Why I March

Washington DC march 2017-13It’s been a while since this blog has seen any action. The last post was right before the election, and you know how that turned out. The months since have been spent reflecting on what’s going on in our country, anticipating the work ahead, and just being human, doing stuff like going to work, keeping up with the laundry, feeding the dogs. And I even had some adventures, but Aislinn beat me to the punch getting them in the BDN.

Last Saturday I was in Washington DC, participating in the Women’s March on Washington. The question of the day, the question every reporter doing woman on the street interviews was asking was ‘ Why are you marching?” #WhyIMarch became a thing, as women posted their reasons for participating across the country. It was a question I didn’t have a good answer for. My bus seat partner on the ride down was reporting for a central Maine newspaper, and shot some cringe worthy video of me incoherently trying to explain myself. I was literally on the bus on the way to Washington, and though I knew I wanted to be there, I wasn’t really sure why.

Washington DC march 2017-4Hindsight, the benefit of a couple of days of reflection, and a couple of good nights of sleep have helped me come to an answer, in retrospect. Another name for a march or protest is a demonstration. I went to Washington to demonstrate my willingness to work to make the world a better place, to put my body among crowd to be counted, to show the law makers of this country just how many of us are paying attention.

I marched for another simple reason. The number one rule for getting shit done is showing up. We have shit to get done. It is abundantly clear (and every hour that passes on this stormy day four of the new administration it gets clearer). I went to Washington to show up for work.

Washington DC march 2017-9I marched to be part of history. These times feel unprecendented, at least in my lifetime (looking back across the arc of history of course this is nothing new—that is why knowing history is so important, but it is new to me). Suddenly everything seems stark and clear, and the rebirth of feminism, from the smoldering ashes of the backlash of the past 20 or more years is not a moment too early. We are in Feminism 3.0 (or is it 4.0? or 5.0?), a movement that in the current vernacular, is intersectional. Feminism isn’t about just white women anymore, nor is it just about reproductive rights, birth control, or equal pay. The tent is big, there is room for Black Lives Mattering, LGBTQI concerns, Indigenous rights, evidence based science, education, immigrants, refugees, disability rights… We have to do this together. Hillary was right (no matter what your feelings are on her candidacy, and obviously this idea did not originate with her), we ARE stronger together. No one single group can do this on its own. That old aphorism united we stand, divided we fall? It’s true, and it’s taken the current situation to make that apparent and real.

Washington DC march 2017-2At the same time that we are all intersecting, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that we can’t each do it all. That’s what was paralyzing me after the election. I felt completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and couldn’t begin to conceptualize where to start. We’ve got to choose some places to focus our individual energies, while at the same time keeping our eyes on the big picture, and supporting our fellow intersectional feminists with respect. I’m a scientist, so I am especially interested in promoting evidence based decision making and continued funding for research. I’m the daughter of American manufacturing, so I am interested in strong labor unions, and the transformation of opportunity for the working class. I’ve lived on the razors edge of life without health insurance, so I am interested in ensuring that we all have affordable access to health care. The personal is the political, now as much as it ever has been.

Washington DC march 2017-7Yes, this is complicated. Yes we do not all share the same privilege. Yes, many of us have a right to be angry about that, even angry at each other. What I hope is that the goal, a country where black men can move freely without fear of police assault, where Muslim immigrants and refugees can walk down the street free from harassment by their fellow townspeople, where working class people of all colors find environmentally sustainable and fulfilling economic opportunities, insert your lofty social goal here, is big enough to carry us forward together, and helps us learn from each other, recognize where we wound each other and heal those wounds. I think that if we are all trying to do the best we can, and are open to learning from each other, we can’t help but get somewhere. This web post is an excellent introduction to how to approach this territory for those who haven’t been here before.

The question becomes what to do next. The distance between individual actions (call your Senator! Vote!) and the mass movement of a world wide march feels like a chasm. How do we fill that middle ground, and with what? Clearly we have to come together at the community level and organize, but I don’t know exactly what that looks like. It’s feeling terribly out of control right now—action alerts are coming fast and furious, emails and Facebook posts to call Senator X now! There is no time to check “is this real? Is it current?” No time to read the onslaught of good journalism, as evidenced by the dozens of tabs open in my web browser, just waiting for me to read them. Already groups are popping up online—friends and neighbors trying to organize this next level. The coming weeks and months will tell. It is daunting and exciting and nervewracking all at once.

Washington DC march 2017-10And (nerd alert: Tolkien** references ahead) I feel so much like Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. They spend most of the trilogy trying to convince him to be the king, and he’s all “no, I don’t want to be the king, I left that path, I’m just a ranger”. But all the while somewhere inside he knows “shit, I am the king”, and by the end he steps up. I can empathize. I’d really rather not have to do this. It would be so much easier not to step up to the plate (not to be a king, just to offer some leadership). I’m really just a Hobbit at heart, and not one of the ones who leaves the Shire for adventures (I’m one of the ones who stays home and tends a garden and drinks ale). But, I’m in a position to rise to the challenge. With privilege comes responsibility (is that super paternalistic? Please call me out on that if it is—I’m still trying to figure all this out, and I’m trying to do the best I can, but outside perspectives are the fast track to doing so).

They call us precious snowflakes. But perhaps they’ve forgotten what you call it when a bunch of snowflakes get together and head in the same direction.

An avalanche.

Get ready folks, winter’s here.

**Yep Tolkien is fraught with white imperial imagery—very few women represented in the stories, the framing of the people who sided with the bad guys as people of color…but those themes, the themes so much of art and literature grapples with, they still inform us.

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.