By Laura Lee
“Who do we love?”
“Who do we love?”
“Who do we love?”
“All y’all! Kentucky in the house!”
This was the chant of a small group from the Kentucky contingent to the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. We would yell it from time to time on the streets of Washington, D.C., and in the sea of people standing shoulder to shoulder. Our group of 54 included women and men ranging in age from 13 to 74—people of diverse cultural backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
When I heard about the opportunity to go to Washington with the Louisville Justice League, I jumped at the chance.1 Our group included several parents with their daughters; one family had three generations represented. This felt like a perfect opportunity to share with my 16-year-old daughter, Zoe, the experience of standing with others to have our voices heard.
My family lives in a part of Southern Indiana that is conservative, economically privileged and very white. At her high school, most of the faces Zoe sees every day are like hers. But our family is progressive. We are tiny blue dots in a sea of red. After the election in November, my daughter, who was an avid Bernie supporter, was disconsolate. Most of the political conversations she engages in every day with friends leave her feeling hopeless and angry. I wanted her to know she was not alone, that there are many who see the world as she does, and that her idealism and dreams for a just world are important. In taking her to this march, I wanted her to feel the strength of her voice and the importance of action.
I was asked several times by friends and family, “Why are you going? What’s the point?” At first, my response was that it was important to show up, to be counted as one of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who care about justice and equality for all, who are saying “We are here and we are paying attention!” For me this was a pro-human rights event, meant to uphold the rights of women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, refugees and immigrants, and the vulnerable. It was a march in support of freedom of speech, religion, gender equality, reproductive rights and the environment. I wanted to show up with my daughter for these ideas, to be counted and heard. And, for selfish reasons, I wanted to be able to say that I was there, that we were there together.
Our group boarded a bus early Friday morning, Inauguration Day for the new president. We had signs, pink hats, energy, excitement and snacks. In Washington, we were housed at the Church of the Pilgrims Presbyterian Church.
Five of our group were Muslim women who were refugees (four from Somalia, one from Iraq) and who now call Louisville their home. These women came with a group of predominantly white Christians in the hope of representing their brothers and sisters with a message of unity. Hearing about their experiences was one of the most meaningful aspects of the journey. One of the young Somali women told us she feared coming to this event, because, as a Muslim, a refugee and a woman of color, she didn’t know what response she would encounter. She and the other immigrants in our group were taking a big chance by leaving their community and joining this march. The responses she got from our group and from the larger group of marchers was overwhelmingly positive. Many other marchers came up to the immigrants marching with us and thanked them for being there. The young Somali woman in our group saw other women in head scarfs, which made her feel safer. She said she wanted to be there to show that we are all one, we are all human.
Another of our group was a young African American woman who is active in the local Black Lives Matter chapter. When she was questioned about coming to a march that is seen as a predominantly white feminist event, she responded that she wanted to make sure the message “Black Lives Matter” was part of this protest. She said she hoped that when the time came, she could count on the same support from our group. This message really hit home. Throughout the day, I saw several signs that called out white feminism. One read, “I’ll see all you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matter march, right?” Another said “White women voted for Trump!” (Exit polls have shown that 53% of white women voted for Trump, while only 6% of African American women, and 32% of Latino women did the same.)2 Of all the signs I saw that day, these struck the deepest chord for me.
Many who came to the women’s march were doing so out of a deep fear and insecurity about the Trump presidency and his inflammatory campaign rhetoric (myself included!). After hearing derogatory statements about women, minorities, the disabled, refugees and immigrants, I wonder, Can this president (and those in Congress who support him) be trusted to protect everyone’s rights? The reality is that many in this country, especially people of color, have lived with this kind of fear and insecurity all their lives. What felt like a shock to me, a new distrust and apprehension of our political system, was old news to them. Because I am white, I was unable to see the reality that they already know and live every day. Although I consider myself aware and engaged in justice issues, experiencing anxiety about the future to this degree has been an eye-opening, soul-shaking experience.
In some ways, by participating in the march, I achieved my goal. We were there. We stood up, chanted, carried signs. We experienced a feeling of solidarity in that massive crowd, protesting the possibility of human rights being eroded by the new administration. My daughter got to see a form of democracy in action. But now I have a greater goal. Standing up is not enough. Chanting and wearing pink hats is not nearly enough. That’s the fun and easy part, like social justice tourism. Now the hard work begins. It’s one thing to stand up, it’s entirely another to do something!
As part of the staff of Presbyterian Women, I can say that my work for the organization is a contribution. Presbyterian Women work for justice and peace; they support mission and build community. I am extremely privileged to do this work, and I’m proud to be a part of PW. But as the mother of a politically aware daughter, as a person of conscience, and as a Christian, I feel the need to do more. This includes waking up to issues of race and privilege, and using whatever power that privilege imparts to stand with vulnerable people and people of color in ways that are helpful. It includes working in my own community to be the change that is needed, to ask questions, to shut up and listen, to have enough cultural humility to accept that I don’t know what I don’t know. Being angry isn’t enough. Sharing a Facebook post isn’t enough. I’ve joined our local Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter, and that isn’t enough. I’ve joined a book group that is reading Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving, and that isn’t enough. I need to find what is to be my work, and do it.
Here’s what I do know: presence is good, but action is better. I am getting started. Empowered women empower women, and my daughter is watching.
- The trip was organized by The Global Human Project, a transformative network founded in Louisville, Kentucky, that offers innovative and educational experiences and cultivates diverse initiatives that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. They offer the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” refugee camp simulation experience, which visits schools and churches nationally to educate about the lives of refugees. See more at www.globalhumanproject.net/.
- Phoebe Lett, “White Women Voted for Trump. Now What?” The New York Times, November 10, 2016; https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/opinion/white-women-voted-trump-now-what.html.