Jan 17

Reflections on the Woman’s March

On Saturday I stood with a crowd of 15,000 or so individuals at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

It was pretty amazing to stand with so many people and to know that there were marches like this all over the country and the world.

I felt a sense of hope. A sense that united together we were showing how many people care and will stand against hateful rhetoric from the man who was elected our president and the individuals in the US Senate and House of Representatives. That we will, when tested, stand up for our sisters and brothers of color, our Muslim friends, those who we don’t know who come from countries far and wide striving for the same freedoms my ancestors from Poland gained when fleeing from oppressive regimes. That we will stand and fight for fundamental access to health care, reproductive rights and free speech. That we will use our white power to protect, support, and defend the social justice issues that are what really make America great.

We stood together on that day as a crowd of majority white people. Many of us privileged in many ways. As women of color, Muslims, Lakota and migrant workers spoke, we cheered and clapped. Migrant Workers at Woman's March in Montpelier, VTWe listened to song from Nicole Nelson. We were stunned and amazed by Muslim Girls Making Change, we listened in rapt attention when Ebony Nyoni challenged us with #blacklivesmatter. We cheered in support when migrant justice workers asked if we would stand with them. We offered our applause for Rep. Kiah Morris. We stood in solidarity with Mary Gerisch as she spoke eloquently for native rights. We cheered loudly as Vermont’s teacher of the year, Rebecca Eun Mi Haslam spoke about the importance of education in a democracy.

There were whites who spoke as well, representing politics, choice, history, LGBTQ, and social justice views — Lt. Gov. Zuckerman, Sue Minter, Meagan Gallager of Planned Parenthood, and former Gov. Madeline Kunin, Linda Quinlan of Rainbow Umbrella and a passionate young woman from high school Greta Hardy-Mittell.

And of course there was Bernie.

I have been thinking a great deal about that day. I have been asking myself important questions such as why are we so proud that this was a peaceful march? As I read my Twitter feed and listened to people of color and native Americans I realized that while we did something amazing that day, because it was majority white in many areas, it was peaceful — not because white people are more peaceful (far from that) but more because law enforcement expects us to be more peaceful and “law abiding” so they showed up in pink hats and smiles, rather than riot gear and snarls.

I questioned myself. Will I REALLY STAND UP when it is time? Or will I retreat into my privilege, into my bubble, into my whiteness and just keep on going through my day because I can. Because I’m white. Because I’m baptized Catholic. Because I “fit in” to the definition of “American” being enforced so blatantly by our new President and his administration and the republican-led Congress.

As I was brought to tears by Muslim Girls Making Change. As I thought passionately about how I would support Kiah Morris. As I nodded my head vigorously in support of #blacklivesmatter. As I stood in witness of the migrant workers specifically asking us if we would protect them if needed….

A question kept slipping around my brain.

Would I? These individuals had the courage to stand in front of us. This huge white crowd. I am in awe of their courage. Their every day courage in the face of ignorance, fear and hatred. And I asked myself…will I REALLY stand with them? Will I stand BETWEEN them and help protect them?

All week I’ve been thinking about this.

What will I do besides march?

So far I’ve written one blog post, this post, emailed Sen. Sanders, Sen. Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch. I’ve posted content on my office window to help students use a new tool “5calls.org“. I’ve reached out to my local reps in Vermont because states will be the front lines. I’ve tweeted a lot. I’ve posted on Facebook.

Is it enough?

Well based on the news today, it looks like we will all get the opportunity to stand up and take action based on what we pledged last Saturday. In just one week the President of the United States and his team have begun to lock down this country and frighten people — and perhaps the worse at this point is what has happened to our friends and neighbors who have green cards who are not allowed back in this country because of their nationality and religion. This is not America.

So now we have our chance.

I for one am committed to writing and calling and getting into #goodtrouble. I’ve asked myself the questions and I know that if I am to look myself in the mirror I will not be silenced nor will I stop standing up for what is fundamentally American — FREEDOM.

Jan 17

Choosing Priorities in a Time of Uncertainty

Well it’s been coming. We’ve seen it coming. And yet, in a conversation with a dear friend today, she summed it up, “I think I’ve been in denial.”

Change is never easy. Even though our lives change all the time. We transition from one life stage to the next. We move from elementary school to middle school. From middle school to high school. From high school to college. From student to adult. From child to parent.

And every four to eight years we change leaders in our country. Depending on your point of view that change can be “good” or it can be “bad”.  Sometimes it’s not that much of a change at all.

This time though, going from the 44th POTUS to the 45th POTUS is like plunging yourself into freezing cold water after you’ve been in a nice hot bath. It’s a shock. I think this is for several reasons. At the most basic it is because the values and mission of the two men is so completely different. They are Americans. That they have in common. After that, their life experiences, what they hold dear, and how they approach others and the world is pretty much as big a difference as Black and White (and yes I did that on purpose).

So what to do now?

Well tomorrow I march. I will be attending the #womensmarchvt.

I am writing more. Writing very intentionally. Like this post.

And I’m setting my priorities.

In a time of uncertainty when it feels like ALL THE THINGS must be dealt with AT ONCE and you are receiving messages about ALL THE THINGS, and people you are connected with are freaking out, it’s hard to know what to do. It actually just might be easier to hide in a corner and avoid all the icky things.

As a professor I’m encountering a great deal of uncertainty from my students. While I have some who are clearly supportive of this change — whether or not they agree with the rhetoric that has happened — I have many others who have only known one president and have been able to gain great rewards because of this president as they have come to college. The least of which is being able to remain on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26!

So while this leadership change is hard for me, because I believe and have supported many of the social justice initiatives set forth by the Obama Administration, it is even harder for the students I teach. And on a side-note don’t waste my time by trying to convince me that colleges are coddling our students. If you make that statement I would encourage you to think carefully and critically about the influence of parenting on whether or not a young person comes to college needing to be “coddled”. My students are strong, thoughtful, caring, passionate, and worried. But for them, this was their first real presidential election where they could actually participate. And the rhetoric was by far the worst I have ever seen it — so I can only imagine what they are coping with.

I realize though, that because I’ve been through this type of change before, I actually know what to do. My students, however do not. So what follows is my advice to my students…and others…who are overwhelmed by the changes coming and don’t know what to do about it.

Step 1: Prioritize. You cannot and should not try to stay on top of all of the issues that are going to be impacted by this change. While this is hard to do, now is the time to focus in on two or three of the most important to you. Yes issues of climate change, human rights, health care, trade, education, land management, world aggression are all important — but given the scope of the change we are now in the midst of, you’ve got to hone in on what you really believe in. What you value. Be confident that there are others around you who are focusing in on the other areas. For me it is:

  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Women’s Rights

That doesn’t mean I don’t think climate change isn’t important, it is just that I value education, health care and women’s rights as social justice issues and feel they will need a lot of attention, and voice.

Step 2: Stay Informed. Avoid talk shows and pundits. Rather, find several places where you can go to get unbiased reports of legislation. I recommend @housefloor and @senatefloor on Twitter because it reports what is happening throughout the day. Use C-Span to watch and gather information and visit the Congressional Record. I also believe strongly in a non-profit press so highly recommend ProPublica and here in Vermont, VTDigger.

Step 3: Take Action. It’s a simple fact that our Senators and Representatives will listen when we CALL. If we like what they are doing we need to let them know. If we do not like what they are doing we need to let them know. You can do this by engaging in protest (as I’m doing in Montpelier on Jan. 21), you can do this by sharing content on social media, and you can do this by actually engaging with your elected officials — whether or not you actually voted for them. Your Senators and Representatives often have forms you can fill out on their websites, but don’t be afraid to actually dial your phone and speak to a human.

Step 4: Be resilient, be resolute, be ready for the long haul. I take inspiration from individuals who really know what it is like to fight, again and again for equal rights and for social justice. The rhetoric of this election cycle has been horrible and has set a tone that each of us must fight against. I look to the wise words of Rep. John Lewis to keep me focused. Who do you look to?

“Fifty years later, those of us who are committed to the cause of justice need to pace ourselves because our struggle does not last for one day, one week or one year, but it is the struggle of a lifetime, and each generation must do its part,” Lewis said. “There will be progress, but there will also be setbacks. We must continue to have hope and be steeled in our faith that this nation will one day become a truly multiracial democracy.”

And with that….I’ve got a march to get ready for.