Finding Our Voices

12 03 2017

My dad loves to tell people that I took my sweet time learning how to talk. But once I figured it out, I haven’t shut up since!

Har har, Dad.

But it’s no secret that I like to chat. Conversation is such a great way to connect with people. I’ve actually been trying to be more conscious of my listening skills so I talk less. It’s tough, especially because I yammer on when I’m nervous.

But recently, specifically beginning about November, I found my voice getting stuck in my throat. I listen to the news in astonishment at what is happening in and to our country. I stare silently in disbelief when one of my Hispanic students asked me what a rapist is, and if her daddy was a good one or a bad one. The boy across the street told her they should all go back to Mexico so he didn’t have to live by a rapist anymore. She’s 10 years old and has no idea what that means, but worries about her dad.

What do I say to that? What do I say to any of it?

January 20 brought a whole new round of feelings. I hadn’t been on Facebook for a while, so I logged on to see if I was missing anything. And I was. I was missing hate being smeared all over my feed. Many friends in Texas and the Midwest were posting and sharing things that I couldn’t believe would come from them – people I know to be good people! I finally closed my laptop with a depressed sigh of despair and pulled my 45-pound dog into my lap. What is happening?!

The morning of January 21, I met my bestie Ashlee in Portland and we headed downtown. We discussed the state of things back home but she was very reassuring. “I think we can make a difference in this,” she hugged me. Walking towards downtown, we started seeing more and more people headed the same direction. The signs, the cheering, the pink hats – we were gathering for the Women’s March on Washington.

And as we waited near the Morrison Bridge, listening to speakers and poets and bands and politicians, I felt hope blossoming in my chest. As I read the homemade signs around me, that hope bloomed outward towards my limbs. I saw two strangers hug and laugh as they noticed they had on matching t-shirts, and I saw men wearing pink hats, and children singing along with the bands. Hope filled my legs and moved me through the rain and mud and cold to the streets; it moved my arms to hug my best friend and wave to people on the sidewalks; it filled my lungs to move my vocal chords and suddenly I was shouting, “LOVE. TRUMPS. HATE!”

I had found my voice. It was there inside me, waiting all along.

women's march on washington - PDX 2017

Marching for the ladies!

I wanted to dance in those streets, sing with the joy of it all. Approximately 100,000 people showed up that day, in a city of only about 600,000. We marched through the streets to stand up for what we believe in – and it felt so good. I felt empowered and excited and surrounded by others willing to stand up together. Reports said it was the largest event of its kind Portland had ever seen, and it was entirely peaceful. Not one arrest, no violence, though lots of singing, chanting, and unity all around. It was incredible to be a part of.

Then I came home.

I stupidly checked Facebook again to be confronted with a backlash of more hateful comments and posts. “Get a job and you wouldn’t have time to march!” “Go home and take care of your families instead of rubbing your vulgar filth in our faces!” “Women are equal in this country, you must be stupid to think otherwise!” “Sit your privileged asses down and realize how good you have it!” “Women in Syria are facing real issues, you need to just shut up!”

I’m not making this up, these are real things I saw posted on Facebook. And I was utterly flabbergasted by what I read. Whhaaa … ? No, you can’t really think that… But wait, don’t you see… Wait….

But this time, I was not sorry for posting my pictures, I was not worried that these people might think differently of me because I had marched, I was not afraid that I might have to defend my actions to people like my own family. I was worried for them. And I was angry and upset. Of course we haven’t achieved equality in this country! No our fight is not over! Yes there are real threats to reproductive rights and women’s healthcare and yes I am damn upset about it! All the rights we do enjoy have been secured by those who stood up for them in the past!

Yet once again, my voice was paralyzed – how do I articulate my fears and defend my position? I get frustrated and don’t know how to put into words my feelings and opinions. And social media is a place of screaming, not listening; no one is open to conversation or hearing each other out. Everyone is shouting in capital letters to get their opinion to the top of the list…and the result is a cacophony of “I’M RIGHT AND YOU’RE NOT!”

Not surprisingly, someone else managed to articulate some of the things I could not. The blogger Dina Leygerman wrote a post that made me yell THANK YOU! THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY!

I get it. You want to feel empowered. You don’t want to believe you’re oppressed. Because that would mean you are indeed a “second-class citizen.” You don’t want to feel like one. I get it. But don’t worry. I will walk for you. I will walk for your daughter. And your daughter’s daughter. And maybe you will still believe the world did not change. You will believe you’ve always had the rights you have today. And that’s okay. Because women who actually care and support other women don’t care what you think about them. They care about their future and the future of the women who come after them.

Open your eyes. Open them wide. Because I’m here to tell you, along with millions of other women that you are not equal. Our equality is an illusion. A feel-good sleight of hand. A trick of the mind. I’m sorry to tell you, but you are not equal. And neither are your daughters.

Thank you Dina, for saying so directly what I was feeling, for giving me your words.

And after much thought and discussion and reading and listening, I have found what it boils down to for me. At the heart of my distress is the concept of “it’s not all about YOU.” Since when did we stop sticking up for those being bullied and oppressed? Since when did it become ok to sit idly by while others are unjustly treated, persecuted, stripped of their rights? Besides being a woman, I am pretty safe. I am white, American-born, middle-class, straight, educated, employed, Christian, and married. In a word, I am privileged. So why would I not use that to stand up for all those who are not?  Why would I not stand up for what is right, regardless of how I am directly affected? Already, I can feel my words stumbling and choking again, my passion and anger tripping my words as I try desperately to explain….

So let me just say the one thing that I have no trouble getting out: I still love you. For our differences, I love you. And I promise to practice asking questions and listening to your answers and trying to understand. The biggest thing I have learned out of this mayhem is that we have GOT to stop spewing hate at each other and start asking questions instead. Listen to one another and we’re a lot more alike than we realize. Ask questions to hear their side and what they’re afraid of and what they’re feeling. Practice pulling back judgement and listening instead of lashing back and attacking what they say. Try to have a little empathy and compassion.

Because right now, it feels like love is losing. But I believe love always wins. Love will always trump hate.

 

“We must always fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil that we must fear the most, and that is the indifference of good men.” (Boondock Saints)

 








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