'History has shown us that power is taken, never given, so resistance is critical if we don't want our freedom eroded.' (photo: ddp USA/REX/Shutterstock)
The arc of change may be long, but we must keep fighting. Shared values can build momentum, shift culture and even influence policy over time
nitially, I didn’t plan to attend the Women’s March on Washington, slated for the day after the inauguration.
Though a long-time feminist activist and a passionate proponent of nonviolent resistance, I had a long list of reasons I didn’t want to protest on 21 January. At first, I blamed the aftershocks of the terror I felt after realizing that a significant amount of voters willfully chose to affirm hateful rhetoric, xenophobia, corruption and sexually predatory behavior.
Then, I reasoned that my concerns about the march’s shaky inception, initial lack of diverse leadership and a permit were not only a hindrance, but a potential deal breaker.
My mom had other ideas.
She called on a recent Monday at sunrise. “Get ready for a trip to Washington, DC. We’re going to that women’s march,” she said. Mom was a seasoned activist who marched with Dr Martin Luther King in 1963, survived the Orangeburg Massacre and participated in lunch counter sit-ins during segregation. “The election results illustrate how far we need to go. Let’s get to work.”
She’s right. Although the arc of change may be long, I’ve witnessed first-hand how amplifying shared values can build momentum, shift culture and even influence policy over time. Carrying the banner leading 2004’s million-person March for Women’s Lives was my own rite of passage.
Eclipsed only by the exhilaration of marrying my soulmate, the march was one of the greatest days of my life. Even though I participated in activism with family and friends since childhood, working as Planned Parenthood’s national youth organizer for the event defined my trajectory for over a decade. Most importantly, the 2004 march taught me that my voice was powerful and that exercising my hard-won right to free expression and assembly was a birthright my ancestors fought and died for.
That’s why, even though another march to protest similar issues 12 years later may make it look like we haven’t made progress, that isn’t the case. We’re playing a much longer game. As Coretta Scott King said when she spoke years ago at my college: “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
Every time I hear speculation that Trump’s administration will be like the second Bush administration on steroids, I remember that I participated in the formation of a broad coalition of gender justice and civil liberties organizations that mobilized over a million people to oppose attacks on reproductive healthcare and equal rights during a hostile political and cultural climate.
And in the years following that 2004 march, emergency contraception became legal over the counter, more reproductive health and rights organizations integrated intersectional frameworks (with admittedly more work to do), and the Affordable Care Act expanded access to preventative care and contraceptive coverage with no copay. Moreover, we’ve had a pro-choice president for the past eight years, and a trailblazing popular vote winner who famously proclaimed that “women’s rights are human rights”.
And all this happened just in my lifetime. Our foremothers – and my own mother – have been working for decades to set up our recent triumphs. Journalist Ida B Wells insisted on marching with her state in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade, despite the Congressional Women’s Unit’s request that black women march in a segregated group.
Joining the likes of Wells is everyone from the women-led Rosenstrasse Protest in 1940s Berlin to the anti-lynching movement that set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement, to the movement for black lives founded by three black women, to the demonstration at Standing Rock. History has repeatedly shown that dissent through direct action matters – especially for those of us non-billionaires who lack the highest levels of political and financial influence.
Marching won’t guarantee instantaneous change. But history has shown us that power is taken, never given, so resistance is critical if we don’t want our freedom eroded.
My ancestors left us roadmaps for this fight. That why I’ll be descending on the Capitol with thousands of women and our allies on 21 January. The march’s leadership has become more diverse, and they recently secured a permit which would theoretically provide more safety and access for marchers who are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
I’ll be standing for equality, and adding my voice to the chorus calling for accountability, confronting power imbalances and abuse and condemning hate.
Most of all, I hope the reverberation of our voices and those of the people marching in 107 cities worldwide will inspire bystanders to own their power and rise with us. It’s time to earn our generation’s freedom.