Lessons From The Resister-Hood

The urge to March was there in the lead-up to January 21, 2017. It surfaced intermittently — threatening to coax me from a recent, self-induced hibernation from government matters — only to be denied as immediately pressing concerns and a debilitating uneasiness in large crowds diverted my attention.

When the day arrived, my news and social media feeds exploded to confirm what my sinking heart knew: I was witnessing history from the sidelines. As that mighty, generation-spanning company assembled across a global stage, I blew my entrance. And a chance to move boldly in an unchoreographed, unprecedented democratic celebration.

Rather than lament my claustrophobia (which ruled out the DC March) or my hesitation to ask a friend to walk at a less intimidating location, I was inspired to take one tiny step forward. I wrote friends and family who had assembled in DC, NYC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Diego and humbly asked them to share their Marches with me. The small sampling features childhood and college friends, a cousin, and women I have come to know in church, community and charitable work or participating in arts and music organizations. None were paid; none are vulgar.

I knew going on this Virtual Women’s March with resisters of substance, heart and humor would strengthen my tenuous connection to the gathering. Further, the scribe in me believed their personal “field reports” would inspire a blog about finding our voices. In writing about others, I would re-discover my own.

You see, I had pulled the covers up over my head on November 9. Yes, I was distraught, and perhaps in the “low depression” one friend described, but instead of taking corrective measures, I put myself into a deep-freeze. I thawed a bit to enter the collective mourning as our President Obama exited the world stage and self-medicated by binge-watching “The West Wing” with my husband, but largely avoided in-depth consideration of what truly frightened and/or might be required of me. It was so very unlike me, and I knew, soon enough, I would be seeking my place among the awakened.

I abandoned all hope for a gentle re-entry less than a week into the new presidency. Confronting evidence of an era not only of alternative facts but of alternative Americas, I abruptly ended my political quarantine and replaced it with prolonged periods of high-alert. Like a tornado zone resident monitoring a supercell, I lived my day-to-day in between special reports on the developing thunderclouds.

On calmer days, I gauged what actions I should take while amassing a trove of articles for future reference. I collected intriguing words and phrases — like budget reconciliation, incidental collection, identity congruence, autodidact and emoluments — for further exploration.

Eight weeks in, I noticed progress. I was re-channeling the energy expended politely arguing with Facebookers I know (or don’t know!) into a more satisfying and productive routine survey of authoritative media sources. I contacted representatives with greater ease and less hesitation. But I also could see how, left unchecked, my insatiable hunger for information (and perfectionist tendencies) might induce a different, albeit better informed, paralysis.

As the sun set on 100 days, I appraised my own progress. My commitment to cultivating a robust advocacy habit appropriate to these times is stronger than ever. So why I am still nervously hovering at the back of the crowd like a Presbyterian late to church?

I return to my Virtual March, to share these “Lessons from the Resister-Hood.” Created in conversation with formidable persisting women, this first post explores how our formation, our relationships and our individual talents and voices shape our moves in the civic arena. I know their words will inspire others in “resistance training” even as they guide my slow and careful return into the public square.

  1. Know where you come from

Several marchers, including the first-timers, confirm advocacy can be our inheritance.

Since she was raised to speak out on important issues, KB says it was not a tough decision to join in the March. Location was the only consideration for the Philadelphia-area resident working in Early Childhood Education Policy. KB reports feeling fired up approaching the Philadelphia event, encountering excitement at the FedEx stores where she created her sign and noticing “people all through my world” were planning to participate. The immigrant who grew up with single-payer healthcare is no newcomer to activism, crediting her parents for instilling her strong sense of civic duty. Citing heartbreak over the election, KB comments “I would have felt like I was not doing my part if I had missed the march.”

CS hadn’t marched before, but the Maine resident, knowing she needed to go to this one, quickly booked a trip to DC and invited members of her large family to meet her there. She shares that her father marched for civil rights in the 60s and that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a family hero. “My father was always a fighter for the underdog and my mother was always focused on kindness,” CS says of her upbringing. Her January 21st contingent — arriving from four locations — included two sisters and a niece. Her parents’ legacy and children’s future were top of mind that day, as was the wisdom of Dr. King. Paraphrasing his oft-quoted message, CS affirms her belief that ‘your life begins to end the moment you start being silent about the things that matter.’ “This matters.”

Up-close knowledge of the marches and the civil rights movement are likewise part of CR’s inheritance, growing up with a mother who walked along with Dr. King. The Washington, DC resident, who hails from a strong female line (which I share, in part, as her cousin), says she has been in close proximity to the demonstrations for years, yet didn’t attend them as a rule. When the Women’s March was announced, CR registered without hesitation, a decision fueled by her perception that “we are stronger when we are diverse and collaborative.” “I just had a feeling this would be different. Big. Effective,” CR adds.

Others saw shifts, bumps and course changes en route to The Women’s March. How did a true introvert who shies from conflict confidently make her way to San Diego’s demonstration? LB, a friend who has long possessed a strong moral code, says her interest in grassroots advocacy grew after a recent move San Diego. She sought out like-minded thinkers volunteering for animal rescue and vegan education groups and attended a Bernie Sanders rally, a first, last year. Those activities made it a no-brainer to meet San Diego friends for “by far the biggest and most global event” she has witnessed firsthand. LB seems undeterred by “family members with different and, in a few cases, extreme views” or by those in her realm who don’t think protesting changes anything.

A neighborhood concern sparked a shift into activism for AJ, a self-described “occasional “s***-disturber” living in suburban Philadelphia. Growing up in an immigrant family, she explains the focus was more on “assimilating and finding a piece of the American dream to cling on to.” AJ became disturbed by the number of neighbors posting ‘We support the X Police Department’ signs, which she calls an affront to the Black Lives Movement. Speaking of the “disparities in the treatment this society affords for people of color,” AJ says the signs showed “a base ignorance of that and were a catalyst to my activism.” Her march debut came in NYC with college and high school friends, fulfilling twin desires to do something positive and be among people with a common vision of how this country should be.

More of a political bystander until recently, SH says she “always registered Republican because my parents were Republican.” Obama’s first campaign spurred the Philadelphia-area resident to join her politically-minded husband in phone and door-to-door campaigning and, ultimately, to break party lines to vote her conscience. Noting the “rhetoric of this 2016 election did not sit well with me,” the doctor and grandmother stood with Hillary, then changed her party affiliation after the election. Her husband and immediate family supported her decision to board a bus to DC, with a pastor from her church, for what she describes as a gathering, not of the elite, but “of the ordinary woman, man and even some children” and “one way of being heard.”

2) Don’t Go It Alone

Who comes with us can dramatically magnify and sustain our connections to a movement and its mission. My Virtual team reminded me how friends and others can help us stretch beyond our comfort zones, hold us accountable, and deepen our appreciation for what we treasure and what we fight for.

KB, for instance, was stuck by the gentle encouragement of yoga teachers who rearranged a teacher training schedule so the interested Marchers would not have to miss anything and inspired knowing people from Philadelphia work, yoga and other circles would be out in full force. At the day’s end, she and the friend she accompanied reinforced each other’s desire to understand what comes next, asking together, how do we “take this positive, focused, brilliant energy and work to make this country suit that vision?”

In CR’s case, the literal, arduous trek to unite with one group at Washington, DC’s massive rally, which she sums up as “seeing my church banner and just persisting to get to it,” produced the most powerful experience of the day. And, enlisting other friends, she infused music into her two-hour, two-block walk, engaging the crowd in song as she processed with guitar, drums and fellow vocalists. Singing and the goal of reaching her church group partially eased CR’s discomfort with being “sandwiched in, with literally no room to move” for a prolonged period.

Deciding to call themselves “the Haka Four” following their March, CS and her group invoked the force of tribe and community. The word Haka, CS explains, is the “traditional ancestral war cry, dance, challenge of the Māori people of New Zealand. It seems appropriate in this moment.”

AG, a Los Angeles resident who grew up in New Haven, CT, exemplifies how civic values shared across generations empower us to speak out. Having received first-hand resistence lessons at an early age from her parents and extended family, AG says “Yes, it’s in my DNA to protect and it’s in my DNA to fight for human rights.” The day her mother, an active League of Women Voters member, brought her and siblings to a New Haven Women’s Liberation Rally, complete with burning bras and photo-taking CIA agents, left a lasting impression. Marching in LA with her teenage daughter, young people and friends, AG honored her mom’s example of showing the next generation what it looks like to be a citizen activist.

3) Be authentic!

The signs carried into January 21st garnered praise, among friends and around the world, as a brilliant testimony to the freedom of expression we cherish. It has been equally powerful, from my vantage point, to see my friends’ authentic, highly-individual voices emerge in the telling of their Marches.

Authenticity might just offer a key to the resilience of this resistance, something New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Charles Blow alluded to recently.

It explains why avid knitter KB thrilled at Philadelphia’s sea of pink. For her, the pussyhats became a good icebreaker, generating “many smiles of solidarity and several conversations” that day. KB made her hat and wishes she made 10 more, finding them to be a “fantastic option to the MAGA trucker hat, and something that reflects very powerful force of knitters and crafters, who are legion.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/stitch-stitch-history-knitting-activism/

For CS, being true to herself led to a conscious decision to march carrying, not a sign, but the American flag. That choice reflects her firm conviction that “this important symbol needs to be associated with our movement, and not co-opted by values I feel are anti-American. We respect Democracy.”

AG, a career communicator, frames her concern for the times in bold, unapologetic terms, even refusing to utter or write the president’s name. The strength of AG’s voice resounds as she retraces her Nasty Women Walking Team’s route to the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall, invoking the sacred promise of the Statue of Liberty to explain what brought her there. “We are not a country of walls. My America is the home of the free; a melting pot and land of opportunity.”

Along these lines, I witness how AJ’s dismay over neighborhood signs guided her into an important ongoing dialogue between police and community. I sense LB’s life-long rebellious streak and profound sense of right and wrong empowers her efforts in the absence of family support, and perhaps, allowed her to wryly dismiss the angry guy in San Diego, who “put his face an inch from mine and yelled ‘Boo, Women’s Rights.’”

SH is moving forward with a firm commitment to seeking respectful exchanges with those who disagree, in keeping with her belief that “dialoguing and hearing why people hold their views and opinions is important. We need to understand each other.”

With more Marches and citizen actions on the horizon, my voice draws energy from these and many others in the “Resister-Hood.” I am newly emboldened to stake out my own little patch of pavement. To uphold our democratic rights, to welcome the stranger and to help create the Beloved Community. I see myself in CS’s concern for the underdog, in LB’s rebellious streak, in SH’s desire to converse across party lines and in the need to contribute my unique strengths or gifts to the movement. And, since I have long worked as a storyteller, I plan to keep writing about the Resister-Hood until I am ready to March.

Next Up: I consider some of the practical ways women are building advocacy into their day to day. Let me know if you would like to join the conversation.