On Saturday, January 21, I took part in a global protest,the first such protest I had ever had the honor of participating in and the largest protest on record in my lifetime. And while the experience was tremendous , I will have you know that I did not say yes to participating right away.
The candidate I supported for President was not declared winner on November 8, 2016, and when rumors of a march began to surface I responded internally with fear.
I do not like large crowds. I much prefer peace to confrontation. I seek to build community and I worried that participation in such a protest would divide, not lift up. I did not want to attend.
Then I was asked to speak.
I remember when the invitation came through. My heart crawled up in my chest. I knew I could not say no. I knew it would pose the greatest challenge of my speaking and community building skills. Could I attend this rally, be visible, empower, and unite, not divide?
I also knew the rally would gain a lot of attention on Facebook. I could have not posted, or tried to hide my posts from those who are not likeminded, but that goes against everything I believe in.
As the march wrapped up friends began posting videos of my speech. My feminist friends lifted me up in a tornado of praise and well wishes, and as I thanked each one for taking the time to share and compliment me I waited for the other shoe to drop.
Late in the evening I got the first inquiry telling me she just didn’t understand what this was all about and why the women were using vulgar language. She was distressed, as was another poster I saw later in the day who said she was “over” the distress the marching community felt.
I couldn’t ignore the message. I couldn’t just block the poster on Facebook because I did not agree with her views. I tried to figure out how to have a conversation to explain the concerns of the millions who came out to march in a way as to not divide, but to build up.
In my speech I asked the crowd: Will you rise? And they screamed back: I will rise! This message was not only for people who share my views or belief systems. This message is one for everybody. My life has been lived by a simple value: I will not complain about a problem unless I am willing to work on the solution. The marchers came out because they feel like they have a problem. This rally was a time to come together, to meet likeminded individuals, and to organize around solution building. It was not intended to shut out people with differences of opinions. The gatherings were peaceful. I watched thousands looking out for one another, pointing out ice or pot holes in the road, watching out for each other’s children, and making sure those they were standing around stayed hydrated. It was a nurturing environment
Problem solving is not partisan business, it is community business. In communities we are surrounded by individuals of different backgrounds and belief systems but, by and large, we have common goals of living in peace and harmony. How we get there is the question.
So today I ask what we have in common that we can say yes to.
We want safe streets. Yes
We want healthy children. Yes
We want to earn a good income. Yes
We want healthcare we can afford. Yes
We want schools that prepare our children for jobs and to lead our communities. Yes
We want to cure diseases still labeled incurable. Yes
These are the basics and a good place to start.
For my friends with other lists of wants on each avenue of the political divide, we must start by learning to hear one another, by not being too afraid to hear a difference of opinion, by not knocking the other down because their beliefs do not mirror yours. Let’s do talk about them but let’s not hide in our bubbles when the other says something you don’t want to hear.
Many of the marchers I met on Saturday had suffered injustices. There were victims of sexual assault. There were those who had been discriminated against for the color of their skin or the religion they practiced. There were others who had been alienated by segments of society for their gender identity or sexual orientation. I do so wish that as a society we could agree that none of this is acceptable. Many life experiences go in to building the life choices and political persuasion of a person. Can we stop and listen to the stories of the people around us? Can we ask questions about what it feels like to fight the struggles we cannot see or we have not experienced? Can we learn the basics of love your neighbor and recognize that every member of our world is our neighbor today?
We will not always agree. Not everyone will agree to the rules. I promise to listen to your story to hear your point of view and I ask that you earnestly listen to mine. Let’s build each other up so when we face a threat to that which we hold dear we can come together and rise up.