Monday, January 23, 2017

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like!"

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

My First Snap of the Day
I drove to the Metro stop closest to me, hoping that I was far away enough from DC to get a parking spot. I got a parking spot as well as a seat on the train. The first thing I noticed were all the pink hats with cat ears (henceforth referred to as p-hats). Actually, the first thing I noticed were all the white women wearing pink p-hats. I was the lone brown girl on the train going to the Women's March on Washington. 

I felt completely out of place. I could feel myself losing the initial excitement I'd originally felt when I first decided I was going to the march. On November 8th, I went to bed feeling sick. I'd been following for the past few weeks, feeling pretty confident that Hillary Clinton was going to win and become the first woman President of the United States, like everyone else. But as I kept reloading the electoral map and seeing red, I got nauseous, my body and soul seemingly splitting from one another, and at about 12:30am, I made myself go to bed. I woke up at about 3:20am, believing with all my heart that this close race was going to take a few days - that all the votes would be counted, that Hillary Clinton wouldn't concede even if HWSNBN (short for "He Who Shall Not Be Named," aka Voldemort) surpassed her in electoral votes. And at 3:20am, there was still no declared winner. I slept fitfully until 5:30am. I looked at my phone and saw that HWSNBN was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. 

I died inside more than a little that day. I dressed for work in the deepest black I owned, a dress that fits like a burlap sack and the thickest tights to protect myself from reality. I cried on the way to work, and when I got there, I could see that many of my colleagues were fighting back tears as well. Ironically, many of us were attending a mental health first aid training that day, and the consensus was that WE needed the mental health first aid. (Hello!) We were expected to be fully present during this training, meaning no cell phones. NO CELL PHONES on the day of the apocalypse, really? I sat through the training, which was actually a really good distraction, then went home to cry. That night and over the next couple of days, I saw a "Million Woman March" with different state delegations popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. I could see that there were several iterations of this march idea over the next few days, with more than a few debates taking place in the event posts, until it morphed into the Women's March on Washington, co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, who I was familiar with as a returning commentator on several MSNBC broadcasts. When I saw Linda Sarsour, someone who'd gained my respect over the past year, I was in. I took time to research Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory as well, and that's when I knew that this march was going to be historic in nature, and I had to be part of it.  

Let me be clear. I saw the initial chaos around the march. I knew that women of color, especially black women, were concerned that our voices weren't being represented. Even worse, white women were booking flights and hotels with no idea how to actually plan a rally/protest - possibly because they didn't have much to protest before this? - and women of color were like, oh hell no. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right. Again, let me be clear, I only committed to this march when a Palestinian, a Chicana, and an African-American joined with Bob Bland, a white woman, to co-chair the march. That's when it became MY march, too. 

So when I got on that metro and rode for about five stops before I saw a black woman get on with Women's March paraphernalia, I was very guarded. I looked down at my phone. I pretended to myself that I was just riding the metro that morning to get somewhere else - that I wasn't going to this march with all these white women with their pink This march wasn't for me. 

This older white woman sat down next to me, and somehow, I found myself talking with her, because she exuded this excitement, and I think I found it intriguing that this woman who was clearly in her 60's pulled out her phone and then pulled up the WMW app that I'd been secretly looking at. Soon, I was giving her tips on how not to get separated from her friend who was sitting across from her. Then, I saw a Latinx family with a little girl, who was trying to make sure the little one didn't get squished on the train, which was packed like overstuffed luggage. One of the young white women sitting near me moved into a corner between me and her friend to let the little girl sit down, and that's when I saw her sign.

"And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams. - Hillary Clinton" 

Photo Credit: M. Mfume
And that was when I dropped my guard. I fought back serious tears, remembering why I decided to go to the march in the first place. 

By the time I got to the station where I was meeting my (black) friend and her (white) husband, there were all kinds of women waiting in line for the bathroom with me at the Starbucks on the corner. Our other friend who was supposed to come (a black man) texted us that he was running late and the trains were full of "a sea of white people dressed in pink and/or HRC paraphernalia," and he couldn't get on the train, so we started walking. The closer we got to the Capitol and the meeting spot for the rally preceding the march, the less I thought about these white women in pink. My friends and I found ourselves walking with hundreds of thousands of people, when someone started chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" and others responded, "This is what democracy looks like!" "Tell me what democracy looks like!" "This is what democracy looks like!" "We are what democracy looks like!" "We are what democracy looks like!"

Me, giving in to the energy of the day
I saw white men and women chanting "Black Lives Matter!" with me and my friends. I saw white women, young and old, wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and buttons and carrying signs saying, "Respect Women of Color." My eyes were opened. This WAS my march, too. This fight that has been a part of my life as an educator and activist for the past twenty years gained soldiers who may not look like me, but who now understand what I have understood for a long time - we cannot take our bodies, our very lives, for granted in the face of tyranny.

To those white women in the pink p-hats, I'd like to say: maybe this is your first time at a march. Maybe this is the first time you've heard messages from women of color about racism, about the undocumented and immigrant experience, about police brutality. Thank you for listening. Remember the Women's March on Washington - and fight with your brothers and sisters of different races, orientations, ethnicities, faiths, gender identities and socioeconomic class - because, together, WE are what democracy looks like.

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