One could say that America was born from rage and grows from rage. I learned that firsthand at the Women’s March four years ago, when my country was mired in a sea of outrage that reached across the globe. On January 21, 2017, nearly 100,000 people in my hometown of Portland, Oregon participated in one of the largest protests the city had ever seen on a single day. Despite the fury we held, no violence occurred. No arrests were made. And no glass was shattered, except for the glass ceiling pieces lodged in place when the woman who won the majority of votes for the presidency was legally denied the office.
While anger and resentful disgust fueled The Women’s March, joy and inspiration were the prevailing emotions during the actual protest. Any disappointment I had about being born too late for the 1960s cultural revolution evaporated in a sea of powerful women that Saturday afternoon. I went with several friends and we all felt the coherence: chants rising and falling in unison like birds knowing when to shift course; women from every corner of our community forming a sisterhood.
In retrospect, that day may have seeded the renewed activism which helped save democracy in America. Four years ago a door blasted open, and we walked through it.
The rage that prompted the protest stemmed from a single election loss, but in truth, it had been bubbling up for generations. We finally got to the point of “Enough.” And we knew the 45th president would lead us down a destructive path. We knew. We knew the following four years would be a slap in the face to each one of us: a dearth of appointments to women (let alone BIPOC and those who advocate for women’s rights); a giant f*ck you to mothers everywhere as children were ripped from their families at the border; and a president who made no attempt to hide his misogyny, which included many rape accusations. Though we couldn’t prophesy just what it would look like, we knew the backlash against women would happen.
The 2016 election was just another example of the double standard women have tolerated for far too long. And it was a final straw for the current generation of women who realized the system is stacked against them: only this time, the alarm bells reverberated with every other sector of society that deals with ongoing systemic discrimination. The Muslim Ban, the refugees blocked at the border, the Black Lives Matter protests — all served as cacophonous wake-up calls. More and more people came to understand that what befalls some of us affects all of us. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to recognize that the path of success laid out for women and people of color was, in many ways, an illusion of progress.
Stepping into the outrage of the movement inaugurated on January 21, 2017, is not my biggest takeaway from these past four years. The biggest lesson I learned was how to manage the gift of rage. Like a vaccine that uses a tiny amount of the disease it aims to destroy, the rage and toxicity in our culture can serve us if applied in the right dose. Drowning in a constant stream of disgust and doom-scrolling is easy…and deadening. It then necessitates a full unplugging to re-enter the world of the living. But finding the delicate balance has become a skill to hone: where a small tincture of anger fuels organizing, letter writing, phone calls, illuminating conversations, and outright empowerment. Thankfully, plenty of people have mastered the skill, resulting in a record number of women and racially diverse members of Congress being elected only two years after the Women’s March. And today, four years later, we set a new course for our country with a Vice President who is both a woman and a person of color.
It’s still a challenge to let go of my anger and judgment toward people who hold on to an out-of-touch system steeped in racism and sexism. Sometimes it requires martial arts-like concentration. But similar to how my feelings shifted from anger to inspiration while we marched in unison that Saturday in 2017, I try to guide my emotions along a congruent arc. Though it may seem far-fetched, I envision those filled with rage at the values I hold slowly awakening to the idea of a progressive and inclusive future. Maybe a few will even be inspired to join the parade we started four years ago.
I like to think the 2016 election was the wake-up call we all needed, and that some people are simply heavier sleepers who only now are beginning to stir.
My sole regret about the Women’s March was that my daughters weren’t able to share in the experience. But historic moments find a way to burrow into our collective psyche. Recently, that took the form of a beautiful eeBoo jigsaw puzzle. Putting its pieces together reminded me that our work of assembling the big-picture world we live in never ends. And that we all must participate if everyone is to be invested in, and inspired by, the vision being created.
Though no one can predict exactly what the emerging big-picture image will hold, if it were up to me and the women I marched with, we’d paint a future where:
People & Planet take priority over profit;
the health of Mind & Body matter more than the health of a bank account;
We comes before Me;
and we never stop marching toward a better Us.
A version of this article was originally published at BecomingBetterPeople.us, where I share stories to actively build a better Us.