I took the day off in solidarity, not out of privilege.

One day, there will be a cool documentary about feminism, women’s rights, and the international fight for female equality and it will garner praise and recognition at a fancy black-tie occasion. There will be a beautifully subtle fictional movie about an American girl who struggled to fight for her own identity, perhaps casting off the myth of the American Dream, or ideals of the model immigrant her parents so desperately clung. Soon to come, a compelling documentary of extraordinary length about how systemic misogyny ruined a famous woman’s life or career (hmm I can’t think of an example, kidding). Or we, as women, will have our own “James Baldwin-like” prophetess come forth and rip apart the obvious bias we face each and every day through our debates, careers, family life, and institutions. She is out there, not everyone is listening right now, her words are still shrill and unappealing to those whose ears aren’t tuned into strong women voices. We will realize her legacy years too late and post-mortem there will be a glossy movie about her personal story, laced with the backdrop of our feminine struggle. We will all proclaim that we knew sexism existed in 2017 we just didn’t know how to deal with its obvious power, and we ignored the voices in the wilderness. We will cry.

I’ve tried to discuss the importance of women rising up together, that the movement requires our support for each other, not us ripping apart messages and symbols. The image of a group of women fighting for self-determination has been seared in my mind, 1917 in Russia, suffragettes in America and England, Indian women fighting rape culture, Liberian and Icelandic all gathering en masse, saying enough is enough. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder they say go ahead, rip our bodies to shreds this is an emergency, you must listen now. But to have deep discussions with fellow women, of every stripe, class, color and creed, to ask women to truly dig into internalized misogyny usually winds as some of the most fraught conversations and I fear my passion comes off as judgemental, but it’s not. I notice that in my circles we can talk about racial bias all day long now, this is a new development, but gender bias, norms, and identities are still tricky. Why? I must continue to poke at this obvious tender spot. For one we lack tools, language, movies, short videos, a pithy slogan, and leadership. Try searching for a very well made video about feminism, or a bit of inspiration for an 8-year-old girl, they border on overly comic or are an ad for a technology company, or large corporate conglomerate trying to sell snake oil feminism. Secondly, we don’t want to admit we still make decisions for ourselves that are rooted in sexism, some apparent and others buried under layers of bias and outdated narratives. Many women still live under the shadow of a man or haven’t seen how we play into gender roles that still hamper our growth. It’s harder to admit in this day and age of supposed surface-level equality that deep down we’re still holding back, feel insecure, less than, ugly, unable to speak out freely, and enslaved. And all women know the truth of the matter that we’re still vulnerable to every range of sexism, violence, physical and mental abuse. We think to change our culture entrenched with masculine violence would mean to attack the men we love, or rip apart our own comforts, become an ugly feminist, cast asunder with no sexuality, berated and alone. And frankly, there may be some truth to this because every activist is often alone in the woods for a while until critical mass erupts and solidarity becomes more than just a word. Instead of facing this hardship, we convince ourselves that everything is fine, we have it all, and those women who are out pushing our buttons should shut-up because they’re going to topple what little protection we think we’ve built up in this male-dominated world. We can barely square our own ambivalence about being a woman in 2017 and so we stomp out words like feminism, equal rights, and intersectionality because it brings so much to light the problems we want to shove behind sofas and under carpets. We’d have to admit that past women’s movements were focused on white female empowerment and left behind black and brown women by design. Just as today, back then, women in the movement felt it was important to stick to one topic, adding racial and economic inequality concerns to the march made it hard for the establishment to understand the movement, so they thought. They said, it would water down the message, it would be too confusing, too many topics is not a good strategy, and this sounds all too familiar today. I just read an article about this idea yesterday and I stand firm that to focus on a single issue, like reproductive rights, does more harm to that issue and does little for the progress of full equality for economic empowerment, religious freedom, migration, and safety. It’s also interesting that many of my white liberal women friends have come around to the idea that Black Lives Matter but still find it hard to accept that women’s rights, feminism, and their own liberation intersect with the powerful movement for racial equality. Women hold the key to toppling the structures that are holding us back due to our race, sexual orientation, gender identity and class. I believe this strongly and don’t treat the burgeoning feminist movement as an isolated issue, it’s all one in the same fight. Instead of white journalists berating us for attending a march, or wearing a certain hat, or what we name marches, their energy could be better served by identifying their own bias towards women of color or their own barriers to achievement as a white woman. Furthermore, to assert that white women marching is some sort of privilege is to admit that white woman have it all and they live some sort of life that precludes them from the fight for equality. Now white women can wring their hands and say, see, I have privilege, it’s not my fight to fight and I feel like I am taking the stage again. But have all white, upper-class women freed themselves from the psychological bondage of sexism? It would be an amazing day if all women could rise up together and discuss all the ways that men still dominate the cultural and political power centers in this world. I mean, we just watched a powerful white woman get hammered in an election by the blunt instrument of misogyny. Are we to believe that the rest of the white women in America are living some life outside this same world? It’d help if white women would admit they may have a slight advantage due to skin color but they too are still subject to sexism and male violence. That would be a show of solidarity, that would go far and I will say we began to hear this when it related pussies being grabbed. For the first time, I’ve heard many women admit that they’ve faced some sort of assault by a man, that this is a common refrain, this is our bond, sadly. We all nodded our heads, and brought up memories and let ourselves become triggered in 2016. Let’s use that energy and remember we’re all in this together!

So, today, on International Women’s Day, I am going to infuse myself with the history, spirit, and solidarity of women who have marched for our freedom as it stands today. In the past 100 years or more women shut down governments or changed policies in Russia, Iceland, Liberia, US, England just to name a few bright spots in history. Look up Leymah Gbowee for some inspiration, her peaceful women’s strike toppled a genocidal dictator in Liberia. They’d want us to continue the movement and the movement must be inclusive and intersectional, don’t reduce these to buzzwords, make it happen, model the behavior as women! When women join forces it’s always one to be reckoned with and without full solidarity, the movement will lose its power. That is what the establishment is hoping will happen. Don’t give in.

I have taken the day off, used my limited paid vacation to spend the day marching in San Francisco and Oakland. I appreciate my friends and co-workers who are with me in spirit, have expressed solidarity, or guilt for not being able to take the day off for understandable reasons. My actions are not about inducing guilt or acting privileged, rather my intention is to deepen my family’s commitment to our values of community activism and progress. I am not taking the day to just sit around my house watching TV, this is not a vacation day, I’m not out soaking in the sun and zoning out. I am tuned in and feeling rather concerned, fearful and anxious about our future. After I finish pounding out this essay I am working all day to meet and connect with women, walking miles on foot. My 8-year-old daughter has chosen to come with me even after my stark warnings that today is not about having a jaunt to the city, or relaxing, we have work to do! We are going to soak in what we can, listen to speeches, feel the energy in close proximity to other women who I hope feel this is the start of a larger movement. The fact that the Woman’s March also joined in and have provided a platform is not a bad thing, it’s a powerful show of force, a reminder that we’re still here. We marched on Jan 21 and are back at it again and we will continue. I find all the sniping back and forth a tad draining, but it fires me to write again, to document where we stand, and frankly it’s kind of a mess but I still go forth. Right now, we are in the midst of extreme discomfort with the idea that our world is misogynistic and racist and these two evils are the ancient foundations for white male supremacy that is literally destroying our world. This is our common cause from Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March and any subsequent movement, we must gain traction, we must gain more freedom, and shatter the false notion that women, especially women of color, have equal opportunities. We don’t and we won’t win unless we stop infighting and join together! At the very least, I hope the energy of critique by women gets turned away from the women’s movement and towards the institutions that hold us all back. There is much to dismantle.

Women marching forward and leaving the grumbly stuff behind

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.


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