When I was in junior high, I attended this retreat at my church in Roseland, New Jersey, where we spent the weekend sleeping in finished basements, talking about Big Things: life, school, faith, and of course, each other.
This was a big deal because we’d been told what to believe since we were kids, and it was the first time we got to kick the tires on our faith a bit, tug at the edges, question everything, including who we were and what we stood for.
A lot of it involved holding each other’s clammy hands and swaying to Led Zeppelin songs and sometimes crying. Sister Ann Marie showed up in civilian clothes, which always threw me. We had inside jokes and nicknames and the spirit was inclusive. We were in this together.
That’s what the women’s march this past weekend was like for me, except with several hundred thousand more people. I even crashed at a friend’s pad and stayed up late making protest signs. We were all giddy and irreverent and righteous in our anger. It was fantastic.
Admittedly, I had it easy in the 80s, growing up in the wake of feminism, reaping all the benefits with none of the work. At 14, I was nursing a fresh crop of hormone-induced anxiety and newly hatched existential fears (“What does it all mean?”), plus a growing resistance against what other, older people thought I should have and want and be.
This was good practice for what is required of me, and you, today—that we get clear on who we are and what we believe in, in the face of real terror and threat, and band together to resist what other, older (male) people think should happen.
There’s been plenty written already about the Women’s March, just in the hours and days since the explosion of solidarity among women—and to be fair, many men. You already know that millions turned out; we wowed everyone, including ourselves. It’s the single largest biggest protest in history, with estimates of nearly 3 million marching worldwide. I’ll add that there were no arrests made in New York City, D.C., or Los Angeles. This was peaceful protest in action.
At the end of the march, my friend snapped a picture of me (below) leaping into the air, my impeachment sign held aloft. There was so much energy on 5th avenue it lifted me right off my feet.
On the last day of the retreat, Sister Ann Marie gave us each a metal cross on a silky black lanyard, and we wore them with pride. We were committed members of this squad; we had each other’s backs. We would never, ever forget.
And we vowed to wear them, and did, on Monday, when we all went back to school.
But my best friend was not allowed to go on retreat, and it wasn’t easy for her to be left out, so she was critical of the experience. I found I didn’t talk about it around her, played it down. It was always an uncomfortable few days.
On Tuesday, I wore my cross, but tucked it under my shirt. I mean, only I had to know it was there, right?
By Friday, I slung it over the corner of my bedroom mirror, with the others.
In other words, I let it slip away. I slowly forgot, so as not to offend. It went from a public display to a private memory.
You know where I’m going with this.
We cannot afford to let this happen now. To think, “That was fun,” and move on with our day, our week. We can’t not talk about the march or what happened there so that we don’t offend someone who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go.
While it’s easy to get fired up over the obvious terror (the threat to our rights, our sanity, and our security) there’s a subtle, more sinister threat to yours, and my, post-march momentum.
And it’s just as dangerous because you don’t recognize it as opposition.
Beware of the things you’re going to hear even more now (in person, in the the media, on Facebook, at a party) that quietly derail your efforts and sap your momentum, make you question what you stand for.
These things may not come from an “enemy,” but from someone you know, and who knows you. Maybe someone you even like.
Each of the following comments attempts to “relieve” you of the burden of protest, to normalize a situation which is not normal. And you’re going to continue hearing a lot of it—veiled as advice, reassurance, or concern.
Here’s what it sounds like:
This is an attempt to slow your momentum, to make you think that your effort is not just wasted but wholly unnecessary. It seeks to alleviate the very burning you feel with the cold compress of contentment, which does not serve anyone now.
It says: Don’t push, don’t challenge, don’t try. Beware of the implication here that a woman needn’t fight, shouldn’t fight. That there’s something inherently unappealing about that, or you, that needs to be tamped down.
Your response: What good, important, critical change, ever came by saying “It’s fine as it is?” None. Not a single one.
This statement acutely targets a woman’s guilt response (“Why are you being so belligerent/greedy/difficult!?”). It attempts to control through a false gratitude (“But you have so much already”).
Gratitude and resistance are not in opposition. You can feel one and engage with the other. But beware of someone telling you what to be grateful for. That’s not how it works.
Women have been told since before anyone wrote anything down that we should be lucky and happy to have what we have. Beware of anyone who tells you you shouldn’t want what you want or aspire to have it. That goes for anything, really — your rights, above all, but also: money, business, property, partnership, sex, respect. I could go on.
Let’s be clear: equal rights is accepted on paper and in public. Do you know anyone who advocates for unequal rights? Of course not! But we are not there yet in practice. Women are treated differently and quite often paid differently, and that is a fact. The reassurance that we’re all cool now is misguided and untrue.
I’ll add that men—even the ones you love and who love you—cannot comprehend what it means to be a woman. They do not have a woman’s body; they do not have a woman’s perspective; they do not have a woman’s experience. They are unfit to judge, prescribe, or regulate a woman’s life.
Your response: When in history has anyone gotten their fair share by waiting for someone else to willingly offer it? (Answer: Um, never.)
That may be — it may work out, but it won’t because we sat on our hands and hoped. We may make big changes and things could turn around. But we don’t know that yet and things do not look good right now. It doesn’t mean cancel your effort, go home.
Your response: If we do nothing, it’s NOT going to be ok. And that’ll be on us.
We don’t, actually.
The follow up is: “When you hope he fails you’re hoping we all fail! That’s unAmerican!”
Of course we don’t want that. But do we have to get in line behind a man who does not represent us, simply because he has been sworn in? Nope. This is when our work begins. Staying alert, checking facts, watching where the money goes, and where it stops.
Your response: If someone calls you unAmerican for challenging who’s in charge, kindly remind them that the spirit of America was born out of resistance, that to question and challenge it is more who we are then pretty much anything else—especially falling in line behind a fascist who wants you to say nothing but nice things.
Consider the source of the information you hear just as much as the message itself. It’s not that the person is evil or out to get you. But the effect is the same.
If your mother is truly anguished by your heading out to spend the day in the center of a soft target with 100,000 other people, it’s not that she’s working some fascist agenda. She’s worried about you! OK fine.
But while it’s not always “sinister” in intent, the effect is detrimental to us all. These are fearful times. When animals are afraid, they tuck their tails and hide. People do the same thing, and they also tell other people to stop pushing, stop forcing, stop making it worse.
Recognize that the advice you hear—to back off, calm down, cheer up—reflects the fear of the speaker, and that’s all. You decide who you listen to.
It’s not easy overcoming fear when we (women especially ) have internalized the message that we should grateful, quiet, and content. That we should aim to do more and want less.
Be patient with yourself, but persistent.
Tend to that inner fire, stoke it regularly, and ignore the people who are threatening that you’ll overheat. Be wary of those who ease you off your warhorse, tell you you don’t need to ride today. Because the fact is, profound, dramatic change never ever made itself. And it needs you more now than ever. Get back on that horse.
I’ll add this:
1. Take the next post-march step by taking 10 critical actions in 100 days. This resource was created by the people behind the Women’s March. I’m all in. You?
2. Get better at speaking out in public. There’s never been a more important time to do it. And this happens to be my jam. Find out how to be more confident and share your story and your message with my free webinar, 5 Steps to a Killer TEDx Talk. Learning to share your insight and ideas is critical. Discover how to do it better.)
Originally published at medium.com