When our president called for unity in his inaugural address, I doubt he imagined his message resonating so deeply and with such urgency that the following day more than three million people would take to the streets, marching in what was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Almost three times as many people showed up for the Women’s March On Washington in D.C. as Trump’s inauguration, despite how many “alternative facts” his administration may offer or how many lies he himself tells. And in Charleston, more than 2,000 people gathered together in the rain, united in our common humanity against a seemingly unhumanitarian future. In Charleston, where gentrification hovers muggy and thick over our neighborhoods, our schools, our everyday lives, where the South attempts to rise again and again because it doesn’t know it’s dead, working-class women, wealthy women, black women, Latinx women, Muslim women, white women, trans women, queer women, conservative women, liberal women, radical women — we stood together.
So, where do we go from here? And how do we get there? Fortunately, the where is easy — we go forward. But how? First, we must look backward.
Criticisms of the Women’s March are abundant, and though some are meant to silence us, others are critical to enacting transformative change. White women, think about how you feel when the people deciding what you can and can’t do with your body are almost exclusively men. Doesn’t it seem absurd that those who mandate your choices can never share your experiences, never know what it is to be a woman? Now apply that to criticisms leveraged by women of color, many of whom questioned why they should show up for us when we consistently fail to show up for them, even with our votes. We must acknowledge that women of color have vastly different experiences than us and are disproportionately affected by injustice in ways we can’t understand. We must listen to them and internalize their criticisms, trust them and their leadership as we move forward because women of color, more than anyone, understand how the intersections of race, class, and gender relate to the systems of oppressions we are fighting. Cis women, know that this isn’t just about our anatomy. Listen to trans people when they tell us that they feel left out because of exclusionary signage and branding that centers genitals over inclusion. Learn that not all women have vaginas.
Going forward, commit to memory the way that truth feels: solid, smooth, firm. Know that facts are distinguished as such because they are objectively true and unwavering. Understand that the goal of propaganda is to control while truth needs no such aim. A lie is a lie no matter how many people believe it or who tells it. Do not forget this.
Be action-oriented. The women’s march was an act of resistance, but it must not be our first and only tactic. Call your representatives to voice your concerns about upcoming cabinet nominations and impending legislation. In case they’ve forgotten, remind them that you decide who has the privilege of serving as an elected official, so demand accountability. Identify the issues that matter most to you and devote yourself to them in any way you can: donate money, plan fundraisers, volunteer directly, spread the word. Work with existing organizations in our community. We can’t waste time building initiatives that already exist; the framework to make radical change is in place.
Do you care deeply about the rights of immigrants? Donate or get involved with South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and Coastal Catholic Charities. LBGTQ+ advocacy and direct services? Charleston Pride and We Are Family (full disclosure: I serve on WAF’s board of directors). Social justice and alternatives to incarceration? Girls Rock Charleston and Charleston Area Justice Ministry. Combatting discrimination against Muslims? Council on American-Islamic Relations. Women’s reproductive rights? Planned Parenthood. Our environment? Coastal Conservation League or Charleston Waterkeeper. Civil rights? ACLU.
Lastly, know that resistance is uncomfortable and messy because it is meant to disrupt, to shock not only the status quo, but our own complacency and egos. We will make mistakes, and that’s okay. What’s important is whether these mistakes will impede our momentum or add to it as we learn to organize together in a more meaningful and inclusive manner. My greatest hope lies in the latter.