Reflections on the Women's March, unity, & discomfort

Reflections on the Women's March, unity, & discomfort

Around 3:00pm on inauguration day, M and I decided to join the sister Women’s March up in Indianapolis. It was a decision I made with some reluctance because of all the shit surrounding its inception and organizing, but I finally decided to go.

Why? I’m not actually sure. On inauguration day, I felt unexpectedly raw. I had actually been doing pretty well, emotionally speaking, up until that point. I had hope. I had motivation to move forward. I had a sense of letting go, and an acceptance that, sure, the Cheeto would be our President, but we’d be okay somehow.

I’d also been avoiding all of the Obamas’ goodbye speeches, and all in-depth news about the incoming administration. Headlines were good enough for me. 

On the morning of January 20th, I watched the footage of Obama’s last moments in the Oval Office, and I lost it. I didn’t expect to lose it, but there I was.

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A lot of people in my life salivate over Obama and romanticize his presidency. I am not one of them, and neither is M (and when it even sounds like I’m heading in that direction, he is there to check my ass). On his watch, more undocumented people were deported than any other president. His authorization of drone strikes have killed hundreds of innocent people in the Middle East.

Obama did some truly great things, but he’s also behind some of the most problematic and dehumanizing events in our history.

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So there I was, crying tears that I didn’t expect to come.

My reaction was so extreme, not because Obama was leaving — I mean, he’d be leaving no matter who won the election. That’s how it works. Two terms, max.

Instead, I was mourning the beginning of the Trump era.

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That day, everything felt so quiet. When I went downtown, the energy was subdued, even though there were inauguration protest activities being held. That same feeling of wanting to hide that I felt in the days following the election crept up on me. Everywhere I looked, there were crowds of white folks, and I felt unsettled and unsafe.

M and I had been planning to go to the local inauguration rally and march, which were being held that evening. But I couldn’t do it that day. I couldn’t march or rally in a crowd where I would be one of a handful of brown people.

But we wanted to march somewhere, so we decided to go to Indianapolis. I thought, surely there were would be more people at that march who looked like me. 

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The turn out in Indy was huge. The local news sources report that around 5,000 people showed up; the organizers say it was 10,000. I don’t know which number is true, but there were a lot of people there.

The signs were clever, and woman-centered and genitalia-specific. I saw maybe one “Black Lives Matter” sign. I saw one “Water is sacred” sign.

At one point, the crowd was called upon to look around, to look at our neighbors, and “see how diverse we are.” I looked around, and I was surrounded by white folks.

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Sure, we could say Indiana is very white, and that would be true.

What’s also true, though, is that Black folks and people of color do exist in Indiana. To say that a place (like Indiana, or Portland or Seattle, and so on) is very white erases the existence of the Black folks and POC who live in those spaces. Just because they are not visible in white spaces doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means that white folks are not paying attention. It means that white folks are creating spaces where Black folks and POC are not and do not feel welcome. It means that white folks are creating spaces that are not accessible to Black folks and POC. The same is true of undocumented folks, immigrants, queer folks, Native folks, Muslims, disabled, and trans folks.

What’s also true is that the Women’s March, in general, was largely attended by white women.

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Now. This isn’t to say that Black folks and POC and undocumented and Native and immigrant and trans and Muslim and disabled and queer folks were not marching. What I am saying is that while the march brought lots of white women joy and hope and uplifted spirits, many of the experiences of marginalized and underrepresented folks were very different.

Many people I know marched wherever they were, white and underrepresented alike. Many people I know opted out of marching. Everyone's reasons are valid for doing what they did.

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Who Didn't Go To The Women's March Matters More Than Those Who Did

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I’ve been struggling. With the grandiosity and historic moment of the Women’s March — how incredible it was to see 2.5 to 5 million people out and marching against this new administration. When we came home from the Indy march, I stayed glued to social media because I was amazed by the sheer size of the crowds. I also love snappy protest signs, and there was no shortage of them. In my Facebook and Twitter feeds, people were sharing photos of the local march they were attending. There were some who I never expected to be attending a march and posting, in detail, all the reasons they were marching.

My Filipina mother and my trans parent marched in Reno. It was the first time either of them had ever participated in anything like it. My trans parent said she thought she was the only one who felt this way; the march helped her feel not so alone and the energy she felt as she marched filled her with joy. My mother said the march was “kinda fun” and talked about the little girls she saw giving out daisies.

When I see the march through their eyes, I think, yes. I’m glad for the Women’s March.

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And I also think of all the marginalized and underrepresented people who were not represented at the more visible marches. Those who marched and were ridiculed and/or disrespected by white women. Those who feel strongly, for a host of reasons, that this march was not for them.

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A couple nights ago, we went to see Roxane Gay read. She was everything I thought she would be, which is to say, she was a badass human who I would genuinely love to sit down and have coffee with.

Someone asked what her thoughts were about the Women’s March, and she said, “I think it’s great.” She acknowledged that some people had behaved like assholes, but that was to be expected when you get 2.5 to 5 million people together. She acknowledged that there were a lot of things to be desired, but on the whole, the fact that so many people came together to voice dissent was powerful.

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Woman in Viral Photo from Women's March to White Female Allies: 'Listen to a Black Woman'

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I guess the conclusions I’m coming to are that both things can be true at the same time: that the Women’s March, despite all its shortcomings and issues of representation, was an incredible moment. Everyone marched for different reasons and in different ways, but we were all there together to show the new administration that their asses are on notice.

At the same time, we also have to listen to the voices and experiences of the marginalized and underrepresented folks. Both the folks who marched and the folks who didn’t. Because I guarantee that their experiences and voices will express something that will clash with a white woman’s experience of the march, and it will be uncomfortable. It might temper some joy. It might bring some white folks back to reality.

And that’s okay. I don’t want to hear that voicing dissent or anger is “divisive.” I don’t want to hear calls for “unity” that sacrifice and silence the voices of underrepresented and marginalized folks. Either your feminism is intersectional or it is not feminism. We have to truly and actively listen to each other — in particular, white women who want to continue in this movement must listen to and reckon with those voices who express experiences and ideas that poke holes in the little joy bubbles they’ve been living in.  

Because, white folks, that’s a huge part of working for justice, and it’s just as important now as it was before the human Cheeto took office. Fighting for justice sometimes means hearing hard things and sitting in discomfort. Reckoning with the role you play in systems of oppression and white supremacy. Constantly checking in with yourself and asking, “How have I participated in replicating a system of oppression today? How can I change that?” Speaking up and speaking loudly when you see a fellow white person do or say something fucked up.Educating yourself and not relying on marginalized folks to teach you what you don’t know. Recognizing your privilege. Not shying away from difficult and awkward conversations. 

As Roxane Gay said during her reading, “Why does having an uncomfortable conversation mean that we’re not getting along?”

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Activist Raquel Willis talks about her reaction to the huge turnout to the Women's March and where to go from here

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So why did I go to the sister march in Indy?

I’m still not sure. It wasn’t necessarily to feel hope. I already have hope. Because I know and work alongside people who have been organizing and fighting for justice long before the Cheeto administration was a sparkle in anyone’s eye. Since the election, the work hasn’t changed, but our timelines and resources have. For some of us, our tactics have to change as well.

The best answer I can come up with now is that I wanted to witness. I wanted to witness those who were there, and especially witness those who weren’t.

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Shirley Power

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Marches and rallies are not the only action we should take. The Women’s March was an incredible energizer and momentum-builder, especially for those who felt terrified, paralyzed, and alone. But the work doesn’t stop there.

The real work for justice often isn’t as sexy as a 2.5 to 5 million woman march. It involves following local and state legislation, calling your legislators. It means being informed and staying up-to-date on what the fuck is going on. It means finding out who’s already doing the work you want to get involved in, and it means getting out there in your community and getting your hands dirty. It means showing up for the underrepresented communities in your town, city, state. It means speaking up when you see something fucked up happen, whether it’s in the office, in the classroom, or on someone’s Facebook wall. 

And don’t be afraid of discomfort. Lean into it. I promise, it will make you a better human.

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What's Next After All the Marches? Organize.

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Hump Day Finds: Lady Lamb

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On DNCE and the freight train that is January 20th.

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