This Was My First Protest and I’m Sorry

I’m proud of us for marching. But we don’t get a cookie for this. There’s no medal. There’s no award. This is a few hours we gave to the work. We came, we stood, we walked. It’s not really all that much. And we should have been there earlier.

Especially white women. We did not show up the way we should have before now. That’s true of the election. It’s also true of all the protests and all the marches of all the people we claim to stand in solidarity with but did not show up for.

I’ve seen discomfort and frustration from white men and women when confronted with signs that people of color brought to the Women’s March calling out white women for their inaction. “It’s supposed to be about coming together,” they say. Yes, that is what it’s about. And coming together on this day requires us to acknowledge all the times we did not come together before. We should have been there. We weren’t. We didn’t come out until it was about us and that is not how it should be. 

I have my reasons for not being more involved in activism before. I suspect many of us do. And while they are reasons they are also excuses. Mine don’t cut it anymore. I should have come to that realization earlier. I was wrong. It’s funny how hard it is for us to acknowledge that, to accept it when we’re called out, to not get defensive and angry. But it’s important to stop putting up walls to protect ourselves, to acknowledge when we’re wrong, when our cultural biases have worked against the people we should be trying to help. And it’s important to say it and resolve to do better.

None of this is to say that we all have to fight every minute of every day. We have to be able to stand on our own feet if we are going to stand for others. But we shouldn’t go celebrate simply because we stood up. Instead we stand up again.

An important part of standing up for others is understanding what they are saying. The Women’s March was full of signs and symbols that actively excluded trans women. We have to understand marginalized communities. It is on us to do that work. Don’t ask members of marginalized communities to explain it to you. Google exists. Use it. There are going to be many times when we realize we are wrong about something. We need to admit it and own it and do better.

For me, one of the most important ways I can listen is on Twitter. Marginalized people are speaking and you can listen. You can also amplify. Hearing their voices every day helps me examine where I stand. One example from yesterday: white women everywhere who had never marched before posted with pride about how there were no arrests at the Women’s March, women of color who had marched many times pointed out that when the protesters are mostly people of color, police are more likely to instigate the kind of tactics that end in arrests. We need to listen when our privilege is called out and acknowledge it. (If you’re wondering how I find them, it’s quite easy. I start with a few people I know of who are more visible or high-profile. I try to read thoughtful articles and essays from marginalized people and if I like what they have to say, I find them and follow. I also look for who other people are mentioning, sharing, and retweeting. Gradually you build a larger and larger group of voices.)

No one is asking us to be everywhere or do everything. We do what we can. But we need to do more. Much more. How we do it will vary, but one thing I’d suggest is making sure at least one organization that specifically works with and supports a marginalized community like people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, POC, immigrants, Muslims, people in poverty, etc. We say we stand for love and empathy, which should mean loving and caring for not just those who are like us. I am also a member of a marginalized community as a queer person and I am going to work harder to connect and build roots in that community, to be a more visible and active member of it.

Protest selfie. #WomensMarch #WomensMarchRaleigh # LGBTQ

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

I am sorry for waiting so long, too long, to start. I can’t give money yet but I can give time and that’s what I’m focusing on. Time is a pretty precious resource for me and saying I didn’t have any of it was one of my excuses before. But as I often tell people, you have time for what matters to you. So I’m taking a few of the hours I gave myself each month and giving them to the causes that matter to me. 

I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m going to do better. (Turns out it’s not such a hard thing to say.)

Comments

  1. T says

    Thank you for posting! I knew something was niggling at me in the midst of all the instagram posts about the women’s marches. As a Canadian who follows people who are not Republicans, I have had similar feelings in the wake of the election. How could we let this happen? The time to protest was before…Protesting now is a start but it must be constant and everyone must be vigilant to be good people and listen to the marginalized as you said!

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