A Moderate’s Elizabeth Warren Moment
I attended both the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and the Tax March in Austin, Texas. Since I was brought up in a Republican family and cast my first vote for President of the United States for Richard Nixon, taking part in these marches was a big deal.
The big deal for me was not ideological or even political. In presidential elections, I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats and consider myself a moderate-progressive Independent. I have voted for winning and losing candidates. Until this year, however, win or lose, I was never fearful for our democracy. But in the days following the 2016 presidential election, all I could think about was how fragile our democracy suddenly felt and how irresponsible it would be to sit on the sidelines. It was time for me to step up as an active citizen.
The big deal for me was fear about reactions I might face when people in my small Texas town found out that I had marched. Fourteen years ago, I moved to this small town in Lavaca County, Texas, to be near my aging parents. My mother’s ancestors settled here when they immigrated from Germany, so our family roots here run deep. Even so, I am still — and probably will always be — considered an outsider by those who were born here. I am even more an outsider because I voted for Barack Obama and did not vote for Donald Trump.
In the days leading up to and immediately following the election, I got a good look at what that meant when I heard very fine people say unbelievably mean things about Hillary Clinton and those who voted for her. I could only imagine what people would say about me when the word got out that I had traveled to D.C. for the Women’s March and continued my activism with the Tax March.
I decided to go to D.C. but keep my attendance a secret. I knitted a dozen hats over four weeks and gave hats to the three friends I confided in so they could join me in spirit. I told my book club friends, my yoga class, and our dog-sitter that my husband and I were going to Memphis, Tennessee, for the weekend to see old friends and attend a basketball game. I did indeed go to Memphis, and my husband did indeed attend a basketball game. But I then got on a bus with my former across-the-street neighbor to begin the 15-hour bus ride to D.C.
It was only once I was in D.C. that I discovered that I wasn’t so alone in my concern and got enough courage to post some photos of the Women’s March on my Facebook page, knowing that in doing so, word would get out. Because I posted those photos, I discovered that another woman from my town was also in D.C. A few days after I returned home, I called her to introduce myself. Within a week, we were hosting our first Indivisible meeting around my kitchen table. I told the small group assembled at my home that night that I was fearful that I would be shunned. People understood but said that they admired my courage.
I had steeled myself for that uncomfortable conversation I was sure would come — who knows where or when — when someone confronted me and challenged me about why I marched. I had some responses rehearsed and ready to go, as I know I’m not very good on my feet when someone confronts me. I would say that I gave the decision to march a lot of thought and would be happy to talk about the experience if the person was interested. I would say that democracy thrives when there is informed dissent and respectful dialogue. I would say that I would be marching even if Donald Trump was a Democrat. I thought I was prepared.
On April 15, 2017, I attended the Tax March in Austin with my new friend and Indivisible co-leader and my adult daughter, who had attended the Houston Women’s March. We made signs the night before. Mine was about keeping promises. My daughter’s signs were more clever — with a pun about Trump’s relationship with Putin. We stood in the shade of a big tree near the front of the crowd at the Texas Capitol. The crowd was smaller, but the spirit was the same as at the Women’s March in D.C. It was peaceful and polite, but the resolution and determination in the air were just as strong.
We stopped for tacos on the way home and talked about the importance of continuing to show up. We wished the crowd had been bigger; but after all, it was the day before Easter. We hoped that peaceful protests would continue and talked about other issues that would compel us to participate.
A week later I had finished a delicious bowl of gumbo at our town’s annual Fiddler’s Frolic and was heading into the hall to listen to music when a longtime family friend stopped me to say hello. This is someone I admire and appreciate — one of those wonderful friends who stepped forward after my Dad died in an accident and helped me with some early tasks. So I was surprised when our conversation quickly turned a corner.
He asked if I had gone to D.C. and then began chastising me for not supporting Donald Trump now that he is President. He said that he did not care about Trump’s tax returns. He lectured me about demonstrations and told me to read some history. He said that I am now part of a movement that history proves will begin a civil war. In spite of my preparation, I was at a loss for words. I have since struggled with how this conversation went. I am sorry that it was this person who was the first to step forward with such a direct challenge. I am sorry that I am now feeling more on guard when family friends greet me at public gatherings. I am sorry that there is such a gulf between our realities.
But with this sorrow is even more clarity and resolve. I do care about tax returns and fear-mongering. I do believe that people’s participation in our democracy makes it stronger. I do know — from reading history and watching what has happened in my lifetime — that peaceful demonstrations can be a powerful agent of change. And I will not be told to sit down and be quiet. I will persist. I have had my own Elizabeth Warren moment.