It’s the day after the Womens’ March on Washington and I’m feeling emotionally hung over. The latte is helping, but there is just so much to process and parse, it’s hard to get my thoughts and feelings corralled into a useful space. I’ve been posting like a madwoman on FB, a bit less on the Twitter, mostly about the march and all the pictures and videos and the overwhelming sense of unity. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this moment, and it’s time to look forward and prepare for when reality hits.
Make no mistake, my loyal cadre of readers, shit will get real.
This march was the easiest we’ll see and it was a big win. But women are far from a homogeneous group and fault lines are already re-forming. Women of color don’t trust white women, pro-life women don’t trust anyone who isn’t pro-life (specifically anti-abortion), and issues of class, sexuality, and religion permeate our thoughts, bodies, and hearts. We have yet to truly welcome transwomen and other women-identified people into our fold, and the political divide seems unbreachable.
White women – woke white women – have a hard road to walk in the coming years if we are to gain the trust and respect of those who have been fighting for decades and longer. For many of us, walking in yesterday’s march wasn’t a risk. White people, especially women, don’t fear the police, not in a real or visceral way. We largely see the police and government as helpful institutions, protectors of our safety, keepers of the peace. That view is firmly grounded in white privilege and obedience, but the view won’t be rosy much longer.
What will happen when we stop being obedient, or start resisting white privilege by showing up at #BlackLives Matter rallies? What happens if we show up en masse at events supporting our Muslim sisters, or the rights of trans people? These are all spaces where violence is a real possibility, and where white, hetero-cis women have been almost entirely absent. While we made gains toward equality during the era of women’s rights and the ERA, as well gaining the vote in 1920, white women have been the main beneficiaries of these movements, while other women were left behind.
Our privilege and skin color will not protect us for long, and that’s when we will discover if we are truly made of sterner stuff. I won’t lie – going to rallies and protests in support of people who are targets of law enforcement and hate groups terrifies me. I am deeply afraid of being injured and even more afraid of getting on the radar of law enforcement. As a veteran of working inside a prison facility, the fear of being incarcerated or even in the system is overwhelming. I go, but I choose carefully and attend when I know some of the presenters or when I can bring a friend or two.
That is my privilege – that I can pick and choose when to show up. I can choose to attend lower risk events, at no immediate cost to my well-being. I can choose which issues to support, how to support them, and step away when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I don’t have to think about everything because my various levels of privilege buy me a pass on an endless number of issues.
I don’t know what it will look like to show up in the coming years, to fight the rising fascism at the highest levels of government, and the groundswell of hatred, contempt, and violence spurting from its supporters. We have entered a space both familiar and unknown. Familiar because we can look at the rise of hatred and genocide and recognize those elements, unknown because the very act of observing those elements changes them – changes the outcome.
The question is who directs the change? Will we be the ones to put ourselves on the line to protect the future, or will we stand by and let others continue to take the risks? Staying silent or on the sidelines isn’t an option if we want to stay relevant – we can no longer let others fight the hard fight while we reap the benefits. If we want a future that protects and values all people, a future where we are valued as full human beings, we must look to those who have been on the front lines. We need to listen to them as our elders and wise women, heeding their wisdom and experience in the fight against injustice.