Marches, movements, mixed messages

My anxiety level has remained steady in the range of 5-7 on a 10-point scale in the last week, and it is in no small part due to the political climate. Trump has been inaugurated, and already begun to carry forward his oppressive agenda (see Dakota Access Pipeline, see global restrictions limiting education on abortion, see the slow and steady unveiling of xenophobic restrictions on immigration). Meanwhile, millions of women and femmes all over the country and the globe marched in support of women’s rights as human rights on Saturday; with many women marching in opposition to this new oppressive regime and as a show of solidarity to marginalized groups – women and femmes of color, trans and gender non-conforming folks, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, the list goes on – who bare the brunt of oppression in our nation.

I didn’t march. I had a prior commitment, but it’s hard to say whether I would have if that had not been the case. This article by Jamilah Lemieux captured some of my hesitance. She is not the first to point out that, too often, solidarity is for white women. White women can count on the support of one another in their battles for equal rights, but when it comes to the rights of women and femmes of color, there is often a clear absence of white women in our marches, protests, and rallies. What stake does an educated, middle-class, conservative woman have in the Black Lives Matter movement? None, as far as she is concerned. And so I share Lemieux’s anger and hurt to see white women turning out in droves for the Women’s Marches around the country. Where were they before the election? And what of the 53% of white voting women who cast their ballots for Trump?

I’ve been reading so many different think pieces (linked throughout this post) on the marches and this particular political moment, as the rallying cry to resist grows louder and louder. And I feel like I’m sifting through a lot of mixed messages, trying to understand what posture I am going to have in our continued movements for social change.

One piece I read said that it is a sign of political immaturity to critique, the marches specifically and our movements more broadly, from the sidelines. I struggle with this. There are a myriad of reasons why people do not participate in direct actions, ranging from ability to the need for self-care, and I don’t think that you forfeit your opportunity to offer healthy critique by not participating. But I also hear what the author of the piece is saying regarding the most radical among us disavowing association with the liberals who have yet to be properly radicalized. (Truth be told, I’m probably one of those liberals who is not yet all-the-way radicalized.) We all begin somewhere, and we each need to learn from others in order to deepen our understanding of the root causes of oppression. Our toxic culture reproduces itself by normalizing the ideologies of capitalism and white supremacy. It does little to no good to shame people for not knowing what they don’t know. At the same time, not knowing is a privilege and a luxury not afforded to many of us; you become acutely aware of how an oppressive regime and a toxic white supremacist culture functions when it acts upon you on a daily basis.

There is a photo from Women’s March on Washington that went viral, in which a black woman sucks on a lollipop and holds a sign that says “Don’t forget white women voted for Trump.” Behind her, three white women are blithely engrossed with their phones, presumably taking selfies to commemorate this momentous occasion. I understand and relate to the sentiments she expressed in this interview. While I cannot divine the intent of these three white women, or the thousands of others in pink pussy hats, I can infer from the remarkable turnout that for many, this march was a rare occurrence. It’s difficult for me to swallow my cynical fear that this day will pass through the memory and experience of those who are white, straight, cis, able-bodied, citizens, middle class, privileged, advantaged, as merely a snippet of a virtual scrapbook, a few forgotten images on an Instagram feed. It’s difficult for me to remain hopeful that all those who turned out for the marches will continue to show up.

A dear friend of mine, who has more life experience than I do, both in the movement and in general, put forward a healthy challenge to my initial critiques on the march. She said, “Now more than ever, we need to get really clear on who the enemy is. The women organizing and participating in that march are not the enemy.” She’s right. Now more than ever, we need to establish areas of mutual interest across groups, and guide those who are new to movement work into an understanding that their liberation is bound up in ours. How do we do that? I wish I knew.

Our social movements are not above critique, and we shouldn’t hesitate to name problematic patterns or actions when we see them. Accountability to ourselves and to our principles are both necessary now more than ever. But where is the line between healthy critique and public shaming that alienates potential co-conspirators in the resistance? I am making a commitment, however reluctantly, to myself and to my co-conspirators in the movement, to stay within the bounds of healthy critique, strategic partnership, and uncompromising self-care. And, to avoid the territory of unrelenting cynicism and compassionless shaming. Welcome to the movement. We’ve been waiting on you. There’s much to be done. Let’s continue working.

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