Why I Didn’t March

This past Saturday was one of the largest, if not the largest, protest in US history. Despite being 30 minutes from the New York City rally and only a few hours away from D.C., I spent the day cleaning my apartment.

Now I’m no stranger to protest. There is a photo of my older sister in a stroller at a march in the ’70s, patiently holding a sign protesting the wrongful imprisonment of Chol Soo Lee. It is so in my blood that that is probably why I became an Asian American Studies major in college, where it was basically a graduation requirement to attend marches. In fact, one of my fondest collegiate memories is of marching in front of the Beverly Hills home of a sweatshop owner as he hurriedly got ready for church. I’ve seen a march’s effectiveness, galvanizing allies and furthering a cause.

And yet, as people in my young, well-educated, liberal bubble started mobilizing to protest the inauguration of the 45th president, I stood by motionless. Only now that the dust has settled and reality has reasserted its ugly and demoralizing head can I being to understand why.

I’m in denial. Ever since November 9th, I have had one foot in dreamland. Perhaps akin to how the mind blocks out traumatic memories, my mind still has yet to accept the fact of our terrifying new world order. Even while I accidentally caught He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s swearing in ceremony, I became nauseous as if my body was physically rejecting reality.

I’m overwhelmed. At the same time, the part of my brain that understands what is actually happening is paralyzed. So many issues that I care about are being threatened and discarded, so where do I begin? Civil rights, immigration, healthcare, the environment, basic human decency, my heart is being torn into a million different pieces. What would I be marching for? What sign would I make to protest the overall pervading sense of helplessness and dread?

I’m sad. In the face of such helplessness, my soul is weighed down. I was afraid of surrounding myself with thousands of similarly heartbroken people, of letting their anger and rage stoke my own dormant fires. I was afraid of seeing a diversity of causes and reasons to march reminding me of even more threatened issues, feeding my utter sense of helplessness. I was afraid of being around negative attacks and hostility when what I really needed was hope.

And I didn’t know if this was for me. Others have said it more eloquently that I since Saturday, but the march felt like it was for white women. White women were, and still are, angry and afraid, and rightfully so. But the fact remains that I’m a second-generation Korean American Christian male. My reproductive rights are intact. No one is calling for a registry based on my religious practices. And at the same time, did you show up for the massive immigration marches in LA? What sign did you carry for Flint? Where was that same anger and fear when black men and women were being gunned down by police week after week?

But the march happened, and it was a beautiful sight to behold. And now that I stand on the other side, I do not regret my decision. I appreciate that friends and peers kept asking if I was marching. I appreciate that my amazing workplace provided free transport and lodging. I appreciate these things because they all made me choose. Rather than passively passing me by, I had to actively decide not to attend any of the marches. I had to understand myself enough to know why I was saying no.

I think I now understand, and I think I’m ready.

I’m ready to fully face the facts, to seek out objective sources of information.
I’m ready to adopt one issue, one battlefront, where I will focus my energy, influence, and time.
And I’m ready to choose hope.

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