Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching Forward

On Friday night, I climbed aboard a bus with dozens of women (and some men), most of whom were strangers to me. Some of the passengers were older, some were younger--there was even a mother with her nine-year-old daughter. We drove overnight to our nation's capital to lend our bodies and voices to the Women's March on Washington--which, as it turns out, was very likely the largest protest in United States history.

From the moment we started our journey, the mood was friendly and generous. Everyone had brought snacks and drinks to share. One woman knitted extra pussy hats the whole ride there for those (like me) who didn't have one. When we offered her money, she told us to donate to the ACLU instead. At the few rest stops we made, we pulled into a sea of other buses. The travel centers were completely overrun with marchers. Somewhere in Ohio, a cheer went through the crowd when we took over the men's bathroom.

We still let them use the urinals, obviously. We're benevolent that way.

pussy hat looking fly
When we arrived in Washington early the next morning, the chipper spirit continued--so much so that it seemed surreal, like a fairy-tale world come to life. On our walk from RFK Stadium to the rallying point, people exited their houses to high-five us, blasted happy music out their windows. Churches and schools opened their doors to us so we could use the bathroom. Even the police and the National Guard members who were positioned at various intersections were friendly. Practically every interaction began with "good morning" or "good afternoon" and ended with "thank you."

Of course, I'm aware that the pleasant interactions with law enforcement have a more sinister side. As many articles have already pointed out (such as this one and this one), police don't say "good morning" at Black Lives Matter protests--they just show up in riot gear, ready to fight. White people don't have a contentious history with law enforcement, so the police were always more likely to treat us with respect. And there was probably an element of sexism to it as well--these little ladies wouldn't hurt a fly. If police are indeed less reluctant to antagonize white women, it's extremely important that we get involved with POC causes (which doesn't mean it wasn't important already). If we march with Black Lives Matter protestors, for example, we can not only support their cause in general, but simultaneously help guarantee their safety. Speaking of which, you can find your local BLM chapter here.*

This is not to say that there were no POC marching in Washington. I was a little worried that might be the case, but while the crowd was mostly composed of white women, there was a strong POC presence, as well as a strong LGBTQIA presence. And a pretty strong male presence, for that matter. Despite the somewhat problematic nature of the day's cheerful atmosphere, it was still heartening to see so many people from all walks of life come together.

Especially the older people! I knew there would be plenty of young people there, but I was shocked to see so many older women out there, too, marching and shouting with everyone else. My legs were a mess when I got home, and I'm only 28. Three cheers for badass old women being awesome.

smiling at the women's march
Aside from the bus organizer and her husband, the only other person I knew on my bus was Shayne--the wife of the lead singer of the Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band for whom I used to be a gogo dancer. Ah, the places life takes you. She and I connected with another woman who didn't know anyone else, Jessie, and we were each other's buddies throughout the day. We walked all the way to the rallying point, past the Capitol Building and other famous federal structures--and that's when things got a little weird. There were so many people that we got stuck on Jefferson Avenue. We couldn't get anywhere near the stage, and there were no speakers or screens--or at least not any loud enough to let us know what was going on. So if you're wondering whether I got to see Madonna and all that: not a word, I'm afraid. We arrived in that spot a little before 11 a.m., and the march wasn't supposed to start until 1:15 pm. There were plenty of chants and cheering, but after a while, the crowd around us simply had no idea what to do. Eventually it was past 1:15, and still no one was moving. Kids were climbing the trees, and we asked them if they could see anything, but they had no positive reports.

That's when the crowd decided to take over the streets. All of them.

Later we found out that there were simply too many people already squeezed into the original route, so they had redirected people to a different route. But nobody knew that, so instead we stormed the National Mall, Constitution Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and all the streets in between. My group ended up on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was especially fun because we got to walk past Trump's new hotel and jeer at it vigorously.

My favorite chants of the day:

WE WANT A LEADER, NOT A CREEPY TWEETER!

CAN'T BUILD A WALL, YOUR HAND'S TOO SMALL!

WE WON'T GO AWAY, WELCOME TO YOUR FIRST DAY!

My favorite signs of the day:

NOT GAY AS IN HAPPY, QUEER AS IN FUCK FASCISTS

IF I MAKE MY UTERUS A CORPORATION, WILL YOU STOP REGULATING IT? (courtesy of my new friend Jessie)

DAVID BOWIE WOULD BE DISAPPOINTED

protesting on Pennsylvania Avenue
Eventually we made our way to the White House--or as close as we could to the White House, anyway. You would think that the large fence around the property and the well-trained Secret Service would be enough protection, but unsurprisingly, our Cheeto-in-Chief had them put up extra barricades that kept the dirty commoners far away. Nevertheless, we left our angry signs at those barricades, our special inauguration gift.

The walk back to the bus was just as bizarrely charming as the walk there. D.C.'s residents came out to the sidewalk bearing candy and bottles of water. "You looked great on TV, ladies." Can't thank the city enough for being so hospitable.

Then it was another ten hours back to Chicago. I slept much better on the ride back--my poor little body was tuckered out.

I'm still filled with a kind of spiritual energy from the event, though. I'm determined to cultivate activism in my life, to make it a habit. There are so many small things I can do on a daily basis. I can donate to important causes. I can sign petitions like this one. I can pay close attention to politics and write my Senators and Representatives.

One resource I've been using is It's Time to Fight, which is a site created by liberal political staffer Celeste Pewter (a pseudonym--she doesn't want to be harassed). She updates it regularly with weekly action items, along with email scripts and call scripts so you can contact your representatives more easily. (If, like me, you've already been using her site for a while, you may want to consider throwing a few bucks her way--it's a tremendous labor of love that she does all by herself.) Another site that's recently come to my attention is Swing Left, which will tell you your nearest swing district and send you a weekly email with ways you can help move that district to the left or keep it that way. And those are only two of dozens of tools that make political participation easy. Thank goodness for the internet.

There are bigger things I can do, too. The Women's March is certainly not going to be my last protest. I'm an extraordinarily privileged woman, and a big reason we're in this mess is that extraordinarily privileged women didn't do enough before. I've learned my lesson the hard way, and now I'm going to do everything in my power to move this country forward.

*Going to help POC or LGBTQIA people or disabled people with their causes? Good for you! But please remember to ask how you can best be of help first. Don't just assume you know what's best. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#WhyIMarch

My conservative father and I had an argument the other night.

This is not an uncommon occurrence--we haven't seen eye to eye on politics for years. But something about this particular argument disturbed me more than all the others. My father has always claimed to be a strictly fiscal conservative. He believes that the federal government should only fix the roads and provide a strong military. He hates taxes with a fiery passion. However, our recent argument suggests that his opinions have changed.

I can't remember how we got on the subject, but we were discussing the LGBTQIA community. He dismissively called them a "special interest group." (Though he won't admit that his tone was dismissive.) When I asked what he meant by that, he said that they were organizing to try to achieve legitimacy, to be perceived as normal. I agreed. Then I asked why he seemed to think that was a problem.

He replied that it's not a problem, per se. It's just that he's "a Christian" and he doesn't believe that LGBTQIA people are normal.

I was dumbfounded, for multiple reasons. First, my father has never expressed a strong interest in Christianity, and he never goes to church, so his sudden declaration of faith was surprising. But whatever--he can be a Christian if he wants. More importantly, I was dumbfounded by his sudden homophobia. (Though he would never admit his statement was homophobic.) He's never been an active supporter of LGBTQIA people, but at the same time, he never taught us to be bigoted or cruel. In fact, the babysitter my sister and I had from the time we were born to the time we were old enough to stay at home alone is a lesbian. He didn't seem concerned that a queer person was helping to raise his daughters.

What's more, the majority of my close friends are members of the LGBTQIA community. What's more-more, I'm a member of the LGBTQIA community. I identify as demisexual, which is on the asexual spectrum. To be fair, I've never told him that. I've hardly told anyone that, aside from a few friends. So, um...surprise!

My point is: he's known tons of LGBTQIA people throughout the years, at the very least through me and my sister, but I never had an inkling that he considered any of them "abnormal."

Of course, there have been signs that his opinions have been moving in this unfortunate direction for quite some time. He's always been a Fox News guy, but the conservative talk shows he listens to on the radio have become increasingly vitriolic--the types of shows where the hosts refer to President Obama as a "virus." He's always owned guns, but his enthusiasm for the second amendment has noticeably grown. So has his anger over illegal immigration, and unions, and other socially conservative viewpoints.

I have a theory about why he's changed.

My father owned a small business, and during the recession, it did not fare well. He was forced to sell it to a larger firm, and now, at 63, he's working three separate jobs in order to make ends meet. He was a strong believer in capitalism and the American Dream--he thought if he worked hard, he'd be retired by now.

And I get that. He deserves to be retired by now. My father has one of the strongest work ethics I've ever seen, and I know I can never repay him for all he's given me. I'm so grateful for everything he's done for our family. I love him very much.

The problem is that now he's looking for someone to blame. He should be blaming the banks that destroyed our economy, the politicians who let them, and capitalism itself. After all, it was the invisible hand of the market which dictated that his particular industry was nonessential during the recession. But like a religious zealot, he's blindly believed in capitalism and the American Dream for far too long. He can't bring himself to admit he was duped by the very institutions he thought would save him, so instead, he's blaming other people--namely, minority groups. They're coming to take our jobs, they're changing everything. He's afraid, and upset, and he's looking for a scapegoat.

There are too many people in this country like my father. Too many people are afraid, too many people are looking for a scapegoat--and that's precisely why Donald Trump is our President-Elect. He pandered to their fears so that he could have power and status. Now he has that power and status, and he's not going to do a thing for the people that elected him. He won't do anything for the people that didn't elect him, either. He's a demagogue, plain and simple.

I can't help but feel that people like me are to blame for Trump's success. I certainly didn't vote for him, and I shared plenty of articles online explaining why he'd make a terrible president. I donated a little money to the Clinton campaign. But I didn't actively campaign against him, nor did I actively campaign for Hillary. I didn't volunteer for organizations that support the causes I believe in, and I only wrote to my representatives sparingly. I haven't attended a public protest in ages.

Well, that's going to change. I've learned the hard way what happens when people like me sit idly by and bask in our privilege, and I'm not going to let it happen again. I'm not going to let people of color, the LGBTQIA community, and disabled people fight this fight alone.

I'm probably going to screw up from time to time. I'm probably going to fail in many ways. But I'm going to try my best.

I hate to be that white girl who quotes Martin Luther King Jr., but hear me out. I was reading his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" the other day, and one passage in particular jumped out at me:

"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice: 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.' Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.' Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.' And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.' And Abraham Lincoln: 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.' And Thomas Jefferson: 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .' So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

My new goal is to be a creative extremist. That's why I'm going to Washington D.C. tomorrow night--to support the rights of all women, loudly and actively.

That is why I march.

=====

Here are some resources I recommend for those who are also trying to be more proactive:

It's Time to Fight (form letters and call scripts so you can easily contact your representatives about progressive issues)
NPR's Code Switch blog (news from the perspective of POC)
Black Girl Dangerous (posts by queer & trans POC)

My parents want to watch TV, so I'll add more later. Let me know if there are any you'd like me to add!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Midwest Is Best

My apologies for yet another long silence--I've been traveling! Surprise surprise.

For the past few months, I've been participating in a bi-weekly flash fiction writing project with Leta, Tim, and Tim's friend Laura--who I maybe met through Twitter before we realized we both knew Tim in real life? It's unclear. Though Tim obviously spends most of his time in Vegas working on his MFA, his family lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and that's where Laura lives as well. So last week I hopped on an Amtrak train and chugga-chugga-choo-choo'd a few states over to visit.

I haven't been to Michigan since I was about twelve, and even then, my family only did ultra-touristy things: staying at a beach hotel on Lake Michigan, hiking in the sand dunes, eating too much fudge on Mackinac Island. I'd never visited a city in Michigan, and I'm happy to report that Kalamazoo is a particularly charming one. Tim's family were wonderfully hospitable--as good Midwesterners tend to be--and I'm overjoyed that Laura and I are finally friends in real life, too.

Mostly we ate food and drank tea. (Coffee in Tim's case, but tea is obviously the better choice.) I especially enjoyed working in little independent cafes like Water Street and Fourth Coast. My last night there we went out on the town for some beer--as good Midwesterners tend to do. We started at Bell's Brewery, of course. Two of Tim's friends came with their adorable newborn twins, and my childhood friend Pat showed up as well. Nothing like making new friends and catching up with old ones at the same time. We made our way to Old Dog Tavern, and then to Shakespeare's Pub--and to be honest, that night ended a little hazily for me, even though I only had four drinks in all that time! My tolerance must have deteriorated due to quiet suburban living.

Aside from consuming food and various liquids, we also went to bookstores--because of course we did. I wasn't planning on buying anything at Bookbug, because I still have an enormous backlog of unread books, but then I glanced at the back cover of Colson Whitehead's first novel The Intuitionist and saw that it was about feuding groups of elevator inspectors. How can you go wrong with a novel about feuding groups of elevator inspectors? And then I simply couldn't resist buying something at Kazoo Books, a well-stocked used bookstore. Supporting local business is important, okay? I picked up a copy of Alix Kates Schulman's 1972 novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, which I'd never heard of and is apparently considered one of the first major fictional pieces of the modern feminist movement. Based on the subject matter, I think it will be good to read while I'm revising my novel.

While we're on the subject of literature, it's important to note that Tim and Laura also convinced me to come to the AWP Conference with them this year. So hey, writerly friends: I will see you in early February. It's in D.C. this year, and I'm not sure whether I'm going to register for the conference itself, or if I'm going to fill my days with museums and just attend the non-ticketed offsite readings at night. Will I be a history nerd or a book nerd? Can I do both? Only time will tell.

I left Kalamazoo on Friday, and the next day Tim began his drive back to Vegas. His first stop? Illinois, of course, to visit me. Laura was supposed to come, too, but sadly she had to change her plans. We had a writing retreat at my parents' place. Or, rather, Tim had a writing retreat, and I tried to have a writing retreat while also doing all my other freelance writing and research work. Yesterday we went down to the city so I could return the independent-bookstores-and-coffee-shops favor. We visited Myopic Books and The Wormhole, and we met Felipe for dinner at Pick Me Up. Yum yum yum.

Tim left today, and now it's just me and the dogs--my parents are in Florida. I have a about a week to relax. And then it's off to our nation's capital for the Women's March on Washington! As disappointed as I am that we even need a women's march in this country, I'm still excited to be taking part in this historic event. It's going to be a grueling trip--bus to D.C. overnight, march the next day, back to Chicago that night--but it's so utterly necessary that I can't imagine doing anything else. It's my civic duty.

Of course, I'm lucky enough to be able to afford a bus ticket. If you can't make it to Washington, there are several sister marches going on in different cities throughout the country. Hopefully you can find one near you. It's crucial that we make our voices heard, as the incoming administration appears unwilling to take our rights into consideration. The march is inclusive, placing an emphasis on LGBTQIA rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, and more, so don't hesitate to join just because you don't identify as a woman. The more the merrier. We need as many voices as possible so lawmakers can't simply look the other way.