It was 1:45 p.m. on the day of the Women’s March on Washington, and the crowd was getting restless.
“I’m sorry,” one shivering woman said, flustered, “but if you say you’re going to start something at a certain time, you start it at that time!” She looked around for support and, finding only shrugs, did her best to storm away through the tightly packed crowd. It seemed bold to apply cocktail party etiquette to one of the biggest protests in U.S. history — but hey, to each her own.
The march had been scheduled to start at 1:15, and the speakers were going over. A guy with blue hair and I kept clapping at the wrong moments. “I thought that line we clapped at was just as good” he said, as we jumped in on a cheer for Alicia Keys. A few minutes later, a woman ahead of us fell while trying to climb out of a tree.
The Women’s March was profoundly moving. It was also awkward, clumsy, funny, and imperfect, as any large-scale event organized by human people tends to be.
There were, of course, some issues with the march.
Many worried that it was just another instance of feminism by white women and for white women, a worry that probably wasn’t allayed by people chanting “Start the march!” over the voice of civil rights leader Angela Davis.
Some felt the goals of the march were too nebulous; others felt the platform was incomplete. Many wondered if so many people would have marched for the rights of minorities and marginalized groups if Hillary Clinton had won in November, or if law enforcement would have been as relaxed had the crowd not been largely white.
These issues are very real, and the discussions around them are important.
Equally important though, is the impact of more than two million bodies taking to the streets around the world to protest against prejudice and hate and to speak out in support of justice and equality for all.
(These shouldn’t be radical concepts, but a guy who bragged about grabbing pussies shouldn’t have been elected president.)
We live in a time when we are able to be activists from the comfort of our own couches.
It’s wonderful. You can donate money to a microfinance organization in India, call your state senator, and a sign a petition to enact stricter gun legislation all without wearing pants, and nobody would be the wiser.
The fact that we can do so much without wearing pants though, makes it all the more significant when we do decide to pull on our slacks and take to the streets.
And to be clear, people have been doing it this whole time. Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock protesters have repeatedly put their bodies in harm’s way to assert their right to be treated like human beings.
A lot of us, myself included, saw these protests and believed in them. Maybe we shared an article about them on Facebook, or checked in at Standing Rock. But then we probably went back to sitting pantsless on the couch.
A lot of us, myself included, have been complacent.
If something doesn’t directly impact us, it’s hard for most of us to feel compelled to act. It sucks, but it’s painfully, horribly true — and if there’s one thing we need more of right now it’s the truth.
For those of us who have had the luxury of being complacent, those of us whose homes, bodies, and safety might not be immediately at risk like they are for so many across the country, we must continue not only to speak up — but act out.
We have to put the rest of our bodies where our mouths are.
After all, it’s bodies that bear the brunt of government policies. It’s our bodies that are grabbed and sexualized, beaten and incarcerated, judged and regulated. It’s our bodies that deteriorate when we don’t have access to affordable healthcare, housing, or nutritious foods. It’s our bodies that die.
So we have to use our bodies to fight.
Look, it’s not going to be perfect. We’ll mess up — probably pretty regularly — in myriad ways we can’t even imagine right now. But political action is like anything else, you get better the more you do it. You get better the more you go to marches, the more you devote your time to volunteering and canvassing, and meeting people who know more than you do, and learning from them.
Those of us who have been complacent need to start putting our bodies on the line, joining those who have been doing it for too long on their own.
We need to put on our pants, lace up our sneakers, and go outside.
The Women’s March on Washington was beautiful, inspiring, flawed, historic and energizing. And it was just the first step.