Saturday was awesome. I’m not generally a march person. I don’t do crowds well; I get panicky. But it was local (so, familiar) and I went with friends who would have understood if I’d needed to run away for a bit. I attended the women’s rally in Denton, had lunch with some friends afterward to talk about it, and then met for decadent waffles and coffee with another friend who had her reasons not to attend but was eager to hear the reasons I did.
Yesterday, however, was one of the days I had to get off Facebook to retain my sanity.
It wasn’t all bad. I had several friends who posted why they chose not to march. While wow, we’ve had very different life experiences and disagree about a lot of things, I respect that, just like I do, they do not shy away from the responsibilty of acting according to their convictions. I even clicked “like” on a couple that were particularly well reasoned and eloquently stated. I’m thankful that they shared.
Then there were the others – some original, some reposted from another source. They listed lots of reasons they didn’t march, but they also listed many disrespectful assumptions about us marchers. And most of them ended with some version of the condescending sentiment, “Oh, but go ahead and have your little march if it will make you feel better. Bless your hearts.”
Incredibly, many of the people posting these messages are some of the same people I see calling for unity. Hmm. Maybe it would be more unifying if they listened and tried to understand the positions of others instead of automatically dismissing them as stupid and whiny. Just a thought.
More to the point, I get that people feel compelled to explain why they didn’t march. After all, I often feel compelled to explain why I don’t do something others see as important. It’s very human to want to be understood and to feel defensive when we’re not. As one who marched, let me assure those of you who didn’t that you don’t owe me an explanation. We all have different work to do, and if this march wasn’t part of your work, then that’s your decision. I am happy to listen if you want to explain anyway, but you owe me nothing.
[Aside – your other friends who marched may feel differently. Don’t assume I speak for everyone, because I do not.]
If you do explain, however, be careful. There is a thin line between “This is why I didn’t,” and “This is why people who march are stupid.” And most of the posts I saw in my feed crossed that line from disagreement right into disrespect. I understand the draw. I’m certainly not innocent of it. Acting petty is super gratifying – cathartic, even. Some of my favorite people are petty by default. And it is a whole lot easier to dismiss people who disagree as unintelligent or uninformed or just plain unlikable without going to the trouble to listen long enough to discern if those things are true.
The problem is that when we choose to take the low road by insulting whole groups of people, there are probably going to be people who read or hear it whom we would claim to love and respect as individuals and who also happen to fall within that group. It lands on them just as if we had said it to their faces. If you are fine with this, well…you do you. On some level, I get that, too. I’m certainly working through some of my own feelings of betrayal and anger, and I hope Jesus and I work through them soon, because they are hella stressful. I want you to have space to work through it, too.
Just know that, if you posted one of those messages, it landed on people you call friends. It landed on me and my friends (which frankly, is more offensive than it landing on me. How dare you. My friends are awesome, and you would be lucky to know them).
If that’s the message you meant to send me – that you neither like nor respect me – then okay. Not everyone does. So…why are you here? Stop torturing yourself. Unfriend me, unfollow me, and stop reading. Life is too short, and the steady rise of your blood pressure with every word you read is making yours even shorter. Save yourself. Just go.
If, however, that isn’t the message you intended to send, let’s see if I can help us work our way back from it.
First, full disclosure – those calls for unity? I’m not even close to there yet. Before you get judgy, I want you to reflect on our time in the Obama administration. Think of how long it took you to say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s our President, and it’s still our country, so I’m going to make peace with it.” How long did it take you to get rid of the opposing candidate’s yard sign and take your “I didn’t vote for this Obama-nation” bumper sticker off your car? How long did it take for you to stop posting snarky and often hateful memes poking fun at the First Family on social media, and how long after that did it take for you to stop liking those memes or finding them funny? When voicing your opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan (which is an opinion you have every right to voice), how long did it take you to stop calling it Obamacare and refer to it by its actual name, the Affordable Care Act?
Was it two months? Six months? A year? Eight years? Be honest.
Take that measure of time, add it to January 20, 2017, put it on your calendar, and mark it as the first day you have any moral ground whatsoever to ask me for unity. You may get it well before then, on account of my annoying, stubborn idealism and the inconvenient fact that achieving the goals we marched for – freedom for all – will ultimately require some semblance of an all. But in the meantime, stop asking people to do what you yourself could not.
Second, while I don’t owe you an explanation either, if you are still reading (and good on you – this is a long one), I’d like to tell you why I marched. It’s possible that you might even find something here to agree with, and I suppose that’s a start.
The equal rights we allegedly all have on paper are not fully practiced in reality. Equality is not just a legal issue; even more than that, it is a heart and attitude issue. Lack of a heart and attitude for equality is still a big problem in our country. I marched to protest that reality.
We just swore in a man who, through all his years in the limelight and throughout his campaign, actively displayed a heart and attitude of inequality. He has disparaged women, people of color, military veterans, people with disabilities – basically, anyone who has ever appeared to disagree with him. And he’s not dumb. He has been in the public eye his whole life, and he knew exactly what he was doing and exactly the effect it would have. He knew his open ridicule would embolden other people to act out their similar hateful biases in more extreme ways which he could then publicly denounce, passing himself off as reasonable by comparison. He will make promises and tell people he is on their side, and then betray them to get what he wants. Then he will turn around and ask them to be friends again and pout (or tweet) when they understandably decline. As long as I’ve known who he is, these have been his signature moves. This is not friendship or leadership; it is a cycle of abuse that he has, to date, shown no intention of breaking. I protest that.
If he were to want to show intention to turn over a new leaf, I’d be happy to see it. A good way to do that would be to enforce the equal rights we are supposedly guaranteed by law. You know, instead of threatening to repeal those laws or to cut funding/defund agencies that exist to protect them. I protest that, too.
I marched to be part of an audio-visual reminder to the president and the country that, while he may have been elected by a different group of people, upon taking that oath, he works for all of us now. An across-party-lines calling for that is a unity I could maybe think about starting to get on board with.
Barring that far-fetched possibility, the march also served as a not-so-subtle reminder that those who oppose inequality, particularly the inequality that laces the president’s words and actions, are not the small, docile, silent minority he would like to believe we are.
And finally, I marched in repentance for white feminism. White feminism is a larger discussion but for our purposes here includes all supposed freedom work that pursues one group’s freedom at the expense and exclusion of the freedom of others, particularly the freedom of women of color. I can believe we still have to protest this shit, because we cannot free and oppress at the same time, and that’s what a lot of the work of white feminists has done. It has tried to take a step forward by pushing others back. Freedom and oppression are opposing forces. No wonder progress has been slow, because much of it simply has not been progress.
On Saturday, I know we did a whole lot of getting things right. The rally in Denton seemed peaceful and inclusive. Having said that, if someone told me that they were excluded from it, I would believe them, because with its roots in white supremacy, white feminism is pervasive as hell. I marched in recognition that we still have so much work to do and that a lot of that work was created by our own selfishness.
Marching isn’t the only thing we’re doing, or even the most effective. Of course it isn’t. I know a lot of people who didn’t march because they were doing important work elsewhere at the time. That’s great – more power to them!
The march did spark hope in me again. If you are one of the people calling for unity, and you truly want it, this should give you hope that one day I’ll get there, too.