We cannot stay silent
Last year, while many of my friends and co-workers marched in Seattle I sat out. This was mostly due to the hopelessness I felt about the state of the world and my lack of faith that protesting would change anything. I made excuses; I have been protesting, marching, and battling injustice wherever I spot it since at least 1984. More likely, since the day I could speak? I’ll have to ask my mom about that one. Although I have helped make positive changes for people at the individual level – my involvement in large-scale movements hasn’t brought about world peace or equality like I naively hoped for in my youth. Over the last few decades, I have seen the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and mass shootings in the US become a common occurrence. And then, against all odds and reason, a misogynistic reality TV show host/terrible businessman became the most powerful person in the world! Marching last year seemed futile – the train was out of the station and what could possibly stop it?
However, over the last year, I watched in utter disbelief as the US slid steadily backward. Police brutality, racism, and misogyny crawled out from its slimy hidden underground bunker to be warmly embraced and fueled by the current US administration. Almost every day of 2017, my heart was ripped open by another tragic and completely preventable evil. Charleena Lyles, age 30, shot in her Seattle home by white police officers after she called them for help! She was pregnant and several children were present at the time of the shooting. All too frequently, someone shared a desperate plea for help finding a daughter, mother, sister, cousin. Day after day! Why is there so much silence around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls? How many mothers cried themselves to sleep each night because they lost their children to gun violence? 15,578 deaths due to gun violence (excluding suicide) and 345 mass shootings in 2017.
Additionally, there is now an outright assault on women’s rights. How can there still be a debate about if women deserve equal pay for equal work? There is no logical explanation for anything but equal pay for equal work. The inequality is blatant and outright misogyny. The ways the current administration has attacked women is beyond the scope of this post, but make no mistake there is a war against women in the US. (see also 100 days, 100 Ways the trump administration is harming women and families)
Although for my own mental health and well-being, I have tried to distance myself from American politics. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King still swirl within my head regularly – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.
Women’s March of Ajijic
While strolling through the colorful streets of the village, I began seeing signs about the Women’s March of Ajijic. The call to join in solidarity with the women of Ajijic, Mexico was not something I could tune out. I could not remain silent this year as women around the world march; the concerns are literally life and death. I felt pulled to know what issues the local women were tackling and more importantly how could I be of service? I envisioned local, Canadian, and American women of all ages marching down the cobblestone streets from the plaza to the malecón. The event brought my family together in a beautiful way – my mom sewed hats and volunteered, my son participated in the march, and my boyfriend became the official photographer of the event and will be submitting photos to the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project.
As we drove to the plaza, my thoughts turned to friends across the US that were marching in Washington, DC, Eugene, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. I felt the power of the rising tide of women coming together to lift each other up. It is time! The resistance is growing. United we are so much stronger! I felt inspired. As we turned the corner to the plaza, I couldn’t help but notice Mexican women were not the majority of people who had gathered. I spoke briefly to a person on the organizing team and she shared that there was a lot of effort to invite and include local women. I wondered, Why, were they not at the event? Did they want to come? Did they feel their concerns are not represented by this movement? Was it because English was the primary language on the promotional materials? Did this make local people feel the event was Euro-American centered?
There were some local women present and one asked to speak before the march, she shared information about a local group that spends time in the high schools teaching about healthy relationships and birth control. As the interpreter said, “this is huge” in Mexico! And I will add – very bold. I am anxiously awaiting the organizer’s post that will give more information about this group. I hope I can help in some way before I must leave Mexico.
Always a researcher…I paid close attention to the signs others carried. I wanted to understand the issues people feel so passionately about they are driven to march.
Many of the people that marched are retirees from Canada or the US. They talked about living through the civil rights movement and their deep concern about how the US is moving into the past. Women who blazed pathways during their careers, so women of my generation had more access to opportunities, shared their frustration. Many protestors focused their anger at #45 through their signs, t-shirts, and chanting. Perhaps, for some, this march is a way to continue the resistance against the US administration from afar. Others may be just visiting Mexico; therefore, they are still fully invested in what is happening at “home.” The stakes are high, for sure.
What happens in the US – good or bad – unfortunately impacts the world.
Divided we will remain the oppressed
As we marched, my mom’s friend shared her experience of raising a “bi-racial” child in Arizona in a time when there were very few African Americans in Phoenix. I shared my own experiences of raising multi-ethnic children. We discussed overt and covert racism, and we discussed how easy it is for people that have not shared the experience of racism to dismiss it. We talked about the division we still see in so many of the movements. My own experience of racism is complicated; my children and I are light skinned, therefore presumed “white.” I shared with my new friend how frequently people have made racially/ethnically disparaging comments in my presence because they thought it was “safe” to do so. I cringe as I listen to them backpedal when I disclose my or my children’s ethnic backgrounds. I make the choice to “go there” in the discussion or not. I am also aware of the privilege light skin has for us in these instances.
All racism is unacceptable; I also realize we do not have the same experience of racism as our friends with darker skin and I can choose to confront it in the moment or not. Sometimes I am drained and just don’t have the energy to fight that day. Friends with dark skin remind me they never get a day off from this hard work. They do not have the luxury of saying, I am too tired I don’t want to worry about racism and hatred today. My teachers about race, equity, and community organizing are some of the most badass Native American, African American, Mexican and Transpeople, you could ever hope to meet. They do not mince words; we frequently engage in extremely difficult conversations. There have been tears, we grow, we learn. This work is hard.
After the march, I opened Facebook wanting to see photos of the marches my friends attended. I craved that lifted, warm fuzzy feeling, and inspiration from today’s events that I had hoped to get. My friend, who is a woman of color, marched in Eugene, Oregon one of the “most progressive” cities in the US. She held a “Black Lives Matter” sign. A white woman behind her shared her opinion that she “hates identity politics: and wishes we would all “just collaborate” and believes in “nurture not nature”. Wait, what? Didn’t we come together today as women because of our shared values as a marginalized group, basically the definition of identity politics? This kind of thinking fuels the division that allows the continued oppression of all women. Often people who want to help, do so without the awareness of the harm they perpetuate. One of the speakers today, in Ajijic, touted the United States “250-year history of freedom!” Again, I say wait, what? Did she forget about SLAVERY! While this may be perceived as a small misstep for a person of the majority group, it is an erasure of the experience of whole populations. The comment made about my friend’s sign is another perfect example. The dominant message is clear – your cause (and therefore your existence) is not valid and you are not part of the conversation. You are “other” and your cause should be discussed elsewhere.
At the march in Vancouver, BC, a woman was bold enough to bring hate to the event. She carried a large sign attacking and attempting to delegitimize transwomen. She even tries to protect her hate speech by proclaiming “truth is not hate.” I cannot even fathom why a person would choose to come to a gathering meant to empower women and then choose to beat other women down. An error in the approach or when trying to help happens … we are all learning. We all make mistakes during our activism and advocacy attempts, but to make the conscious decision, put time into creating a hateful sign, transporting hate to the march, and brazenly standing before thousands of women denouncing other women? This is unconscionable. And it reminds me, we have a hell of a lot of work to do.
I am not ending this day feeling inspired and like all was right with the world. I feel tremendous sadness about the division and hatred in the world today. I also know it is not time to rest. It is time to dig in. I cannot be silent, nor can I choose to be uninvolved. If change is going to happen we all need to commit to fighting injustice every day – not just during events. And we need to start now!
How can we become better advocates and allies?
- We need to become true allies and rise against oppression everywhere, not only when it directly impacts us, our family, or our social circle.
- We need to center and listen to the oppressed.
- We need to be ready to engage in difficult conversations and realize that even when we are “trying to help” we may make mistakes or cause harm.
- When our mistakes are unveiled, we need to stop defending them and instead say, “I hear you. How can I do better?”
- We need to learn from our mistakes and grow – only then will we become better allies and advocates.
- We need to decolonize our thinking, education, and “our helping”.
- We need to make the commitment right now to embrace equality for all humans!
- We need to choose love over hate
- We need to have compassion for everyone
- We need treat each other with kindness