Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Being Visible

Soon after hearing of the plans for the Women's March in Washington DC, I decided that I needed to be there. Me, someone who really doesn't like crowds. When Prince died and people gathered in downtown Minneapolis at First Avenue, I had a brief moment when I forgot I didn't like crowds. "Maybe we should go there," I said to my husband as we watched the throng of people on the news. Then I remembered that he disliked crowds even more than I do.

This time I went and joined the crowd. I went to the Women's March because I felt so deeply that it is important to be visible. I wanted to make my physical presence known, to occupy my space on this earth, to assert I am here.  I voted, I gave money, I even door knocked during the election, but save for door knocking, they are all quiet ways of showing support. And believe me when I say, I must push myself past my internal boundaries every time I door knock or phone in a campaign. There is a part of me that hesitates to intrude.

I have been so filled with disgust over our recent election, an election that was stage managed by the FBI and Russia, that elected by a three million popular vote deficiency, a man who fills me with loathing and supports policies that are antithetical to who I am.  So now I was ready to intrude. Now I needed to show up. I needed to let my body take up space, to exert my physical presence and be counted.

Some have asked what the purpose was of the march. Every person I spoke with felt that the values and the tone of this administration were diametrically opposed to their own.  This is not just a matter of dissatisfaction at "losing" an election, and I use that term loosely given the popular vote. In addition to values, there is a level of disgust at the method of generating support by appealing to the worst instincts of people, denigrating women, Muslims, Mexicans and immigrants. It embarrasses me as an American. I expected better of us. I want an inclusive nation, with policy and tone that is respectful of differences, without rancor. I want integrity and honesty, not lies in service of one man's ego. I marched for that hope and I was surrounded by people who shared that hope. 

Do I really expect it to change anything? I don't know, but I hope so. If the wings of a butterfly can create a tornado, imagine what three million people in 600 cities around the world can create when they are willing to show up, to intrude. Sometimes we have to let things unfold.  I hope it's a first step. I don't yet know what the next step will be, but sometimes you have to take the first step before you know what comes next. Life is incremental. Vision requires movement, one step at a time, we reach a new vantage point and begin to see what can be. This weekend my vantage point was people pressed tightly together as far as the eye could see, all sharing a common vision. It filled me with hope and a sense of possibility.

As I reflect on the past few days, I realize that one of the things which was very different was the level of intimacy with strangers, sometimes quite literally at the march as our usual sense of physical space was breached, but in other ways as well. I am an introvert and usually have my nose in a book on an airplane. This time was different.  On the plane, I talked the entire flight with the woman next to me, substantive talk about values and beliefs, how we struggle in our interactions with those who don't share our values and beliefs. It was not until the very end that we introduced ourselves.

Then I got into the shuttle and talked with the driver. There is a feeling out process. "Why didn't you come for the inauguration?" he asked. "Because I had no desire to see that man inaugurated," I reply. We are off and running, sharing our mutual loathing for "that man."


The seat mate who soon joined me in the shuttle was from Kansas City so we talked a bit about our respective state politics.  Then we shared our stories about health care and the canned responses from our state legislators to our letters. I have a regular 3 AM letter writing ritual when I can't sleep, letters to my conservative state legislator. I had recently gotten a canned letter back for the second time. In my third letter, I wrote,"Stop, do not send me your form letter. I am sending you a thoughtful and reasoned letter and I expect the same in response."  My seat mate shared a remarkably similar story. 

The next morning when I walked the mile to the metro stop, I chatted with a couple I encountered in route, also headed to the march. They had recently moved to DC and this was their first time using the metro. We talked of the various places they had lived, their politics and their desire to be present. The metro was packed with women in pink pussy hats holding signs, standing room only. I realized my phone was fast losing juice and my new friends had a charger they happily shared as we stood clinging to the pole.

On the heels of those experiences, I began the march feeling that this crowd was filled with people like me, people with whom I could have a real conversation on shared beliefs and values. I met up with a friend and my niece, but the crowds and poor Internet connection, caused some challenges in finding them. As I momentarily wondered if we'd meet, I consoled myself with the thought that all of these marchers were potential friends in the making. 

After the march, crowds filled all of the streets, restaurant goers spilled out in front of the restaurants, metro lines wound out around the corner and down the block. I flagged down a taxi and returned to my friend's home deeply engaged in conversation with the Somali cabbie. He was quite convinced that there were more than the half million estimate in DC based on the number of metro rides and lines at the metros. We soon took a deep dive into politics."My friend, let me tell you" was his preface to each comment and I indeed felt like a friend. He told me of how he took a week to go to Minnesota and Ohio to get Somalis engaged in the election. He then returned to DC where he gave people free rides to the polls. I was impressed. His knowledge of politics was deep and he was engaged. He dropped me at my door and I walked gingerly on tired feet.

Now I must say; marching is hard work. It involves a lot of standing for long stretches, tightly surrounded by other people, before you have that glorious release of movement, marching with others, chanting, waving signs and realizing it is not just you who is disgusted and ready to intrude. You've got lots of company. As I write this the morning after, feeling a bit achy in its aftermath, I am very glad to have intruded on the public consciousness and I intend to keep doing so, I suspect in good company.

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