This essay is a part of the writing challenge called #52Essaysin2017 and my continuing series called Dismantling. These are my thoughts, opinions, and ideas about politics, activism, community organizing and family. Please join me on my journey.
It had only been eight days after the election when I got a text from a dear friend. “Do you want to come with to the Women’s March in DC?” I was still in a funk over it all. Like so many, unsettling emotions would sweep through me in waves. My mind could be filled with usual working momma stuff for hours and then it’d hit me in a crushing flash that Donald Trump won. But I also knew that there was a lot of work to be had in order to keep important issues on the table—equality, human rights, and the environment would need our protection. I didn’t admit this to my friend at the time but I also felt unsure about the current state of feminism, after the heady days following over a million women in Pantsuit Nation, the thought of a women’s march kind of rankled something inside. I felt deflated, irritated and I just wanted to shrug it away, curled up in bed, and watch YoutTube with my daughter. The feminist messages all around also annoyed me and I thought is this all we’re gonna do, remain nasty women, complain about pussy grabbin’ and wear safety pins? After the election, everything that had fueled white-hot feminist inspiration felt contrived and hollow in one instant. At the same time, I knew these grumbly opinions were around because I was awash with negativity and filtering ideas through a murky lens of self-flagellation.
At first, I wanted to respond to my friend with a mean and sarcastic quip to match my edgy mood. But she’s not that type of person, she is the sweetest, most kind woman I know, and to answer her earnest request for solidarity with a snide response felt wrong. I laid in bed, cell phone in hand and pushed myself to answer with the same generous spirit of the request. I knew I should try to take in her openness, her invitation for action and connection was real, it wasn’t a Facebook comment or Twitter follower. In all honesty, it was surprising she was the first of my friends to act because I didn’t expect it from her. In the nearly 15 years of our friendship, we had talked about issues but never discussed direct action or activism to any extent. So when she told me she had already bought her plane tickets, I was actually impressed by her quick response. I knew that as a Latina mother, who has worked tirelessly for her community as a public health professional, she was just as devastated as I was at the thought of a Trump administration, yet she was already rising up. So in my lame attempt to be ambivalent, I typed that I wasn’t sure if a women’s march was where I wanted to put my energy at this time. I couldn’t explain it to her, probably because I didn’t have the words myself, but I wasn’t all that inspired to trek out to DC in January. As she usual she understood and I told her to keep reaching out and I was here for support. Then she told me she had been reaching out to more than one woman friend and was met with resistance, ambivalence, questioning and felt disregarded and alone. I could understand that feeling, I had been gearing up as a community organizer in Oakland in the past few months and at times I had also felt alone in my quest to help the homeless and fight for police reform. Something about what she said made me sit up a little because here she was a busy mom of two, asking for support, trying to mobilize and fight one of the most corrupt Presidents we had ever witnessed in our lives and I wasn’t fully meeting her where she stood. We went back and forth for a good for 20 minutes and it clicked, she was trying to reach out to mostly white, upper-middle-class moms in Marin, some of whom wouldn’t ever be directly affected one way or another by laws that Trump meant to enact or dismantle. Eventually, we tepidly agreed that our white friends may not react with the same urgency because their privilege allowed them to remain passive. It felt a little liberating to be so blunt about the differences, but at the same time, it was a disappointing realization. But one thing was clear, this change in our country felt like a crisis to both of us, and we felt very sure that our communities and the issues we cared about would be adversely affected. Then she told me that one of her friends said that if the march had a single focus, like the environment, that maybe she’d be compelled to attend but that women’s rights was too broad for her to rally around. That’s when I said, fuck this, us brown mommas, we gotta go to DC! I immediately booked a seat on the same flight as my friend and it was in that moment that the grumbly crud that was starting to infest my worldview was wiped clear. I didn’t need to read a mission statement or know who was leading the march, or even the route. Being in DC on the first official day of Donald Trump’s presidency would be important and I didn’t need any more convincing. And through all the initial mess of the march’s organizing, the issues with permits, leadership, and conversations about the lack intersectionality in messaging, I just sat tight. I had a plane ticket, a marching buddy, a studio apartment in Dupont Circle thanks to some amazing happenstance and generosity of another good friend, and I knew it’d be worth our time.
When I look back upon 2016 I can see I was preparing myself for exactly where we are now. I may not have consciously realized that I tapped into some sort of innate reverberating current. Sometimes it can feel as if there is a subconscious stream of knowledge, at times we act on this foresight, or we walk around feeling something is amiss, but mostly it goes ignored until it blasts through to consciousness. I started by connecting with groups online, following new Facebook feeds and signing up for events, lectures, and protests. This all began slowly at first, I sat by all winter and watched streets erupt in pain as another black man was shot by police. I saw the videos, heard the pleas for help, and understood the psychic distress of each fatal bullet inflicted on communities of color. All I could think to do was click yes on Black Lives Matter events, many of which I didn’t attend because of one complacent reason after another. I probably clicked yes so many times that the word lost meaning and eventually the virtual actions felt less impactful. I began to recognize that sitting behind a screen, in my safe haven, was not going to make a difference and it created hopelessness and disconnection. But still, I watched as yet another shaky cell phone video captured violence in which the only form of de-escalation was a bullet. I read every argument, comments online, and watched racists memes fill my channels. I began to recognize that in the background of a long, divisive Presidential campaign and the onslaught of police brutality that our country was already torn apart. By the middle of last year, what had been itching away in my gut became hard to ignore, there are people who want to protect their way of life and it has nothing to do with mine. I could see there was no going back, that it would take mass protest, feet on the streets, people like me, a middle-aged mother, living in Oakland to join the fight. I had to share my frustrations with my black neighbors because what was happening was unacceptable and I knew we had to let it be known that white supremacy is real, it creates violence and division that may never heal but needs to be addressed and eventually dissolved.
Then the Oakland Police Department became embroiled in a sex trafficking case that involved a minor and multiple officers plus a rotating door of police chiefs. Alton Sterling met his maker and Philando Castille got slaughtered in his car in early June. This was too much for me to bear and I rose up and out my chair. The confluence of subsequent events since Ferguson and Trayvon Martin connected a fateful tale of violence towards black men, and by default, to every person of color in our mixed-up country. And the realization that Oakland was a ticking time bomb filled with police corruption and sexual abuses of vulnerable women prompted a visceral reaction that finally ripped me away from my screen. I knew it then and I know it now, we have deep problems in our country, racism, economic inequality, lack of respect for women, the dominance of white culture was rearing its ugly head for all to see but what I didn’t know then was that my realization would be validated with the results of the 2016 election. In early June, I started clicking away more furiously than before, RSVPing for every march and social justice meetup I could find. I still had no idea which way to turn until a co-worker who I had recently friended on Facebook, breaking my usual protocol, asked if I wanted a marching buddy for one of the many protests that showed up in my feed. I said, yes, you’re exactly what I need, a marching buddy. And so my librarian friend and I marched in the streets and freeways of Oakland, with our backpacks filled with in-case-of-tear-gas lemons, scarves, granola bars and water. It was not an easy march, the messages were filled with suffering, we cried, and we marched with a slight unease one would expect to have as anarchists took to the streets in dark of night.
Looking back six months isn’t really a long period of time to ruminate over but it’d probably take another essay to fill in the details of everything I’ve learned about political activism and community organizing. Even though the time has been short, I’ve crammed in so much information and connections it’s a little dizzying. At times, I realize I am a few steps ahead of my friends who are just now waking up to a new reality and are probably clicking around looking for answers, groups, connections, and ideas (by the way I’m still doing this too). But I feel organized and ready to stay on task, keep up the energy and write about what is happening during this time in history. Every moment we live is part of history and there are times when the storyline is dull and nothing of much importance is happening on a grand scale but daily life is still part of the narrative. But then there are times like now, on the eve of a Trump presidency that is surely significant in the timeline of the 21st century. In a few weeks, thanks to meaningful, love-filled friendships, I will be in Washington DC, bundled in warm layers, marching with my ever expanding network of activist friends as we witness the Women’s March grow to have global influence. I know we’ll feel unified, inspired and ready to connect ideas in an accelerated manner. I do feel this strange level of awareness and sometimes insecurity that I have a lot to offer. I don’t feel disconnected, numb, scared or ambivalent. I know it’s valid to feel these emotions and I absolutely get it, but I’m not there anymore. It’s also been suggested I should try to meet people where they are but I’m super impatient and ready to forge ahead. So it’s a little hard for me to take steps back to meet everyone as I need to blaze my own trail and catch up to those who are ahead. I’m here and if someone wants to meet me where I am, I’ll try to wait up for a moment but please excuse me if I’m talking a mile a minute and tapping my foot! If you’re not ready, that’s cool too, I’m around, you’ll find me in community centers, city council meetings, women’s circles, living rooms and of course marching in the streets. Trust me, I don’t have all of the answers, I write all of this filled with humility, although I am hyper-aware it probably comes off as arrogant. I will admit I often feel like a crazed maniac, reading, talking, absorbing so much at the same time blending in family and work. But I’m okay with owning up to my strengths with much more ferocity and confidence than before. I might not have a clear path yet, and I’m sure all of my ideas, passions, and activism sound delusional but that’s how it works.