Yesterday, I attended my first ever protest march (what a privileged life I have lived to have never felt so strongly as to formally protest anything). Having worked blocks from the White House and lived in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I have often accidentally attended countless marches and protests, but this was the first that I attended with intention. I would like to say a few words regarding my experience.
First, I’ll put this right out here at the outset. Yes, there were some vulgar things said and represented on signs. Yes, there were some people who said hateful things, especially about our new president. I do not condone this, nor do I think it is particularly productive. In fact, I think it is counter-productive to the “love trumps hate” and “we go high” messages, which seem far more powerful to me. I know the march re-opened the debate about whether one can be at once a feminist and pro-life. I am not looking to settle that debate here. While I do believe there are certainly women’s health issues that are under fire, reproductive rights were not what called me to the march. It is easy to focus in on those aspects and discount the whole thing as a gathering of sore losers. Having been one in a crowd of hundreds of thousands, I can attest to the fact that there was an overwhelming sense of love and solidarity (not to mention peacefulness!). There was beauty in the diversity of people with so many opinions coming together to agree on some fundamental things. We definitely didn’t all agree on everything and we all came for different reasons, but we were unified by the belief that basic human rights and decency have come under attack. We were unified by the belief that science and truth have come under attack. We were unified by the belief that there should be no place for misogyny and white nationalism in the White House.
These were the overarching reasons that drove me to march. More specifically, I feel strongly about the way President Trump has spent most of his adult life objectifying and denigrating women. He has spoken in disgusting terms about too many women to name, including his own wives and daughters, and I am deeply troubled by the way he has been given a pass on all of this. The fact that he had the likes of Jeff Sessions denying that what he described on the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape was in fact sexual assault is appalling. It is not comforting in the least that Mr. Sessions has walked this claim back now that he is slated to lead the Department of Justice. It’s easy for me to identify with this issue as a woman and mother of a daughter, but it’s not the only reason I marched.
I also marched for reasons that will likely never affect me personally due to the privilege afforded me by the color of my skin. I marched in solidarity with Muslim Americans and People of Color. I am fearful for our future if it includes a Muslim registry. I am fearful for our future if we don’t recognize that racism still exists and that its existence necessitates certain protections under the law.
I marched because I believe that science and reason have come under attack. It seems that being an expert in scientific fields may be frowned upon in the incoming cabinet. I fear what it means for our future if we ignore climate science. I fear what it means for my children as they enter schools in the next few years if debunked vaccination theories are once again given a national voice.
What I keep coming back to as I ponder how to move forward from the 2016 election, is a Vox piece called A handy guide to New Year’s resolutions in the era of Trump. Sorry in advance for all the swears, but the third resolution especially comes to mind. I’ll paraphrase without the swears! It basically points to the fact that, because of tactics used by Trump to manipulate his opponents, the public, and the media, we have become too fatigued to really care about or pay attention to anything. The news media is still finding its footing in terms of dealing with this phenomenon and has not done us many favors to alleviate this fatigue, in my humble opinion. The author posits that the answer to this fatigue is becoming much more selective when deciding what issues in which to invest one’s time and energy. As advocate citizens, we can be much more effective if we recognize that we only have so many cares to give.
I think the over-performance (in terms of turnout) of the women’s marches around the world is a perfect representation of this idea. There were so very many offensive, shocking, and hateful things said during the 2016 campaign that it is no surprise that hundreds of thousands of people came together to show solidarity. We may have been too fatigued individually to know how to respond, but this march was the collective representation of all of the people who felt marginalized and demonized by President Trump.
My hope is that the women and men who marched harness the energy from yesterday’s event by choosing the one or two issues to which to lend their passions. That won’t be the same for every person and I think that is what made this march so special. It was an awakening of citizen advocacy.
Many people used the refrain “not my president” yesterday. Some may have meant it literally, but I can get on board with that feeling in a more metaphorical way. He may have been elected president, but he does not speak for me. I will not normalize or forget the disgusting things he has said about women. I will not normalize or forget the way he has given white supremacy a place in our nation’s highest office. I will not normalize or forget the way he has insulted entire religions and ethnicities. The point of this march to me was to show the president that he works for us now, and we are the noisy majority.