Today, I attended the Women’s March for America in my city. It was an incredible experience. I can’t think of another rally, march, or protest where I have felt so comfortable, so safe, respected, and heard. Attending with my friends, I felt a heady power in our collective voice. There seemed to be a palpable feeling of change in the air. From 10:30 this morning to 3 o’clock this afternoon I stood on the streets of my city and felt as though in the face of disrespect and fear and insularity on a global scale, our voices could rise up and create tangible change.
Then I went home and got on social media. I had been unable to access it throughout the march, since cell phone service was stretched to its limits. At first, I saw lots of pictures from friends and acquaintances. Snapshots of marches all across the country and the world. Friends in far-flung locales marching in everything from bikini tops to goose-down parkas. I felt the sense of empowerment that had suffused my being all day long.
At some point in my scrolling, though, I came upon the other posts. The status updates from many of the black activists I know.
“If anybody in [redacted city] has lost a liberal white woman, I found her. She’s downtown at the women’s march.”
“I’m in the DC airport trying to figure out why so many white women are trying to catch my eye and then smiling at me and then I noticed they were all wearing pink hats and remembered they thought they did me a favor today, but none of the said anything to the group of folks wearing Trump hats next to me so…”
Ok. Ok. I saw these and my first reaction? It was anger. Deep-seated, raw, visceral anger. Didn’t they know we were trying? Didn’t they realize that we were doing this to stand with them? For them? To come together and say what matters to you matters to me?
And then I realized I was a hypocrite. How could I sit here and say that I understood the exhaustion and fury of activists and organizers who’ve been in this fight for years and then react with anger when they expressed that hurt? How can I claim to be an enlightened member of the political order, a true ally, when I react negatively when confronted with someone else’s truth? That’s not right. It’s not fair. And it sure as hell won’t help us moving forward.
Yes, I’ll give myself some credit. I didn’t vote for for Trump. I have attended rallies as an ally. I have worked with community activism organizations. I participate in youth outreach initiatives and ask my POC and LGBT and immigrant friends how I can best support them. But honestly? So what. The world isn’t going to give me a gold star for being a decent human being, and my activist friends sure as hell don’t owe me anything. They certainly don’t owe me a sense of comfort, when they’re fighting every day of their lives whether they want to or not.
I reacted with anger when confronted with someone else’s truth and that’s wrong. I’m admitting it. I have to work to get over this hurdle because it is only my privilege that allows me to sit here and get mad about someone hurting my feelings. So many of my friends don’t have the privilege of reacting to hurt feelings, because they have to react to real threats on their lives, their livelihoods, and their communities all. the. damn. time.
It’s not easy. Training myself to acknowledge that visceral discomfort, to push into it, not away? That’s hard. Really hard. It’s frustrating, infuriating, daunting work. Oftentimes, it hurts. It means letting yourself absorb the point of view of people you’ll sometimes disagree with. It means opening yourself to understandings of the world that might differ fundamentally from your own.
In the end though, it’s worth it. If I truly want to be an ally, to revel in the sense of peaceful solidarity I so enjoyed today, then I need to do this work. As so many of our leaders told us today, all across the country and all across the world, the fight didn’t end today. We’re only just getting started.
Day 21: January 21, 2017