It’s been a roller coster week which has sparked a great deal of thinking and wrestling with what I like to think is my liberal self. While I was trying to fool myself that I am strong and optimistic, truth be told, I was “in the depths of despair”, wondering what our future would look like. Then, Saturday morning, as I wondered if I truly even had the emotional energy to make it out of the house, I forced myself to what I thought would be a small gathering of a handful of women at the riverfront, but my spirits soared at what I was to discover. For here in Peoria the people turned out, and it was beautiful. The incredible organizers arranged a diversity of speakers who one at a time spoke to each line of the Women’s March platform. Refugees, muslim doctors, and Latina high school students one-by-one took to the microphone, quelling my concerns that this might be a one-dimensional movement led by white feminists. The joy and pride began to soar. As I returned home, I was met with the remarkable coverage of my sisters across the world. I began to imagine a new reality, quite different from the one I had feared.
Then something all too familiar began to happen, my news feed filled with clear descriptions of the shortcomings of the march. The pussy hats, once so cute, were named a symbol of cis-privilage. The questions of where were our sisters when…echoed over and over. While many of these concerns had been voiced to some degree prior to the march, I began to struggle with all those who would rain on my white-feminist parade. Friends, I confess that I needed this, I wanted a win, a moment of joy, a symbol of hope, a glimpse of true solidarity. So what was I to do if it wasn’t all that? And if this wasn’t a beautiful sign of hope, what was it?
By Sunday night as I struggled to sleep and I turned these questions over and over in my head, it seemed that there was only one option…so I devolved into liberal-white-lady-self-pity. I chided myself for not recognizing the vaginal references as exclusionary while arguing at the computer screen over the intersectional merits of defending reproductive choice. I became defensive around my own activism around Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Pipeline. I nursed my sadness that this effort wasn’t good enough. Then I reflected on my own white fragility and the recent article I had read on the subject. As I gave into self-loathing, I was filled with guilt for my downward spiral of self pity. What could be more privileged-white-feminist-liberal than this whole line of thought, I wondered.
And so, friends I confess, that I am all of what one might believe. I am the sad broken white lady in the SNL skit, devastated by Trump’s win. I giggle at signs and t-shirts that depict a uterus giving Trump the finger. I seek to support my sisters who are womanist, latina, muslim, and transgender, and I fall short. I want to do better. I want to be part of a movement in which all are included, a movement in which we all stand together for justice. I want us to turn out together and #sayhername, fight against unjust bathroom bills, support Planned Parenthood, seek to ensure that all from Dakota to Michigan have clean drinking water, and so much more. I want a movement in which my sisters of color, and transgender sisters know that their voices are heard and valued. I also want a movement in which those who are imperfect activists are able to find a place. I want a movement in which when someone shows up for the first time in their lives to a protest, they are welcomed and celebrated for their willingness to step out of their comfort zones. I want us to critique ourselves to seek a more inclusive movement, but I want that to include those who are new to this work.
Even as I write this, executive orders are being signed. These orders seek to re-start construction of the Dakota and Keystone Pipelines, “investigate” “voter-fraud”, and deny women across the globe access to full reproductive choice. As I write this, the EPA is being gagged by the executive office. As I write this, John Gore is being named to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. As I write this, the President is threatening to send ‘the feds’ to Chicago, and tweeting about a certain wall. As I write this, I worry about what is to come. The arts, environment, and voting rights are under threat. The supreme court nominee will be named shortly.
I am convinced that we need everyone, and so I implore us to find ways to welcome new activists to our movements without discouraging them for not showing up sooner, or more enlightened. I implore my white sisters who may feel discouraged or challenged to hang in there and keep showing up. Have courage and lean into uncomfortable truths. Embrace shortcomings as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable character flaws (’cause they’re not). I encourage all of us to Trust Ambiguity, holding space in our hearts and minds for those who felt as though they had a place in activism for the first time AND for those who felt they were being squeezed out and excluded. Both can be, and are true. Let us celebrate how far we have come, AND let us seek to embrace intersectionality more deeply and authentically. Let us hold each other up, because in the days and months ahead, we will need everyone to turn out AND to understand more deeply the ways mechanisms of systemic injustice divide and oppress. Let us do our own difficult work of challenging our own bias and privilege, while being assured that we are supported by our sisters. Let us come through this stronger, better, and ready to fight!