I’m a 32-year old liberal who attended my first activist event on Saturday.
I wasn’t always liberal. I first registered as a Republican, and in the first national election in which I was able to vote, I voted for George W. Bush. I knew very little about politics at this time, only the views of my parents. Though my dad did not vote, he had shared his opinions about Bush’s response to 9/11 with me, and so I pushed the button for Bush/pulled the lever (don’t remember how I did it). Smart, Jessica. You were a really informed voter. I take less issue with the fact that I voted for Bush—a man whom I definitely wouldn’t vote for now—than the fact that I knew nothing about the issues at stake. My vote was one vote, but in it I expressed my support for…for what? I had no idea.
Even after I registered as Democrat, I didn’t exactly think deeply about what I believed and why I believed it. I was a privileged white woman who was having boat-loads of fun at an amazing private college (hello, Centre bubble!) and then, a privileged white woman who had a job, could buy something when she wanted to (within reason), who could marry who she wanted, who was a member of the majority religious faith in the U.S., and who didn’t have anyone barring me from the restroom that I felt I should use. (Let’s be clear: I’m still a white, straight, Christian woman: I’m just trying to be more aware of privilege.)
For a long time, I primarily expressed my beliefs only when I felt that I needed to correct someone else for their attitudes or beliefs. In other words, it was primarily a defensive kind of standing up for what I believed in, rather than an offensive.
Then came graduate school, which for me, had a revolutionary and miraculous effect on how I saw the world and the ways in which I operated within it. My four years at Centre College did some of that work; I learned about world religions there and why it was important that the Bible was translated, and how migrant workers were exploited (thank you, convocations), among other things.
But it took graduate school for me to get a more concrete understanding of my own privilege. How, as others have said, it’s a privilege to not have to worry so much about daily life—eating, paying my bills, raising my child in a safe space, surviving—that so many others have to worry about. (I’m not saying that graduate school is a necessity. I’m sure that the passage of time, among other factors, also contributed to my changing views. But, for me, graduate school and the classes that I took there were particularly influential. If you ever have the opportunity to take a Critical Race Theory course, do it.)
And even now, I have to fight against the anesthetizing effects of my privilege. As an example, I see pictures of Syrian children in the news, and sometimes I have that deep, sickening clutch in my stomach, imagining if those were my children. At other times, I think how very awful it is, and then I deliberately focus on something else, because I don’t want to think about it, to be sad and to focus on the pain of others. Honestly, it is mind-boggling and horrifying to think that I can choose when to feel horrified by things that are happening in the world.
But I’m trying to be more active, in the ways that really count.*
On the days leading up to the national election, and on the day itself, I was overwhelmingly optimistic. Like many others, I bought a bottle of champagne and refrigerated it, imagining my husband and I staying up for the results and the confetti, and toasting to the shattering of the glass ceiling. Hillary Clinton is a woman whom I deeply admire and who was also carrying the hopes and dreams of so many of us.
But to my great surprise, Donald Trump was elected, despite Clinton winning the popular vote.
As I’ve said before, this isn’t a case of many Americans (and others) being sore losers. This is a situation where a majority of the country believes that a man who is fundamentally unfit to be president—to be our leader—has been elected. This is a case where a man whom I could compare to the worst of the fictional villains (Donald Trump is to Voldemort as x is to x) has been chosen to speak for me and my family when he says pretty much nothing that I can agree with. Seriously. I can’t think of anything.
I hate that Donald Trump is president. So much of what he says and does appalls me, particularly the fact that he and people who speak for him continue to lie. How hard is it to tell the truth, people?
But there are some things which have transpired since November which have given me hope. One of them, a big one, was the Women’s March in Lexington on Saturday. I made plans with my best friend Laura, a wonderful old friend of ours from Centre, Ofelia, and a new friend—one that Laura introduced me to—Marianne, to drive to the march together.
From 2:00 pm until roughly 3:15, we listened to various speakers who electrified the crowd and who moved, excited, and encouraged me. Attica Scott reminded us that Coretta Scott King said, “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.” The speakers also reminded us that in order to resist, we must resist. That there must be an active component to our resistance, and that we must keep it up. That we shouldn’t just focus on women’s rights here, but remember women everywhere.
Alison Lundergan Grimes gave a thrilling final speech and we were off on the march. We stretched across the wide downtown streets of Lexington, holding our signs aloft, and reading what our neighbors had to say: “Now you’ve pissed off Grandma,” “Ikea has better cabinets”; “Respect my existence or expect my resistance”; “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.” My own sign had “Build bridges, not walls” on one side, and a quote from Cecile Richards on the other: “One of us can be dismissed. Two of us can be ignored. But together, we are a movement, and we are unstoppable.”
The sense of kinship and comradery was inspiring. Maybe it was just me, but I also felt that we were excited to finally be doing something! Our group of roughly 5,000 probably didn’t agree about everything, but we stood up for the rights of all humans, of all sexes, genders, faiths, sexual orientations, etc., and we sent a strong message to those who would deny us equality. We joined the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people around the world who stood up for the same things.
My default response to so much, including the current political situation, is to get scared. Hey, it’s how anxious people are wired. But during these talks, and later, during the march, I felt hope. I have accepted that Donald Trump is president. As Pastor Masha Jean Moors-Charles encouraged, we have to accept reality so that we can change it.
But I’m also going to be firm in standing up for what I believe. Regardless of your party,-- If Donald Trump or his spokespeople or members of his cabinet lie, we need to call it a lie (see Dan Rather's post on Facebook). If Donald Trump or his spokespeople or members of his cabinet attack people unfairly, we need to hold him and others accountable and defend people who don’t have a huge Twitter following or the office of the presidency behind them. If Donald Trump or his spokespeople or members of his cabinet try to conflate religion and state, we should remind him of one of the principle amendments: Separation of Church and State.
The simple fact is that American citizens have rights which are guaranteed in the Constitution. Some are choosing to criticize that the marchers gathered this weekend, but I’m not sure why. Freedom of Speech and the Right to Assemble are guaranteed in the Constitution. Protesting was an amazingly effective technique when colonists were trying to establish their independence from Great Britain and when Americans were trying to protest segregation and achieve equality for all Americans regardless of race, among others. Protesting is not whining. It’s not a lazy tactic. Actually, protestors are people who are being involved in their communities through protesting.
Finally, there is not a correlation between being a protestor and being ungrateful to be an American—or at least, there isn’t a correlation in most cases. I am incredibly grateful to be an American, and I also recognize that there are things that we can do better. I would hate to live in a country where you aren’t allowed to peacefully express your dissent because people are so scared of it. And there isn’t a correlation between participating in the march and being ungrateful for the progress made in women’s rights. I can be grateful for the progress that my feminist ancestors have made and also see that there’s more progress to be made. Women and men, let’s not try to stifle peaceful protestors by shaming them.
Thank you to all of the people who marched this weekend in order to express your discontent and to bring about real change. And thank you to the other supporters, including my family, who wanted me to be safe, even if perhaps some of them didn’t agree with what I was doing, my husband and son, who waited at Laura’s so that I could have that day with my friends and fellow protestors, and others, like my mother-in-law and sister, who weren’t able to march for other reasons.
Let’s keep the fire going.
Today, I’m going to call my Senators and I’ll give you an update tomorrow. What will you do?
*Except for physical exercise. I’m still living the largely sedentary life.