Last Saturday, January 21, 2017, I participated in the historic Women’s March on Washington. Over the past few days, I have struggled with how to respond–if at all–to those who criticize or belittle the march. It’s hard to know when others are truly willing to engage and try to understand and when they’re simply looking for more opportunities to make their own points.
For now, I’ve decided to start with telling my story. I can’t tell you anyone else’s story or perspective, but I can tell you mine. It’s up to you whether to listen. You can agree or disagree with my decisions*, but I get to make them.
I would love to say I was immediately gung-ho about the opportunity to stand with others to say (among other things) that women are equal human beings who should be treated as such. I vaguely heard about the plans for the march soon after the election. I thought it sounded interesting, but didn’t seriously think I would go. I’ve never been part of a demonstration, and it sounded like a lot of hassle. I even mistakenly thought it was on a weekday, so there was my easy excuse.
I also wasn’t sure what exactly the march was going to be advocating, and didn’t know if I was comfortable with its platform. Yes, my reservations mostly had to do with the issue of abortion. While I’m no longer at ease with the pro-life movement’s assault on women’s healthcare in general (or its lack of support of life from birth onwards), I still personally believe life begins before birth. I haven’t really figured out how I believe that should be dealt with legislatively. I just wasn’t sure about the possibility of aligning with a demonstration that was in part supporting a premise with which I don’t necessarily agree. (Once the organizers released a coherent mission and vision statement, abortion wasn’t mentioned, although reproductive rights–which includes abortion–were included in the unity principles).
I apologize to those of you who are further along in your thinking and experience and find it much easier to take up causes (or are in a position where your needs are so pressing that you don’t have the luxury of sitting around deciding whether to demonstrate)… reading my reasons for waffling, you might be wanting to scratch your eyes out in frustration. I guess I’m trying to say I understand why some people didn’t go, didn’t support, or openly opposed the women’s march. I ultimately decided I didn’t agree with those reasons for not going, but I don’t get to make your decisions any more than you get to make mine.
As New Year’s came and went, I had essentially decided by default that I wasn’t going. As the Inauguration approached, however, I became more and more distraught at the thought of a Trump presidency and all its implications for the marginalized. At the same time, I was feeling more and more infuriated by his cabinet nominations of candidates who are at best, unqualified, and at worst, direct adversaries of the agencies they’re supposed to represent.
But honestly, recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day is what truly turned the tables for me. Hearing my students cheer at the fact that they’re allowed to go to school together now–and seeing the shock on their faces when another student mentioned that there are countries where girls aren’t allowed to attend school–was about all my conscience could take. I was no longer willing to let my own of hesitations over inconvenience or my disagreement over one issue** get in the way of my showing support for the vast groups of people who were, in the words of the march organizers, “insulted, demonized, and threatened” by the rhetoric of the election cycle.
Of course, since I had been so hesitant, finding my way to DC was tricky. My sister was going on a bus, but it was already full. I explored a few other options, but decided to opt for a local march, since one had now been organized. Then, a spot opened up on my sister’s bus to DC after all. I found out Friday afternoon, and finally, I was able to commit–yes, I wanted that spot, and I would be there.
Thankfully, hundreds of thousands of other women (and men) made that same commitment.