whom I count among my friends, this is the first time that someone has told us we are not worthy and a (large share of a) nation of voters agreed. And that is part of my privilege, too. It has always been this way for Black women, for Black men, for people of color and other marginalized folks. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve faced haters. Professors who told me that “grad school isn’t for everyone” and men who told me I wasn’t good enough. But never did I believe they were anything but wrong. Never did I believe I couldn’t kick in that door. Never in my lifetime has such a large group seemed to have said, “my perceived economic security is more important than your worth as a person, than your bodily security from rape and sexual assault, than the trauma of listening to abusive rhetoric as it rains hate down on your accomplishments.”
I’m marching because this country needs and deserves to benefit from the color and culture and friendship of immigrants and refugees. Because they deserve to live here safely and peacefully, to know that this a place that will be better than a dry, dusty camp in Tanzania, or a snowy one in Greece, or a gang-controlled city where they fear for their lives. Because a quick look at history tells you that walls don’t work.
I’m marching because I want the newly inaugurated president and the Republican-controlled Congress to know that he did not win by a landslide, not by any measure, and they do not have a mandate to do as they please. I want him to know that if he wants to “win” at being president, and we all know he likes to win, he will have to work WITH and FOR women. He will have to work WITH and FOR groups that have been marginalized and oppressed.
I want the president to know that America is already great. That we have strong, independent, intelligent women who run our businesses, who raise great kids, who make beautiful things, who fight against poverty and oppression and hate every day. And that all of that energy will be directed at any attempts to bring those women down for the next four years. This is only the start.
Saturday morning was uplifting; it was beautiful. I cried seeing pictures of massive crowds of hundreds of thousands of people in Boston and DC and Raleigh and San Francisco and Denver and Chicago. I grinned seeing my friends posing with their moms and their babies and their lifelong friends at marches all over the world. My heart got fuller with each picture of a sister march in Antarctica and Crested Butte and small towns all over. I am sending giant hugs to every single one of you. Thank you for coming out. For speaking out.
January 21, 2017 was a incredibly special day. Keep it in your hearts, let it burn quietly and consistently. Feed it with love and fervor and hope for a better, more humane world. You will need it; you will need it to fuel you, to keep marching, to keep fighting, to protect yourself from the lies, to make space for those who have been voiceless to speak, or to speak for them when they are silenced, to pull every single one of us forward.
Notes on the title of this post: A few people had this quote on signs at the Denver march, including one of my group. Its provenance is often cited as a Mexican proverb,* but other sources point to the homoerotic poetry of Greek writer Dino Christianopolous, proving once again that everything great comes from gay culture: “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed,” translated by Prof. Nicholas Kostis.
*Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les olvidó que somos semillas, as adopted by Mexican counterculture and revolutionary movements.