It didn’t take me long to realize that, if I tuned in to any of the major news networks yesterday, all I’d see was more footage of the Women’s March on Washington. Having grown up during the 1950’s and 1960’s, I saw coverage of similar events often on my parents’ little black-and-white TV set. Back then, people were protesting the Viet Nam war, segregation, or other issues that directly impacted their lives. But I was not able to put my finger on exactly why so many women thought they had to march on Washington and what they hoped to achieve. I still can’t.
Did they think that, if enough of them gathered together in various locales around the country, the new and much-hated president would be dethroned? His campaign rhetoric, shallow as it was at times, was touted as being one reason why women felt the need to protest. What were they hoping would change? And did it? Have the lives of all those women improved? Did they achieve what they set out to achieve in D.C., New York, Chicago, and Portland, Maine? And the question that is asked after all such events: what happens now?
During what little footage I watched, I saw lots of picketing signs being hoisted above the crowds, many of them bearing some pretty crude and mean-spirited slogans. The F-word and other expletives peppered many of them, and I had to truly wonder at the maturity of those who thought they were making a difference. If most of those protesters were there to rail against Donald Trump, then does it follow that their hatred also extends to all those who voted for him? That’s a scary thought, as it clearly indicates a country divided against itself, with half its population hating the other half for exercising what was clearly within their purview to do, which was to elect the candidate they deemed the most suitable. Thanks, but no thanks.
Even before this march, it was becoming less and less possible to have a decent civilized discourse with anyone and be able to walk away without having created an enmity or alienating someone. Less and less are Americans able to talk to each other without tempers flaring and walls being erected, and half the population places the blame for this solidly on one man who has no control over our individual actions whatsoever. If that’s not misguided and skewed logic, then I don’t know what is.
But aside from the current vitriol against that one individual, what were the other reasons for the march? I read somewhere weeks ago that it wasn’t an anti-Trump rally at all but built rather on many of the issues facing women and pretty much all of Americans today. I pondered this awhile and searched my soul to find a single motivating factor that might have compelled me to join that movement, and I came up empty-handed. And after running into another woman I know at the supermarket yesterday and hearing her take on it, I felt reassured that maybe I was on the right track in my own thinking.
“I don’t have any reason to march,” she said. “I have a comfortable life, and everything I need. And if I don’t, then it’s up to me to do something about it.” Now, this woman is not rich. Far from it. She is a neighbor of mine here at the senior community we both live in, and her situation is very similar to my own. So I was left to assess my life and see if there are any gaps that might have been filled by standing out in the cold and holding a sign decrying my current angst against whatever spectre might be overshadowing my life. And then it hit me: if something IS wrong in my life and I am at a loss as to who to blame, all I have to do is look in the mirror. And there staring back at me, replete with all its wrinkles, hanging flesh, and worry lines, will be the culprit’s face: mine. For I, like every other so-called rational adult in this country, am the sum and total of every decision I’ve made since I had the right to make them. The very idea of placing the onus of that truth on someone else’s shoulders is nothing short of ludicrous.
So please, someone, tell me what the point of all that was yesterday and what, if anything, was accomplished by it. The marches I remember from my youth all had specific goals in mind: stop a war or make sure that kids of all colors can go to the same schools. According to one co-founder of the recent march, its major goal was to bring to the forefront the ongoing struggle that is women’s lives. But what about life isn’t a struggle? And is that limited only to women? We struggle desperately to be born, we struggle as children when we first start school, we struggle to fit in, to find jobs, to make ends meet, to fill the oil barrel, to reach the finish line, to survive, and then in the end, we struggle against death. Struggle is endemic to the human experience, and not a single one of us, male or female, ever escapes it. Struggle is what shapes us, defines us, motivates us. Struggle is everything we must overcome each day to become better, stronger and wiser. For if we approach them maturely, it is overcoming those struggles that makes us stronger.
I struggle to get my taxes done on time, to open jars of pickles, to thread a needle, untangle Christmas lights, and to shovel the snow off my walk. I struggle emotionally when I’m waiting for the results of a medical test or when I think there is something wrong with my car that will cost me a small fortune to fix. Who should I blame for that, Trump? Congress? The Senate? The Pope? God? There IS no one to blame. It’s called life! And it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to get through it the best we can. Our Constitution assures us the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Nowhere does it contain any wording to the effect that said happiness is guaranteed.
I happen to like the life I’ve created for myself. And I’d only be insulting my own intelligence were I to go out into the streets of any big city and rail against a force that it is entirely within my own power to control. I chose, rather, to stay home and to do those things that I hope will improve my life, make however many days I have left to me pleasant and productive.
I wonder what has changed…and was all that energy demonstrated yesterday sustainable? How might things have played out if all those hundreds of thousands of people who marched had turned instead away from that and, say, spent a couple of hours in a soup kitchen or a food pantry, visited some old lonely people in a nursing home who never get any company, volunteered at a shelter to spend time with abused and neglected animals, or read a story out loud to kids at the local library? Wouldn’t any of those also qualify as trying to ameliorate the struggle each and every one of us must deal with on a daily basis?
Imagine if all that people power had been redirected…and the innumerable acts of kindness that might have resulted from that. The only way to fight a perceived evil is by throwing lots and lots of love and compassion at it. And that is not what I got from what little I saw of that march. I saw, rather, lots of anger, rage, hatred, and ugliness, all antitheses to love. So I stayed home and wrote a small check to my local food pantry. It’s winter, and the struggle some people, many of them children, face to eat is real, as is the struggle to keep enough food on the shelves for them. There’s that word again: struggle.
I have no doubt whatsoever that my gesture, as small as it was, will indeed help reduce that struggle a little for at least one person. Now that’s the kind of protest I can relate to, the quiet unnoticed kind that produces results.