Shirley Power

“all the women in me. are tired.” — nayyirah waheed

the professional woman.

the woman raised to respect her elders.

the sarcastic woman.

the southern woman.

the clever woman.

the reproductive justice supporting woman.

the workers’ rights fighting for woman.

the straightforward woman.

and, especially, the black woman.

We tired. Real tired.

The Women’s March in Washington (1–21–17) made me tired.

It wasn’t so much navigating the massive crowds that made me tired. Or the being breath to breath with strangers on the Metro. Or the walking. Or the waiting. Or the keeping up with a group. Or the standing. Or the not knowing exactly what was happening with the “official” March.

It was the navigating wy privilege that made me tired. Exhausted me. Infuriated me. Distressed me. Taunted me. I was tired of being made to feel like I was in the way or as if I needed to move out of the way to clear the path for wypipo. Dead ass tired.

Not even my butterscotch privilege could protect me from wy privilege. #ButterscotchLivesMatter.

While coming through a tight area, with 15 or so of my peeps rolling with me, a wy woman who was walking toward me, looked me straight in the eyes: “Let me pass because I have to go to the bathroom!” Dead ass serious. I dead ass didn’t let her pass.

Maybe she would have preferred to relieve herself in my hand. Maybe that would have been more convenient for her. Had she asked or even said the powerful phrase, “Excuse me,” perhaps I would have moved aside to let her pass. But she didn’t. And I didn’t.

I thought we were all here to march for women’s rights. “Ain’t I a Woman?”

This made me tired, but I soldiered on meandering my way through the swarms of “women’s rights” sycophants — all variety of wypipo. The March was mainly wypipo. No news there. The crowd was so out of control huge that unfortunately, I didn’t run into any of the other Black women I knew were attending. Attendance is estimated at nearly a million people from across the country who packed downtown Washington, D.C. and the National Mall in the name of equal rights. For the most part, me and my crew were the only people of color and/or Black women around. I still waved my Shirley Chisholm rally poster high in the sky for all to adore and as a flag so members of my caucus behind can follow or in case we got separated.

Crowd shot from Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017.

I showed up to march for my ancestors and all of the Black women from the South who came before me and were forced to suppress their dreams and desires simply because they were who they were — Black women from the South.

And I showed up to march for my foremothers like Ida B. Wells, Zora Neale Hurston and Shirley Chisholm. I was in fierce company during the March, enveloped in a posse of colleagues and sister friends who know when it’s time to push and shove, know when it’s time to channel your Zen, know when it’s time to love, and know when it’s time to charge it to the game.

The poster and me, Women’s March on Washington, January 21 2017.

It was my sister friends who held me down and held me up during the March; and for them, I barreled through the hordes, pulled them close when it got too thick and even shielded them from when wy folks pretended they didn’t see any of us and attempted to walk through our procession — one of a million microagressions we experienced.

Women’s March on Washington OR the Million Microagressions March?

Regardless, my bold bunch held it down as we moved about carrying signs of our foremothers — Harriet, Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer and dear, dear Shirley Chisholm. People shouted: “Shirley!” I smiled. Folks clapped. I gave a head nod. A white guy stopped me to show me he was wearing a Philadelphia Printworks Shirley Chisholm catalyst for change tee. I gave him a pound. I have the same shirt in red and nearly wore it to the March too.

The beauty of bringing Shirley Chisholm into this space was to remind the world — really wy women — that the first woman to run for president was a Black woman. Shirley ran first and I’m with her.

Shirley Chisholm on the 1972 presidential campaign trail. Image from: shirleychisholmproject.tumblr.com

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924 — January 1, 2005) became the first Black woman ever to be elected to Congress. She ran for the highest office in the land four years later as the Democratic presidential nomination, making her the first major-party Black candidate and woman to ever to run for President of the United States. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense even endorsed her. Before entering politics, she worked in early childhood education.

But I was still tired.

Then this happened:

An older Black woman complimented me on my poster. When I stopped to thank her, I noticed her vest was bejeweled with original campaign buttons from none other than Mrs. Unbought and Unbossed herself. I told her how much I loved her swag and in a flash, I was off trekking through the crowd again.

About 45 minutes later our group was able to stop. It was then someone handed me a 1972 “Catalyst For Change: Shirley Chisholm For President” button; one like the lady was wearing some ways back. Our exchange was so brief that she didn’t have time to personally present it to me so she sent it with the Black women who were with me. She told them that she was a volunteer with the campaign more than 40 years ago. That ain’t nothing but the ancestors giving me what I need when I need it. Shirley Power.

And just like that, I wasn’t tired anymore. I was inspired, fired up and reminded just how important it is for me to personally continue to do the work of documenting the lives of Black women.

“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” –Shirley Chisholm

Missed connections:

To the thoughtful soul at the Women’s March who gifted me a tangible piece of history — Thank you. You made the entire day worth it; you and of course, Shirley Chisholm.

A piece of history, Shirley Chisholm campaign button from 1972.