Yesterday I took my six-year-old son and we took the Metro down to the March For Our Lives. If the first Women’s March was cathartic and the second energizing, then this march was inspiring. Beyond inspiring. There weren’t words. This march was far more intersectional than the Women’s March. Though my little pocket I happened to march with was quite diverse (by chance, I went with another white suburban mom to the first and with my husband to the second) overwhelmingly it was…embarrassingly white. My friend Danielle and I even remarked on it as we applied gold glitter uterus tattoos to our cheeks and carried our INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM NOW posters printed from the ACLU.
It was cliche. Don’t get me wrong it was a life-changing experience, for me and nothing can negate that. Not even self-reflection.
I came home from the march yesterday, emotionally exhausted. As Emma Gonzalez stood on stage silent first we were quiet, then the weeping began spreading through us, people took care of one another, many holding strangers as they became emotional, a man behind me in a blue do-rag covered his face with his sign, to hide emotion. I held my baby to me and just cried. Someone down the way began chanting “Vote them out!” And that spread for bit, but then we quieted again, peace signs for the older generation and Katniss tributes from the teens (and me cause, hello? Girl power) starting going up, along tears as we rode the roller coaster of being among almost a million people held captive in silence by gun violence.
Of course, I went on Twitter because is anything really real if it’s not on twitter? I saw tweet after tweet saying “Where were you when black kids were taking to the streets? ” and ” We have been protesting this shit for years, where were you?” The authors were filled with rage, and that rage is righteous.
It was a gut punch. Because I was not there. And the truth hurts. I’m an extremely progressive liberal. I write op-eds, everyone knows I am a loud mouth Nasty Woman and knows where I stand. I donate money and time to causes I believe in. I write letters and postcards and call my reps I have hard conversations with family and friends, I vocally call our racism and demand our media do better.
But still, where was I? I was at home with my kids.
When Baltimore erupted after the murder of Freddie Gray I could have been there in 30 minutes. But I wasn’t. Sure, I was tweeting like crazy, amplifying black voices and sobbing with fury but I was not there.
I wasn’t on the street. It wasn’t until the Women’s March that I took to the street, it’s my regular thing now..but before? Nah. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, possibly the capital of political navel-gazing, there were always protestors on the greens of the County Courthouse and I thought they were pathetic. As a teen I thought, get a job, hippies! When I moved to the Bay Area we didn’t protest, we partied. In Los Angeles? We worked…and partied. No protesting. I hadn’t thought of protests in decades and protestors to me meant white people in dreds and tie-dye banging drums on the idyllic courthouse lawn. Get a job. and wash your hair.
But then…Trump happened and though I was involved in progressive causes, suddenly the America I had taken for granted, was in my face sliding away. Just like that, I was marching.
But my America was, always had been different from others. While I knew it intellectually, peripherally, now I felt it viscerally. “We will survive this!” people say, and I think “People haven’t survived this already”
Awareness is a funny thing, I was aware before…but there are layers and layers and layers of awareness. Each one aches because how could I have NOT known before? We are only as aware as the information we have access too and I had more access than most, but still, there were atrocities happening right under my nose and I had no idea.
None of this is an excuse, or an attempt to center myself, or whitewash it. It is my mea culpa.
I grapple now, in this time of labor pains amongst us on how to speak out the right way. How do I do it without centralizing myself? How do we step up and speak out without inadvertently assuming the white savior role? (Can you hear the smallest violin playing for me?)
The landscape is changing and that is a good thing, and (cry me a river) sometimes it’s hard to get it right. For instance, I had been using POC and was corrected and told to use black people when talking about, you know, black people. I was embarrassed but I have no ego about this so, easy breezy. Using the right nomenclature for any group is a given once you know what is right. I was wrong, that’s an easy fix.
But reconciling the past, and having NOT shown up….that’s much harder. All the past. From the dawn of my ancestors landing her in 1631. That, is much, much harder. And I’ve decided the only way is brutal honesty. With myself, and with my kids. About everything.
So, where was I? Sure, this march was planned and I had time to put it on my calendar while many are not and I’d need someone to watch the kids and blah blah blah…or are there other marches planned and I am not tapped into where they are being publicized?
Whatever it is the brutal truth is I didn’t show up for Freddie Gray because I was scared. Not of the protestors, but of how the police treat the protestors. I can see with my own eyes how they roll out the military vehicles and escalate the situation. And I am scared of that. I am a coward. Because of course, every single person who is on the ground in Baltimore, in Ferguson, in Sacramento just this week is also scared. But they’ve been marching for their lives for centuries and that will to survive, to be heard, is stronger than fear.
I know that now in the safest and sweetest of ways. I have been gently lowered into marching for our lives, coddled by cops who smiled at me, and people who welcomed me. I never felt in danger at any of the marches I’ve attended and only once has a cop so much as snapped at someone near me. Yesterday I watched the National Guard take selfies at their tank-like car parked to block the street. It was, in a word, adorable.
But tank-like cars like that have plowed right down streets of protestors before and will again. And I think we know why.
So where was I? Scared as shit of being run over by those tanks. And that is no excuse.
It is no small thing that the path to this protest filled with cute white kids, from a good school district leading the charge is paved with cute black kids who were ignored, many also from good school districts. They sounded the call and we did not, could not or worse, would not hear.
I’m so fucking ashamed of us and so sorry.
I saw the media show picture after picture of cute white kids holding signs and I thought…I was there. There were TONS of black kids, kids of all colors and ethnicities, with yarmulkes, with turbans, kufis, hijabs all with amazing signs. Media, can you be bothered to showcase them?
The kids are not going to wait for us to get this right, as evidenced from the March yesterday. They’re not going to let us get away with showcasing only white kids. Working to protect only white kids.
I am sorry.
Perhaps the best way for us to reach some goodwill is for people who look like me to show up and shut up. To lock arms and be silent except to join in the collective cries.
Being there in spirit is not enough now, it never was. I need to be there, arm in arm with you. Because you do matter to me. I need to get over the fear. There is no other way.
We have to show up. I am late. I am sorry. It’s not enough by a longshot.
I am sorry I wasn’t there. I was ignorant and blind to it. And that’s privilege.
If women are leading the resistance, then black women are leading the resistance. Listen to black women. No one knows how to march for their lives like black women. I am in awe and still mortified that this is a country where this is their normal. Where a mother has to take her son around to introduce him to her neighbors and say “This is my son, he lives here.” Because being a black person in your own backyard with a cell phone can be a death sentence, but shooting up a high school with an assault rifle marked with swastikas and you get arrested gently. If you’re white.
This has to stop.
I was not there. I will do better.