What Starts in a Living Room, Can End in Congress

When I was in high school, I dated a boy named Charlie. He was a sweet guy. Loved performing. His Garth Brooks impersonation was spectacular. (That’s who you impersonate when you’re a teenager in our little town in Texas.) He was the kind of kid who genuinely wanted to do the right thing. And even though he was this really innocent, good-hearted person, the only place that my parents allowed us to hang out at was our very formal living room where we weren’t allowed to touch anything and the carpet still had stripes from where it had been vacuumed days before. It was there that Charlie and I talked about anything and everything — what fueled our passions, what we’d want to do with our lives, where we’d want to explore. We stayed in touch for a bit until losing contact in college.

Last year, around the time of the Muslim ban, Charlie re-entered my life. On Facebook as all exes eventually do. He had written a post on Facebook, and when I read it, I didn’t hear his goofy Texas lilt singing Friends in Low Places anymore. It was an angry, hateful voice spewing a diatribe of Anti-Muslim vitriol. ‘All immigrants’, he’d written, ‘should be detained and questioned before coming to the States’.

At that time, hundreds of US visa-holders, green card-carriers and vetted refugees had just been told they were no longer welcome in America. My reunion with Charlie felt every bit as devoid of warmth. My father is a Muslim who came to New York from the Philippines in the 1970s on political asylum. He is the embodiment of the very person Charlie was now saying he wanted out. If my father wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here. So I had to wonder, did Charlie want me gone too? Try as I might I couldn’t reconcile this character on my news feed with the sweet guy from Texas I remembered sitting on my sofa in my living room.

And for days, his words rang in my ear. It was like that feeling you get after a really loud concert but I didn’t have any merchandise or Instagram likes to show for it. And the more I looked at Facebook and Twitter the more deafening it all was. We all saw what happened after the election. Facebook turned into the Hunger Games. People on both sides of the aisle preyed on one another’s fears and resentments, neighbors turned on each other, political ideals that once didn’t matter tore apart friendships. He or she who could shout the loudest won the attention of the media but only until the next hashtag popped up on Twitter and a new war began.

But it wasn’t the white supremacists that scared me. And it wasn’t the fact that politicians felt comfortable turning a blind eye to a child molester. It wasn’t the Russia probe or the attack on women’s rights or the stripping of Obamacare.

What I worried about most was that beyond all the noise on social media, all the cries of Make America Great Again and all the hear-me-roaring, I heard something else. A deafening silence.

The silence of confusion. The silence of a million unasked questions. The silence of hundreds if not thousands of women like you and me who regardless of education and social literacy, knew how they felt but hadn’t found a place where they felt safe enough to articulate it in a meaningful way.

It’s easy to throw up a hashtag up and decry a pro-choice abortion bill. But what about when you’re not so sure about the issue? How many of us are brave enough to speak up and say hey, I don’t know everything about this? Does everyone know what the latest is with DACA? How do you talk to your neocon Uncle at Thanksgiving? Or your racist ex-boyfriend for that matter? How do you speak up in a debate if you’re not even a US citizen but you’ve been living here for the past 10 years? What should you tell your representative? What is a representative?!

I felt as if a blanket of quiet was suffocating the impulses, urges and reactions of so many people. And I knew that I Didn’t Want To Be Quiet Anymore.

So I returned to the living room — to the place I’d spent so many hours waxing lyrical about my hopes and dreams with a boy who later prompted so many questions — and I looked for answers from people who felt the same way.

When I went to Chelsea and brought up the idea of a group like this, it was less a pitch and more of a kvetch. We wanted to get people together so we could talk about… stuff. But the stuff seemed so dense and vast. I didn’t even know where to start. But Chelsea was the one who said, let’s do it, I’ll help you. And like with so many women’s movements, it was the support of a fearless female that empowered me to try, and the support of every brave woman here that has given our fledgling movement wings to fly.

Now I’ll be the first to admit, the inaugural meeting of this group was pretty much a vent session about the state of the union. Fourteen women who didn’t really know each other but god, we had a lot to get off our chests! And it felt really, really good.

But I Will Not Be Quiet has become so much more than that. We’re not just calling on each other to complain and vent, we’re calling each other to action. We’re not just talking we’re doing. The things we do, they don’t have to be million-woman marches.

Educating yourself on an issue, a phone call to your representative, donating a few dollars, supporting a friend who’s fighting for maternity leave, or even running for office. One grain of sand becomes a pearl. And what is more beautiful than an action that helps propel our society forward?

We’re so lucky to have been able to welcome some of the city’s most prominent advocates and activists into our living rooms to push the conversation further and tell us what we need to know to actually make change.

We’re not looking to change anyone. We know you can’t change people. But we can change what people know. And that’s what drives us. That’s half the battle. The more we know, the more we can do. So We Are Not Going to Be Quiet Anymore.

IWNBQ is not a Fem Rally. Nor is it an easy acronym to pronounce. It’s quieter and more contemplative. But it’s no less vocal. It is not about volume, it’s about persistence. It’s what happens when you come home from the march and you’re hoarse from all the yelling but your head is still spinning with ideas. It’s about saying, I will not STOP talking. Because when we give voice to our feelings, our concerns and our ideas, they become truths and when something is real, then you’d better do something about it.

So I hope you’ll keep raising your voices and speaking up with us too. What starts in a living room can end in Congress — I really believe that.

If I could remember any Garth Brooks songs right now, I’d sing it at the top of my lungs. But I’m more of a Norah Jones gal. And I think maybe I need to be quiet just for a second, so someone else can speak.