Like many at the Women’s March on Washington, I was a first-time marcher. My bus ticket was a Christmas gift from my husband who knew I wanted to attend, and our bus drove through the night on Friday and Saturday. I had followed all the instructions on everything you should and should not bring to a rally or on a bus. I had studied all of the safety advice on avoiding potentially dangerous people, what to do in the event of tear gas, and knowing your legal rights at a march.
I was nervous about the possibility of something going wrong and people getting hurt, but I decided to move on with the now viral advice of Carrie Fisher: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
The hardest part of the march for me was not the possibility of getting tear-gassed and trampled or even the grueling double-red eye bus schedule, it was calling someone I loved to let them know I was attending. This is someone who I love and who loves me, but who has extremely different political beliefs than I do. This conversation went even more poorly than I had expected, and I was left with the horrible feeling of disappointing someone. But I had to go because I believe in bridges rather than walls. Because I am concerned about being on the right side of history.
So I went. A bit hurt, a bit nervous, but determined.
As a stepmom of teenage girls, I want to be a good example for my girls and I want to make the future better for them. In four to six years, when the girls go to college, sexual assault will still be rampant. It might be worse, given the renewed patriarchal zeal. I want a safer world for them where they are not grabbed without their consent or graded on their appearance on a scale from one to ten. I want job opportunities for them, where they make as much money as their male colleagues. I marched for them, for myself, for my sister and cousins, for friends, and for the women who don’t realize they need it.
One of the women in my group wore a sign that said she was marching for her daughters, granddaughters, and nieces. On the back of the sign, she had glued photos of her female family members, smiling and optimistic. It received many positive comments throughout the day, as everyone was there because of love. Love for family or friends or the ideals of a nation. We all marched because there were things we needed to protect.
It was a women’s march, and as concerned as I am about women’s rights, I was not there strictly due to women’s issues and neither were my fellow marchers. There were many #blacklivesmatter posters, both from black and non-black marchers. For my sign, I opted to use a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote –“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”– to show that this march was for all of us: male and female, all races, all religions, all sexual orientations, immigrants and natural born citizens.
I may have some disadvantages as a female, but as a white Christian I also have many advantages. I can wear a cross around my neck without strange men threatening to set me on fire, the way women in hijabs have been threatened. I can claim my faith without someone threatening to put me on a registry. I want Muslims, and any other marginalized religious group, to have the same religious freedoms that I enjoy. My whiteness also protects me, allowing me to live without fear of the police.
Being under attack for your skin color, your religion, or your sex is personal. It’s not something you get over.
As the daughter of immigrants, immigration policies are also personal to me. My parents, born and raised in South America, are hard-working and honest. They didn’t know the language when they moved here, but they learned quickly and built the life they wanted, centered on God and family. They worked hard so my sister and I could attend private colleges. My parents are not murderers and rapists; they are patriotic, full of gratitude, and deeply decent.
In addition to being the daughter of immigrants, I am also the wife of a school principal and the sister of a teacher. This too is personal. Our educators work hard for their students and deserve support rather than micromanagement and scapegoating. Our students, 90% of whom attend public schools, also deserve our support. I want a secretary of education who actually knows something about education and not just the power of a hefty donation in furthering one’s agenda.
The backlash against the march has been widespread, and many of those denying the legitimacy of the protests are female. “What rights am I missing?” women cry, even as the Office on Violence Against Women is scheduled to be cut, a slap in the face to the 1 in 3 women who experience physical violence from an intimate partner in their lives and 1 in 5 of women who are raped in their lifetime. “Why can’t these women stop complaining and just give him a chance? He won. They need to get over it.”
We aren’t angry feminists lashing out against imaginary grievances. We are feminists, it is true, and current events have left us angrier than we have been in a while. But it isn’t anger that brought us to the streets. It’s a hope in a better world and a willingness to do our part to bring that about. It’s love, not hate.
I marched with five of the women on my bus, and all of them make the world a better place. One works at a shelter for domestic violence victims. Others of our group volunteer at the same domestic violence shelter, creating a shelter for the pets of those families, so families do not stay in bad situations out of fear that their abusers might kill the family pet. We had a social worker. We had a woman who worked in education for decades, both as an elementary school teacher and as a professor, and holds two master’s degrees and a PhD. She is now retired, but she’s still devoted to kids, working as a volunteer librarian at a school in Detroit. Another woman is a mother to more than a dozen adult children and a grandmother to more than twenty. In women like this, I see hope.
As a Christian, I believe in hope and reconciliation. I believe in a God who will make all things new again, and expects us to do the same in the current life on this earth, not just the afterlife. We are expected to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and care for the earth which has been entrusted to us. Political activism is one way for me to love my neighbor as myself.
Now the march is over, and I am so very grateful for a peaceful event for DC and for peaceful events all around the world. I am grateful for all the women and men who stepped out of their comfort zones to take to the streets, following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and many other champions of justice. Voices have been heard, and now it is time for the work to be done.