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I have never seen so many pictures of and words for and references to vaginas, vulvas, ovaries, and uteruses in my entire life.
At the Women’s March in Washington, DC yesterday, of the half-million plus people gathered, thousands of them were holding up signs protesting Donald Trump’s vulgar description of his proclivity for sexual assault, and advocating for women’s reproductive rights.
It’s a good thing we talked to our nine-year-old daughter the night before about why everyone was wearing those pink knit hats. I’ve never been a fan of the word pussy, but I’ve become pretty comfortable saying it lately as feminists have reclaimed the word in recent months with images of angry cats saying “PUSSY GRABS BACK.” So we explained to Zoe what Trump had said and done. We told her no one has a right to touch her or any other girl or woman in a way they don’t want to be touched. We told her that, sadly, that doesn’t stop some men from doing it anyway. We explained that’s one reason we were marching.
I decided we needed to go step by step about everything the Women’s March represented, so I read Zoe the unity principles of the movement. If you discuss reproductive rights, you have to explain what birth control is. When kids have pretty much been taught that sex is for making babies, you have to explain that people also have sex for fun, and sometimes even when they’re not married, and sometimes when they’re teenagers. By this point she was kind of burying her face in a pillow but still listening. Every once in a while I would ask if she had any questions and she would shake her head. I would also ask if she was ok learning all this and she would nod.
We talked about disability rights and how some of her friends wouldn’t have been able to attend public school or easily go to public places before the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were passed. We talked about our friends who live in this country but who the government hasn’t given legal status to even though they work hard and contribute to the economy and pay taxes and are good people. We talked about our friends who are gay and married and how that wasn’t allowed until very recently. Zoe was a little kid when she watched one of our best friends marry her wife, so in her mind marriage has always been between any two people who love each other. We talked about how some people–including parents of her classmates–can’t get good-paying jobs so they have to work multiple jobs and they can’t leave their jobs to come to school whenever they want or they’d be fired.
It was a lot to process.
But then Saturday night when we were all home from the march, I asked her if she saw or heard anything that was confusing or she didn’t understand, and she said no. She said, “if we hadn’t had that talk I wouldn’t have understood most of it, but I did. I’m glad you told me that stuff.”
What we heard:
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
Men: HER BODY, HER CHOICE!
Women: MY BODY, MY CHOICE!
WE WANT A LEADER, NOT A CREEPY TWEETER! WE WANT A LEADER, NOT A CREEPY TWEETER!
WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS! WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!
NO HATE! NO KKK! NO FASCIST USA!
WE ARE THE POPULAR VOTE! WE ARE THE POPULAR VOTE!
NO HATE! NO FEAR! IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!
HEY HO! DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO!
YOU CAN’T BUILD A WALL! YOUR HANDS ARE TOO SMALL!
People led chants from the crowd, from trees, from the top of traffic poles.
You’ve probably seen pictures by now and heard that there were way way way more people there than were expected, so the plans for where the rally and march were supposed to take place quickly went out the window. So for the first several hours we were there, it was a little disorganized and chaotic. But it was the friendliest, most polite chaos I’ve ever experienced. Even during the hour we spent waiting to get on the metro, people were so pleasant. When the Metro employee took the microphone to update us on the wait situation, everyone got quiet. I mean silent. I have never heard people be so respectful to a Metro employee. After he made his announcement everyone said thank you. Seriously. One female Metro employee was wearing a pink pussy hat which she told us a marcher had given her earlier. She was pumping her fist in the air and people were high fiving her and cheering for her.
And everywhere we went downtown, everyone was nice. People shared snacks. People said, “excuse me,” when they tried to get by. We weren’t anywhere near the stage and we couldn’t hear or see anything official that was going on. But we were definitely in the midst of thousands of people who were excited to be there–people wearing pink hats and fabulous shirts and suffragette sashes and all manner of activist accessories. We just enjoyed reading the signs for a while.
After a couple hours my sister and my daughter decided to head home. The rest of our group attempted to make our way closer to Independence Avenue in hopes of joining the march as it went by. We ended up trapped in a throng of people who had the same idea, but we were all stopped before we made it to the street. We were standing extremely close to each other. For over an hour. Finally we got word from a march volunteer perched on something high that the reason we couldn’t move is that the street was completely packed with people. And in fact, all the streets were completely packed with people. We didn’t learn until we got home that the entire route that the march was supposed to take was totally full of people, so there was nowhere to march. But people stayed calm. They passed out chocolate. A guy next to us laughed at my husband’s joke and told him he got an A+. Someone told me she liked me Unitarian Universalist shirt and had gone to UU summer camp in the midwest. Anytime someone felt ill in the crowd, everyone shouted “medical” and people moved out of the way to let the person get to the street where there was a police officer on hand to help. When we heard cheering from the general direction of the stage, we cheered. We read each other the signs we spotted in the distance.
Eventually the woman on the perch instructed us to turn around and head to the mall, so we did. Soon we found ourselves enveloped by the march, which was exciting. I don’t even know if we were on the planned route or if there were multiple routes at that point. In every direction there were marchers as far as we could see. It was incredible. Not only were we in the largest group of people we’d ever experienced, but with all these people who shared our core values. If this is a bubble, it was a freaking enormous bubble that I was happy to live in.
As we approached the Washington Monument, a woman asked if she could take a picture
of our sign with the monument in the background. There was more chanting, more singing (mostly “This Land Is Your Land”) and a drum line somewhere nearby helping us keep the beat. There was a topless woman astride the shoulders of a topless man. Her nipples had black tape across them and she and her partner were shouting “FREE THE NIPPLE” and holding a sign saying “DESEXUALIZE WOMEN’S BODIES.”
When we first got there, Randy asked how many people I thought we would see who we knew. I guessed 50. He said five. He ended up being closer, as we actually only spotted two of his co-workers and the reading teacher from Zoe’s school who I sometimes substitute for. In my head I’d been thinking about the Arlington County Fair, where we always see lots of people we know, because there are only a few hundred people there and we know a lot of people in Arlington. But when you’re in the midst of more than half a million people, it’s statistically unlikely you will unexpectedly wind up marching next to your friends. Thanks to Facebook, I realized later that there had actually been hundreds of our friends and co-workers there. People from our preschool (including the director); our current UU church, previous UU church, and previous Presbyterian church; Zoe’s school; my elementary, middle, and high schools and William and Mary; work; martial arts; my soccer team; and basically any other group I can think of that I was every a part of. I feel like virtually everyone I know was there, although I didn’t see them. I saw the photos and there were those same signs behind them! I also had friends who marched in cities around the country and around the world. The word solidarity has never meant so much to me before.
When we finally decided to head home to see our kids, many marchers were headed to the White House to deliver their message more directly to Trump. I understand that many of them left their signs on the White House lawn as calling cards. It took us a long time to get home, but as we walked through the city people were still chanting, smiling, singing, wearing their pink hats. Everyone was exhausted but inspired.
Rev. Aaron’s sermon today at church reminded us that yesterday was just day 1. It wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of our revolution (my word, not his). He talked about how we need to treat Trump’s absurdity like the weather, just be prepared and dress accordingly, but don’t let it stand in the way of doing what we need to do. We can just say, “Oh it’s tweeting outside” and move along.
I have felt better the past two days than I had in a long while, thanks to the friends and family who came over to our house to celebrate kindness so we could forget about the atrocity happening across the river for a few hours, and because we spent the day with more than half a million like-minded strangers yesterday who are willing to fight for what they believe in. Cynics are asking, “but what happens now?” And I know what will happen now. We keep raising our voices.
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
I cannot shake this feeling that what’s happening tomorrow is apocalyptic.
Throughout my 42 years many world events have caused me to worry that the world as I knew and loved it would somehow end, but all those scenarios began with bad guys from some other part of the world coming in and taking over, attacking us, poisoning our air or water, and taking away our freedoms.
I never imagined that an orange-haired guy from Queens and his idiotic henchmen would be the culprits.
I can no longer listen to NPR on weekdays because anything I hear about the incoming regime makes my stomach clench. I can’t read the paper. My news is nicely distilled for me on Facebook, which gathers a wide variety of sources, and every time I check my feed my chest tightens and I have to squeeze my eyes shut and turn it off.
I am making calls to legislators when I can, although I’m still not clear about whether that’s effective, especially since I am fortunate to have a Congressman and Senators who hold the same views as I do. I’m giving to organizations that I know are fighting to protect people who need protection and safeguard our rights. I am committed to my church’s movement to live the pledge to end racism and I am facilitating reflection sessions. And of course I’m going to march on Saturday.
I keep thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert’s post the day after the election encouraging us to choose who we want to be, even and especially in the most challenging situations we face. I know she’s right. But it is so hard to feel open-minded and curious and loving and calm and hopeful when these tsunami-sized waves of dread crash over you again and again and again.
Lately I’ve been making a lot of art. I am not an artist, really. I like to glue things together. My kids and I bring home bags overflowing with recycled materials from UpCycle Creative Reuse Center and we create. When I am gluing small things onto other things, no bad thoughts can penetrate my brain. Making art creates a force field around my spirit. I am running out of space to put my art.
Tomorrow I’m going to celebrate kindness with friends and family. We’re going to make art and eat delicious food and listen to music and focus on how we can offer kindness to the world. At least for tomorrow I will put up that little force field around my family and friends. And they will give me strength. We will be kind and we will survive. And the next day we will wake up and march. And those hundreds of thousands of people who will be marching with us, in DC or in other cities, or in spirit, they will give me strength. Maybe I will give them strength too. Maybe our presence and our voices will be art, and all that beauty will sustain us over the next four years.
Maybe we will learn how to live and be brave in a post-apocalyptic world.
This is the text from my reflection today at church, in a service led by my friends D and Diane, called Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.
When my daughter Zoe was in second grade, her friends all started reading Harry Potter. I was thrilled, because I am a serious fan. I was one of those people who would go to the bookstore at midnight to get my hands on each of the seven books as soon as it was released. So when Zoe decided she wanted to read the books aloud with us, I was even more excited. For the past few years, we have read Harry Potter at bedtime almost every night and we have had so much fun exploring the wizarding world together.
This past summer, in the midst of the sixth book–Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–I rediscovered Felix Felicis. Also known as liquid luck, Felix Felicis is famously tricky to concoct. It is banned from use before athletic or academic competitions. During the first potions class of the school year, Professor Slughorn offers a vial of Felix Felicis to the student who can correctly brew that day’s assignment in his or her cauldron. With the help of notes written in the margin of his secondhand textbook, Harry unexpectedly succeeds and wins the prize.
It turns out that Felix Felicis conveys to its user something closer to courage than simply luck. The first time Harry almost uses it is when his best friend Ron is plagued by self-doubt before a big quidditch match in which he’s supposed to play keeper. Harry only pretends to pour some of the potion in Ron’s pumpkin juice at breakfast, but that’s all that’s required for Ron to gain the confidence he needs to play the best match of his life.
Harry actually drinks some of the Felix Felicis to help him convince Professor Slughorn to reveal a memory that will enable Harry to make progress toward his defeat of Lord Voldemort, who, if you haven’t read Harry Potter or seen the movies, is the bad guy.
As soon as the potion hits his bloodstream, Harry heads out to accomplish his mission. What he immediately decides to do seems completely counterintuitive, but he feels certain it’s the right thing to do. “I have a good feeling about this,” he says to his incredulous friends, and of course it turns out he’s right.
Reading these books a second time, this time as a parent and most recently in such a fractious political climate, I was struck by the appeal of not just having a bottle of Felix Felicis at my disposal (and it’s hard to come by—the potion takes six months to brew) but wondered what it would be like to live my life every day as if someone had poured a few drops of Felix Felicis into my juice in the morning.
What would it be like to be assured that whatever decisions I made would turn out to be good ones? I’m not asking for the kind of luck that turns up a winning lottery ticket or makes me famous. I mean Felix Felicis that guarantees courage and confidence in the small moments—the ability to live what you believe and not shrink back from your values because it’s a little scary or inconvenient or unpopular.
At the beginning of this service I read my statement of belief. I wrote it not long after the election, in the covenant group that D and I facilitate together. She had suggested that articulating what where we stand, especially in the face of bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and just plain meanness, would help us stand up to those oppressive forces. I was surprised at how empowering it felt to write, and speak, what I believe.
Where my desired dose of Felix Felicis comes in is embodying those beliefs every day.
For example, extending generosity without condition or expectation of reciprocity. Not wondering what will happen with my contribution or whether a person or cause is going to do the right thing with what I have freely given. Not concerned with whether I get a thank you.
For example, showing kindness not just to people I love, but to strangers. A couple weeks ago I was sitting in this sanctuary during our standing outside the season service, seated behind someone who was weeping. I had seen this person at church before, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t even know her name, but I really wanted to put my hand on her shoulder or rub her back. But I didn’t. I worried maybe she wanted to be left alone, maybe she would jump back in alarm when a complete stranger tried to touch her. I agonized about whether or not to try to comfort her. In the end, she turned around to comfort my friend with whom I was sitting, who was also quietly crying. I immediately saw from her smile and her action that she would have welcomed my touch.
For example, turning to wonder instead of accusation when I don’t understand a person or situation. It’s a hard world out there right now, but it doesn’t get any softer if I vilify people whose beliefs and actions I don’t understand. Especially if I’m accusing those people of doing the exact same thing.
When my husband and I got married, in his toast to us, my dad talked about my husband’s and my commitment to tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world. We are both still at it, with a far greater sense of urgency now.
It is easy to wonder if I am doing enough. When this worry bubbles up to the surface, I have to remind myself that tikkun olam for me is also raising two children to be kind and generous. Tikkun olam is creating and giving myself to the many communities of which I am a part. Tikkun olam is doing something nice for myself so I have the energy to care for others. Tikkun olam is being able to laugh with my husband when things are not going well.
My bottle of Felix Felicis would help me brave and openhearted in my efforts to heal the world. I know I will make mistakes, I will question my decisions, I will fall short. But just a shot of Felix Felicis could remind me, in the face of what seems like utter powerlessness, that I do have the power of my beliefs, and the strength to live them. What would a few drops of Felix Felicis do for you?