Dear White People I Marched With Yesterday:
Hey. What a day, amirite?
Like you, I came home exhausted, energized, and amazed at our power. I don’t think I have ever felt as powerful as a woman as I did yesterday. I felt strong, and powerful, and not alone. I felt not despair for the first time in a while. I have been at various points of rage to despair since November.
There are so many amazing #whyImarch tweets and posts and essays and posters floating around the interwebs right now. This isn’t really one of them. I mean, it kind of is, but I never really do anything the way the way the cool kids do. Sorrynotsorry.
Yesterday, many of us held signs telling Trump to keep his hands off our bodies. We want and deserve reproductive freedom. We want and deserve healthcare and funding for Planned Parenthood. We want and deserve freedom from sexual violence, and we want and deserve a president and leadership in our country who understand and do not dismiss sexual assault. We want and deserve a president who has not bragged about sexually assaulting women. We want and deserve freedom from intimate partner violence, and from violence done to us because of our sexual orientation and gender identity. We want and deserve equal pay. We want and deserve access to medications and medical procedures that allow us to be fully in control of our bodies. We want and deserve to be seen and known as fully human.
Friends, we had so much energy surrounding these goals yesterday. I don’t want to minimize this, because I loved it. I loved the passion, I loved the energy, I love the fact that I was there. I love that we showed up. I love that we’re angry and we DID something, and that it was so fucking huge that we couldn’t actually do anything except stand there and be with each other. I love this so much.
And then there was this: I went to bed early last night, exhausted from being amongst all of you, but a phone call woke me at 11:30p.m. When I answered, it was someone I love who started the call, breathless, with “I just had the scariest experience of my life.” She was walking home from work and, being Saturday night on the outskirts of a college town, the streets were peppered with young people. On her way back to her apartment, my caller found herself behind two, young, drunk college students, barely able to stand in their heels, being followed by older (non-college student) men. My caller chose to intervene: walked up to the young women, stood between them and said, “come on, let’s keep walking.” The men began yelling at her: “what are you, their dyke?” There was a campus police officer up the street that she pointed out to them: “Do I need to yell for the cop or are you going to leave us alone?” she asked. They continued yelling as she and the young women walked up the street.
So I wondered: if she had been raped or assaulted, would you stand with her? If she was beaten (or worse) for her perceived sexual orientation, would you be there? When push comes to literal shove, where are you going to be?
And, I know. I know! You read this and you think duh. Of course this is (part of) what we want and deserve. Of course I would stand with her if she was raped/assaulted/beaten/killed. Of course I would be there. That’s why I marched.
Because here’s the thing: after I was sexually assaulted, the people who hurt me the most, and who hurt me repeatedly, were women. Women who called themselves feminists, even. Women who, most likely, were marching yesterday. Women who I could imagine holding signs like the ones you might have been holding: “Get your laws off my body” and “My body, my choice.” Those women. When push came to shove, they stood by and encouraged sexual assault. They and others engaged in victim blaming. It took me years to trust men again. It took me years to trust women again.
And here’s the thing: people of color are literally dying, and us white folks are pretty much slow to catch on. Our country is not safe for people of color, and we have not yet shown up to even let most people know we have noticed.
Have we noticed?
It’s cool to march for this shit when marching is trendy, isn’t it? When we have a hashtag and some pink hats, we do a damn good job, white women.
On Saturday, we showed up against a man/an administration and his/their policies. We showed up to say that there has been a wrong. That this is not what we want for ourselves, for our families, for our children, for our planet.
But will we show up for each other?
Will we actually show up in relationship for one another?
Will we show up for each other when it is inconvenient? When it is scary? And hard? When we don’t know what to say? When we feel frightened, and helpless, and when we can’t make it better and when we feel alone? Will we show up then? What about when we aren’t sure how to show up, or when showing up means showing up for people that are not like me, or you, or your family or neighbors?
Will we show up for our Muslim neighbors? For our Black neighbors? For our disabled neighbors? For our Jewish neighbors? Our immigrant neighbors? Our LGBTQ neighbor? Will we show up when they are scared?
Will you know when they are scared? If not, how can you find out?
We have marched. We marched on a huge, world-wide scale. Perhaps you marched locally. Perhaps you traveled hundreds of miles to be here in Washington, D.C.
Now, we continue. We continue for each other, with each other. We continue in relationship with each other. We continue making relationships with each other. We continue figuring it out, and fucking it up, and working it out, and showing up again. Isn’t that how all relationships go?
And yes. Yes, it feels small. Yes, I spent last week telling myself I am just not smart enough to do the things that need to be done. Despair is real, y’all, and it can mess you up real good.
If we go home and call/send letters to our congresspeople and senators – it will be important and essential. We need to do that work, because we need to see those kinds of changes. We need to send emails, and we need to share important articles and petitions and information on social media. That needs to happen.
But we cannot run the risk of losing momentum and becoming click-and-share activists once again. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to continue this force: it was not magic. It was relationship. What happened Saturday happened energetically. It happened in the train ride I shared with the Black woman from Boston and her daughter. It happened in the moment I shared with the white woman, her husband and their toddler daughter in line at the metro station. It happened with the friends I went with. It happened when my body was pressed against other people and we smiled and laughed and said “I got you,” making sure they didn’t lose their grip with their people. It happened when I met other Unitarian Universalists.
It feels far too cliché to say that love is what will save us, or that love is the answer. Nothing in life is that simple or pithy, and honestly, I don’t know if it’s true. What I do believe is this: our liberation is bound up together, and none of us are free until all of us are free. Have you ever played that human knot game? Everyone is literally all twisted up together and you have to find a way to untwist yourselves without dropping hands. The people on the outside of the knot have to listen to the people on the inside, hearing what hurts and listening to what they see. The people on the outside need to act to free the people on the inside and to free themselves.
White people, it is our job to confront and free ourselves from white supremacy: we got knots upon knots, folks, and we’re all far too late to this revolution. I don’t know much, and I haven’t the slightest how to fix this, but I know I am not free from this mess until you are also liberated – until we can all walk out, together, and draw the circle wide. I know this can’t happen until I am in relationship with the people around me. Until I know and show up for my neighbors. I truly believe that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We can’t do it alone. We need all of us, and we need us together.
When we begin to arrive, it is then that we will know what love looks like. Until then, I will keep standing where it counts to liberate all those bound up in the huddled masses, holding tight the hands of those around me — listening, watching, making adjustments to my actions, and truly hearing for what I might not see.