“The best protection any woman can have … is courage.”
– Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“We’re with a group of strong, beautiful women. We’re fine.”
These were the words that my travel companion and dear friend Cassondra uttered to her concerned mother by telephone as we made our way into Washington DC by metro train for the Women’s March on Washington early on the morning of January 21, 2017.
I’ve had to replay Cassondra’s words many times in my head in the days since. I’ve needed the reminder that those simple words provide. I’ve needed the strength, the affirmation, the love.
Because, let me tell you, the days following Saturday have not been easy.
The only way I know how to describe it is that I’ve walked out of a sea of love into a swarm of hatred.
I live in a small, conservative area. I don’t mean to use the word “conservative” with a negative connotation, but I’m just going to have to say it like it is. The minds around me tend to be small. They can’t (won’t) stretch far enough to take in all that is out there in this big world. I’ve become used to it. I’ve become accustomed to the responses I receive any time I go against the flow (which is pretty often). This is nothing new. I knew there’d be negativity. I was prepared for it. It’s pretty much the status quo for me.
But what I wasn’t prepared for?
What took me surprise?
The response from some of my friends.
My FEMALE friends at that.
“I’ll march at the ‘we’re all a bunch of hypocritical asshats that love to point out the splinter in another’s eye while ignoring the log in ours’ protests.”
“I didn’t ask anyone to march for me.”
“No one ‘fought’ shit. You guys walked around getting pats on your back from people who already agreed with you.”
“They’re just a bunch of attention-seeking whores.”
And, oh no….these were not comments that I just plucked off of the internet, mind you. These were said by women I know personally. Women I considered friends. In fact, one of them was one I had even considered one of my best friends right up until the moment my eyes met those words.
I feel shell shocked.
I’ve been running their words over in my mind.
Women (and men) just looking for “pats on the back.”
I suppose there is some truth to some of it. Really. For example – attention-seeking? Okay, actually yeah. That’s exactly what we were doing. Exactly. Drawing attention to the things that get swept under the rug. The drastic wage difference between men and women. The daily cat-calling, condescension, and groping that women are submitted to. The men who make their eight-year-old daughters cry because they want their hair cut but daddy refuses to “let them” because the Bible says they’ll go to hell. (Oh yes. True story.) The Brock Turners of the world who serve three mere months in jail for damage that a woman will live with forever, because it may have hurt his little swimming career.
The men who brag about grabbing women’s pussies against their will because they have the power to do so, and yet advance to become the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
Are we wanting attention? Well, yeah. I suppose you can say we are.
So, attention-seeking – I’ll give you. Whores? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe some of them out there have been paid for sex. Me, though? Notsomuch. So I’m gonna have to pull a snopes on you for that one. FALSE.
Now. Are we looking for “pats on the back”?
Hmmm. Actually, I think that might be the other way around. We were there to give those pats on the back.
To the woman I overheard trying desperately to hear on her cellphone as the crowd thickened and the decibel level rose because she was calling to make sure her son made it to soccer practice? Yes. That woman deserves a pat on the back. So, here. This pat is for you.
To the man who married a “nasty woman” and showed up to show his support and love for her and all women like her? This pat is for you, sir.
To the woman carrying the sign that said, “I’m the lesbian daughter of a Muslim immigrant?” This pat is for you, you strong, beautiful, brave woman. And here’s another one for your mom.
To the many women in the crowd who carried their babies on their person for hours at a time so that they could be a part of an historical event to have their voices heard? This pat? Yeah. This one is definitely for you. What a story you’ll have to tell them. Kudos to you, momma.
To the little latino girl on her daddy’s shoulders beaming as she watched 6-year-old Sophie Cruz, daughter of Mexican immigrants, give arguably the most rousing speech of the day? That smile that covered her face as little Sophie told her, “I am here to tell the children, do not be afraid”? Oh yeah, that one gets a pat on the back. And it would have gotten the biggest hug you’ve ever gotten from a ginger stranger if I could have reached you, you sweet little thing you.
To the teenager holding the rainbow sign showing the USA and the words, “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here”? A pat on the back for you, little warrior woman. I know full well how tough it is for a teenager who is “different.” How brave you were to walk through the streets of that big city and show the other kids of the world that you were on their side.
To the woman wearing the race bib on your shirt that said “Sarah bear”? Being a runner myself, I had to ask you about it. I thought it was yours. When you told me that you were wearing that bib in honor of your young daughter who had just passed away? I couldn’t stop the tears from pouring. You definitely get a pat on the back. A big one. You possess a strength that I couldn’t possibly know. You are my hero.
To the woman who wrote this sign we found propped against a fence at the white house:
This blog would go on forever if I kept up with all of these ‘pats on the back,’ so I’ll finish it up with one final one.
To the woman who stood by my side through it all. The woman I watched feed a homeless man; defend a woman who was being verbally attacked by a stranger on the street; force a parting of the crowd to help a woman break through to find her son. The woman who continually asked people’s stories. Who felt people’s pain. Who engaged everyone in conversation. Who shed tears on countless occasions simply because she was standing where she was and doing what she felt in her heart to be right. The woman who never wanted to be in front of the camera because she was too busy behind the camera – documenting the happiness, the strength, and, sometimes, the pain. The woman who lost her job while we were on this trip because of a landslide in our small town, yet who set that worry and grief aside long enough to focus on the matter at hand, and do her part in preserving a piece of history. I laughed with her, I cried with her, I raged with her.
We became sisters.
So, to Cassondra? An extra special pat on the back for you, lady.
*THIS* is what this trip was about. This is what this weekend was about. This is what that day was about. This was what that march was about.
We are going to be there for one another. We just are. Not just Cassondra and me. Every woman that stood there side by side in a collective love. That day was just the start. The start of something big and beautiful.
And I will not…I repeat, NOT…let pettiness stand in my way.
There will be more stories to tell, I promise. Cassondra is a photographer and there will be photos coming that will blow you away. Her photos will tell stories that my words never could. Wait for them.
We are not through yet.
I just had to get this out while it was weighing on me.
I had to fight back against the oppression, even if it was coming from friends.
We won’t be stopped. You don’t have to understand this now. But one day you will.
One day you will.
Sign left outside a café the morning after the march in DC