Called To Action

The past year has been monumental for me in terms of the way I see the world, comprehend and respond to events in my community, and stabilize my own beliefs.  The months leading up to November 8th and the events that have followed have been precipitous and unbelievable at times.  During the tumultuous and fierce election, I wholeheartedly supported a strong, intelligent, female presidential candidate whom I had seen repeatedly become the victim of sexist remarks and attitudes, yet who never faltered in her dedication and determination, and I looked forward with excitement and pride to the day when she would become the first female President of the United States, just days after my own daughter was born.  I was then shocked and dismayed as the election results were confirmed.  I was up in the middle of the night feeding my three-day-old baby when I saw the announcement of the election.  I couldn't stop crying as I held my girl.  Was this a joke?  Who could have possibly voted for this man?  How would I ever be able to explain this to my daughter someday?  Is it really true that hard work, perseverance, intelligence, and leadership don't mean anything because inexperienced, arrogant, wealthy white males will always win?  As the reality of our country's situation set in, I have experienced an emotional rollercoaster of fear, anger, sadness, isolation, hopelessness, depression, antagonism, exasperation, fury, and denial.  I didn't know who I could trust, and I still don't know.  I feel unsure of what dangers may be lurking around the corner.  At times I can't comprehend how I can possibly maintain friendships or reach compromises with people who truly thought that an arrogant bigot who abuses women and verbally assaults disabled people could serve as the leader of our great nation.  

The only thing more terrifying than this new President is the silent majority who elected him, the people around the country who thought this would be a good idea, and who caught everyone else by surprise.  What is it that they see in him?  Did they actually like him as a person, or believe any of the lies he has told, or did they just really hate the idea of a woman leader so much that they had to vote for the other person?  Or is the truth that they really despised having eight years of a black leader to such an extent that they crave the exact antithesis?  These questions have been so hard to cope with over the past few months.  

But let me back up a few steps to the true beginning of this journey for me.  I was raised in a female-dominated household and have always believed in the balance of responsibilities in a relationship.  I have an advanced education and a good career, I participate in many independent hobbies and activities, I have my own bank account, I make enough money to support myself, and I always envisioned balancing the meal preparation and childcare responsibilities with my husband.  But despite these beliefs, I don't know that I would have called myself a feminist a few years ago, primarily because of the negative connotation that this strong word implies.  I don't hate men.  I don't believe in a dominant gender.  I don't think the world would be a better place with all females in leadership roles.  I believe there needs to be a balance.  And frankly, I enjoy wearing high heels and allowing someone to hold the door for me once in a while, and sometimes feminism implies a lack of appreciation for chivalry.  So was I really a feminist?  It's all about semantics.  Last summer my book club read Gloria Steinem's newest book, My Life On the Road, in which Gloria describes her experiences traveling around the U.S., working on various campaigns, and meeting lots of interesting people along the way.  The book, which is part of Emma Watson's feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, got me thinking about feminism and what it means today, especially in the midst of our current political climate and societal issues, and I have come to understand the importance of embracing the feminism movement and absolutely claiming this title.  I realized that feminism isn't just about women's issues, and that women's issues aren't just about women, but about society in general, and when we have inclusive policies and an atmosphere that supports women's rights, we have a social construct that supports people's rights.  It can start in the home by praising girls for their efforts and talents instead of just their looks, by allowing children to express themselves through whichever gender they best identify with, by teaching kids that they are in control of their own bodies, and by discussing racism and politics at the dinner table and encouraging dialogue.  Feminism in a broader sense encompasses racial equality, access to services, freedom to practice one's religion of choice, supporting families and allowing them to succeed, promoting women in the workforce, and raising kind, well-rounded children.  Feminism supports women of all races, religions, ages, industries, marital statuses, sexual orientations, and social classes, and feminism fights against bigotry, xenophobia, and ignorance.  Under the new, evolving definition, how can any female in this country (or any male who cares about family success and human rights) not call oneself a feminist?  

I have also reflected quite a bit on discrimination and what it really means to people in our country.  It's not just about skin color, but about institutional power.  Discrimination is a two-way street in that it creates disadvantages for some people while making success easier to achieve for others, and I don't think I stopped to consider the second part of this before.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  In 2008 I was filled with hope and optimism for America when we elected a black President, despite the racism and close-mindedness that still exist in some parts of our country.  I thought to myself that maybe racism really was on the decline.  Maybe Americans truly are capable of setting aside individual differences and doing what's best.  We welcomed who would become the best President so far in my lifetime, with the most compassionate, beautiful and intelligent first lady.  But now, in 2017, I have become aware of the so-called "Obama effect," which Kareem Abdul-Jabaar describes in his new book, Writings on the Wall:  "Though the country gave itself a well-earned pat on the back for electing a black man to the presidency, the systemic racism in the country seemed to get worse.  It was as if some people figured, 'We just proved we're not racist by electing Obama; now we're free to continue to deny equal education, job opportunities, voter access and whatever else is on our agenda.'"  Racism and the fear of things and people who are different from ourselves still continue to prevail in our country, as evidenced by this recent election.  I felt so much sadness to say goodbye to the Obama family in the White House, a family with so much grace, dignity, intelligence and personality, and I experience fear over what the future will hold.  I ask myself, is racism really getting worse, or does it just seem that way when we realize how far we still have to go?  

Now, more than ever before, I feel called to stand up against racism and discrimination.  Now is the time to speak up.  In many ways my demographic group failed the American public as over 50% of white women voted for Trump (I have been avoiding saying his name, "He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named"), but it is not over and all is not lost.  It is only the beginning.  I feel called to defend what I believe, to support my ideas with facts, to encourage intelligent conversation and hold people accountable to the truth even if that means confrontation and discomfort (which is a big step for someone who usually claims to be a peacemaker and compromiser).  America is great because of its freedom, opportunity, and acceptance, and yet we now are faced with a completely un-American situation in which freedom is being infringed upon, opportunities are being taken away from specific groups of people, and the President is refusing to accept immigrants and refugees from several countries that are predominantly Muslin.  Abdul-Jabaar reflects in Writings on the Wall"On the one hand, we see ourselves as the great international melting pot that welcomes huddled masses of all religions and ethnic backgrounds. On the other hand, we are terrified that too much diversity mixed in the pot will dilute our white Christian majority. Resulting American stew might be a little darker in appearance and a little less likely to display a Nativity scene at Christmas."  

Ignoring discrimination, allowing people to get away with inaccurate statements, only perpetuates the problem.  I feel called to educate myself on both sides of the story, and to read as much as I can.  In Obama's farewell address, he illuminated the fact that Americans retreat into our comfortable bubbles, only accepting information that is consistent with our beliefs instead of forming our beliefs based on the information that is out there, and I think people on either side of the political spectrum are guilty of this type of confirmation bias, succumbing to "echo chambers" on social media.  I find myself becoming emotionally charged at times, reciprocating arguments and highlighting ignorance, yet I also am learning that this is a war fought with education and true facts, and I remind myself that kindness is the message and acceptance is what makes my side win against the other.  

The past week has been surreal, and terrifying, and way too reminiscent of Nazi Germany and authoritarian China and other circumstances that are absolutely un-American.  Trump has already, within just a few days, offended the CIA, lied to the American public, disrespected the press, and appointed people to key positions who are just as unqualified and hypocritical as himself.  Within a week there are discussions of decreased funding for healthcare organizations that provide education about abortion, censoring of media that mentions the truths of climate change, threats about actually building The Wall, actions taken toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, and countless other travesties that make me feel as if we have literally traveled backwards in time (and not to happier or simpler days).  If Trump's obtuseness and arrogance both during his Inauguration Address and his speech at the CIA Memorial Wall are any indication of what we have to look forward to in the next four years, then it's going to be a bumpy ride.  The threat of repealing Roe v. Wade is real.  The threat of worsening racism and increased frequency of hate crimes is real.  The prevalence of sexual discrimination is real, because maybe people feel more welcome to express their discriminatory opinions when our President feels free to do the same.  Moreover, this so-called leader is incapable of seeing another perspective, of welcoming healthy discourse, or of connecting with those who are different from himself.  Roger Angell in The New Yorker last Sunday summed it up: "I can't imagine him listening to anyone like me without taking our disagreement personally.  I have become a bad guy and a loser and should expect to be insulted or attacked in return.  This still shocks me and makes me sorry for us all, and even a bit sorry for him.  He has been deprived of comity - the creaky old word, which embodies courtesy and neighborly awareness, fits here - which leaves him isolated indeed and deprives us of a trustworthy leader."  

Despite the fear and insecurity that pervades America right now, I felt inspired and uplifted by the success of last Saturday's Women's March on Washington.  Women and families from cities all of the U.S. and the world came together in peaceful protest, from Washington DC, New York and Boston, to Santa Fe, Austin and St. Paul, and from Berlin, Helsinki and Vienna, to Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Tel Aviv.  Marching in the Santa Fe event and seeing the photos pouring in from around the world, I experienced hope for the first time in a while.  It was very clear that our political situation is not just a national issue, but a problem affecting the entire world.  Young girls proudly waved signs demanding a safe and protected future, mothers like myself carried their babies through the streets, elderly women marched (or powered their wheelchairs, in some cases) to proclaim their support of feminism, and perhaps most impressive of all was the presence of men who weren't afraid to stand up for human rights and equality.  My husband and I have never discussed political issues or societal inequalities at home like we have the past few months, and I felt so much love and pride toward him and toward my other male friends who participated in the march.  Feminism isn't about being female, and women's rights are human rights.  People marched on behalf of women's issues and reproductive freedom, but also for LGBT rights, solutions to climate change, equality in the workplace, racial equality, better education, rights for prisoners, and assistance for those in poverty.  In addition to these issues, there were also plenty of anti-Trump, anti-discrimination, anti-violence, and anti-hatred messages.  Perhaps the greatest feat of all was that the march remained peaceful.  

This was my personal statement on why I chose to march:  

"Today I march as a Woman, so that I may be protected from violence and have control over my body.
Today I march as a Friend, because everyone in the LGBTQ community is perfect, and black lives matter.
Today I march as a Healthcare Provider, so that everyone may have access to affordable, compassionate healthcare.
Today I march as a Mother, so that my daughter may live in a world that accepts all people regardless of their differences and where her voice matters.
Today I march as a lifelong Student and the daughter of Educators, so that we can find solutions to problems of crippling student loan debt, and we may live in a country that supports quality education for all children, especially those with physical or mental disabilities.
Today I march as an Employee, so that someday women will have paid maternity leave and equal salaries.
Today I march as an Environmentalist, so that we may have clean air and protect our planet from the harms of climate change.
Today I march as a Human, because women's rights are human rights and Love Trumps Hate."

While the March on Washington brought hope and inspiration to people around the world, it wasn't enough to make a lasting change.  I anticipate that there will be ongoing battles, if not every day then probably every week.  I feel commissioned to seek out the facts, call out ignorance, and not back down.  I joined the efforts of the "10 actions in 100 days" campaign, I wrote postcards to my Senators, and donated money to the Human Rights Campaign and National Organization for Women.  I believe in Planned Parenthood.  I feel supported by my family and close friends with whom I see eye to eye, because we are all in this together, and only by supporting one another and leaning on each other will we survive the next four years (praying with all our might that this doesn't last a minute longer).  We are probably aware that despite our best efforts, it may not be enough.  Four years may be sufficient time to erase 30+ years (or 50+ years) of history and progress.  But all we have to fight with is what we have.  
As John Cassidy from The New Yorker wrote, "Perhaps the trepidation and fear over Trump taking over as President will turn out to have been overdone. Let us hope so. But there can be no doubt that these feelings are genuinely held, and not just in the United States. Around the world, there is still astonishment that such an inexperienced, volatile, and disruptive figure could become America’s President. Indeed, Trump’s elevation has raised foundational questions not just about the future of democracy in this country but about the entire American-led global order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War."  


This is only the beginning.  Ongoing fear and unanswered questions remain.  What will the future hold for my daughter, and who will her role models be?  Who will emerge as a leader in this fight against bigotry and discrimination?  Two days after the March on Washington I saw a photo captioned: "A woman takes a selfie with Sen. John McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol."  That "woman" is actually Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has been serving in Congress since 2007.  This was just too perfect.  Too predictable.  And confirmed everything that we need to continue to fight for.  

I could go on, but I will end with this: I recently read Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things, a powerful and relevant novel about racial identity and prejudice, the title of which comes from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way."






Comments

  1. Betsy! Such eloquent words, you've chosen, to convey your heartfelt emotions. I appreciate all of your concerns which have inspired you to express yourself with such fervor!
    Consider, if you will, that perhaps a great contingency may have voted, not against a woman, nor even a person. Instead they voted against the "Status Quo".
    I suspect there are plenty whom will think me nieve. Perhaps I am. I like to believe that, no matter who is elected PODUS, our country is and remains the greatest democracy on the planet. Just maybe this podus will turn out to be the glue that binds. Intentionly, or not, he appears to have an uncanny ability to cause our law makers, on either side of the aisle, to re examine their approach to getting things done in a way that will best serve their constituency, rather than themselves or just their party. This podus has the potential to get Washington DC working again, if only by default, if not intentionally.
    For so long the tapestry that is our wonderful country has been fragmented like a folkart quilt whose panels have become frayed and seperate. We can hope that we, as our own quilters, and those quilters, which we have deemed to D.C., will heed our collective call, to compermise, in order to serve ALL Americans, as each has sworn, regardless of our affiliations. I believe we are witnessing the cohesive thread which has begun to, not only prevent the further tattering, but is also reconnecting the quilted panels of our fabulous American tapestry, for the world to see!
    Betsy, thank you for your involvement in our patriotic conversation. Thank you for being conscientious for all. You are certain to be a positve inspiration at a most opportune time. I know that you have, certainly, been inspirational for me. God bless you! Keep writing!

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