I lost “friends” and sowed some discontent on Facebook when I participated in the Tallahassee Women’s March in January 2017.
That’s fine. We lose connections with people, especially on social media, as our differences become too great to overlook.
However, it has bothered me ever since January 2017. My pro-life friends said, “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there — it wasn’t for all women.” And although I argued that they would have been comfortable, while my friends who had been marching in DC also asserted the activity was for all women, I knew in my heart of hearts that they would not have been at ease.
Two Years Later — a Trip to DC’s March
When a few factors came together to make a trip to New York City possible this year, with the date being up to me, I intentionally chose something that would make it possible to get to DC. My friends, all strong advocates in their own right, and I planned to meet up in DC.
I have zero apologies for participating in the March, or for the positions about which I am most vocal. Yet, it is a challenge when those positions and my choices abut people who are dear to me.
As the time of the Women’s March drew near, friends on Facebook asked for prayers as their teenagers were headed to the March for Life, to be held the day prior to the Women’s March. Of course I wanted those teenagers to be safe, and I admired their adherence to their beliefs, but I felt conflicted.
A Woman’s Place is in the … WHAT?
As my friend Yolanda and I wound our way through the streets of DC, admiring people’s signs and reveling in the shared sense of purpose that our country has to find its way back to some semblance of equity and fairness, our attention was drawn to a group of counterprotesters on the sidewalk. They were there to express their pro-life views. A group of Women’s Marchers had stationed themselves in front of them to try to block their message.
Honestly, I barely looked at them. I was processing things. But I remember Yolanda reading one of their signs: “A woman’s place is in the kitchen.” Their other messages were along the same lines and they were screaming at us about killing babies.
Where in the world is the middle ground?
As the day went on, chatter about the interactions between the students from Covington High School, the Native American Elder and the Black Israelites started to fill Twitter and other news channels. (Here is the BBC’s coverage because it’s virtually impossible to choose objective press about the event here in the US.)
Something in my gut told me to hold off favoriting/sharing on social media. My friend and I were running around, and it was extremely difficult to get a handle on what was happening. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an Indigenous People’s March, much less on the same day as the March for Life.
What I am about to say may be the single most naive thing I’ve ever written in 10+ years of blogging, but here goes:
Choosing to share your side of a situation in a public demonstration is not the time to have any hope of finding middle ground; that happens person-to-person, face-to-face, in our everyday lives. Our living rooms, the vantage point of a parent in a driver’s seat speaking to a kid in the passenger seat being driven to dance, soccer or lacrosse, and hopefully the classroom or place of worship. But not a protest situation.
Here’s how much a parent can control what their teenager does:
(Slight hyperbole alert here):
One of the first things you learn as a parent is that your child is their own person. I always cringe a bit at the “this all starts at home” line of reasoning when a young person does something unaccepting or otherwise meanspirited.
What I do know, however, is that a school that allowed a situation to escalate in the way the Covington situation escalated is probably not one where my children would have remained enrolled very long.
I know, too, that is entirely imperfect as my children’s parents are, they have seen two parents who each tried to model fairness, appreciation of diversity and inclusion.
Social media is misleading
Did you see the picture of Prince William “shooting a bird“? It turns out the truth is in the camera angle.
There are things about the Covington situation that speak their truth beyond the camera angles:
- the body space invasion of Sandmann and Phillips in each other’s personal boundaries
- the MAGA hats
- the chanting
Some authors, such as Andrew Sullivan in the Intelligencer, claim the Covington students were sort of captive (waiting for a bus, at the mercy of the Black Hebrew Israelites). After watching 100 minutes of footage before, during and after the most widely promoted moments Sullivan said, “This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become.”
I appreciate Sullivan’s perspective, yet I tend to align most closely with Average White Guy via Black Girl in Maine, who said, “Wearing a MAGA hat and approaching any person of color, but most particularly Black or Indigenous people of color, is an act of aggression by its very nature.”
Protesting is hard
I feel ridiculous typing “protesting is hard,” because I really don’t know “hard.” As a white, middle-class woman who has definitely gotten everything I need in life and more than my share of what I wanted, I am aware that “hard” is something I do not know.
This is the section where I tell you I don’t know the answer (ha!). It’s the section where I admit that my entire upbringing under a lovely Southern mom was geared toward being polite, not making waves.
When I was at We Won’t Wait 2016, and trans women talked about how they disrupted a panel at a conference, making it impossible for the presenters to continue and essentially holding the entire gathering hostage until someone would let them share their message, my inclination was to say, “but do you know how hard those people worked to make their presentation? The conference fees they paid? The years of research?”
I don’t know the answer, but I also know Rosa Parks didn’t exactly wait until a passenger gave her a seat. At that same conference (We Won’t Wait), a speaker said, “Rosa Parks wasn’t tired of racism … Rosa Parks was TIRED.” (I know she was probably both, but the point was well taken.) The big changes in our society don’t happen quietly or politely. They get people’s attention and make us uncomfortable.
Were the Covington students doing something hard to further a greater social good or doing something self-centered to which they were relatively accustomed to further their own discriminatory agendas?
There’s no talking sense into a fundamentalist
Once I learned more about the Black Hebrew Israelites, I had a better understanding of the elements at play that day. And ultimately, there’s no reasoning with a group that far on the fringes.
Megan Roper, who grew up as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for rigidity and especially for protesting funerals and expressing hatred toward gay people, left that all behind. She now says, ” They [people she met on Twitter who were from outside her church] approached me as a human being and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence.”
Finding the human beings beneath it all
In January 2017, my pro-life friends protested that they would not have felt welcome at Tallahassee’s Women’s March and in January 2019, people I loved marched to espouse the right to life the day before I marched for women’s rights (and other rights) while being yelled at to “get back in the kitchen.” Somewhere in the middle of all that, a group of high school boys from Kentucky came face to face with a Native American Elder while another group of extremists egged everyone on (it appears).
What I can’t reconcile is why no one in that entire mix approached anyone else as a human being. It seems like it would have been more transformative.