On January 20th, 2009, I was up early with my friends, bundled up in at least a dozen layers against the icy winds. That morning, I saw Magic Johnson in his limo, rolling down the window to ask a Capitol Police officer where his driver should take him. At another point, I saw Reese Witherspoon walking with a non-famous friend of hers on the sidewalk too, like it was nothing. She was one of us that day, or at least it felt like it.
A couple hours and the Purple Tunnel of Doom later, I was sprinting up sidewalks and zig-zagging past the odd vendor selling Obama memorabilia on the street, breathless. Newsprint blew by on empty streets cordoned off days before. There was an element of the end of the world to it -- there was no one on the streets of the capital, and any stragglers you did catch sight of were bundled up as crazily as you were, and it felt like the world was holding its breath.
We only had minutes to make it to my uncle's office to see Obama's swearing in, to hear his speech, to watch it happen -- history. It was the first presidential election we voted in, after feeling so powerless in 2000 and 2004. He was ours. I was 21. I would graduate college in four months. Everything was possible.
We watched the ceremony on a tiny TV in an office building right around the corner from the White House. I think I was eating a banana at the time. I remember pressing my face to the window when he and Michelle got out of the limo and walked, in the freezing cold, the rest of the way to their new home -- risking their lives so we could watch them take those last steps. They knew how badly we needed it. It was unreal, but I was there.
And it's nothing like right now. Nothing like today.
I haven't written anything yet about November 8th, 2016. Well, I've written and re-written reams in my head. Sometimes I think it's the only way I get through the day. But I haven't been brave enough to put pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard, not yet, because I feel like whatever comes out has to be holistic. It has to be perfect. It has to be everything -- all the things, all the feelings, all the facts and perspectives, for all the people.
And that's it, right there, isn't it? That's the standard to which I hold myself, but it is not the standard to which the new leader of the free world holds himself.
It may be nutbars, but that's how I was socialized. I'm a girl, so it's my job to do the emotional labor of empathy -- to listen, to put myself in other people's shoes, to tell them I understand and I hear them, that I respect where they're coming from, and to adjust my beliefs and attitudes and behaviors accordingly. And I may look kinda white, but I'm not all the way, so I have to compensate -- for that and for being a girl -- by doing everything better, and harder, and more than everyone else, because otherwise it doesn't count. I don't count. My work doesn't count. I'm easily dismissed. Because I'm never automatically in first place. That's not how the world works.
And that doesn't go through my head every time I'm tempted to write, or every time a draft starts compiling itself in my mind while I'm in the car or in the shower or waiting for the oven to preheat already. That's all ingrained, that's all autopilot. I never have to spell it out for myself like I did just now. But I did spell it out just now as an explanation for why this isn't going to be that piece -- that all-encompassing, comprehensive, "everything to everyone" piece. I don't have the time or the emotional energy to write that, and I made a promise to myself this year to guard my time and my emotional energy like an absolute maniac. I'm putting a premium on those things, at least in part because the rest of the world doesn't, and they're both worth a lot. I'm also not apologizing for the fact that this isn't that piece. That's another promise I made to myself this year, to be unapologetic. Do you ever notice that women and girls apologize for things they really shouldn't? And how we move out of the way on the sidewalk for men? Stop doing that, ladies. It may mean you start colliding with men, but whatever you do, don't apologize for it. Don't apologize for taking up space.
But that hesitance on my part, and the work ethic and moral compass and the internalized oppression behind it, has been grating violently against the outrageous displays of privilege on the part of 45, his advisors, his Cabinet nominees, and his supporters. He is compiling the whitest, richest, and least educated Cabinet in modern memory. But I keep hearing pundits refer to him as a "populist." He can refer to himself as of "the people" all he wants, but I don't understand why anyone who construes themselves as an expert would. That is not at all what he is in any way, shape, or form. And he shows that, very baldly and often in pretty vulgar ways, with his deeds on a daily basis.
I am a huge advocate for radical self care. My instincts to stay informed, to be a part of the resistance from Day One, have been warring with my instincts to protect myself from the onslaught of hatred and horror that's happening in our country by avoiding the news.
I know I can't tune out. Young people tuning out, women tuning out, people of color tuning out, that's the trifecta that sounds a death knell for the resistance. But just once, wouldn't it be nice if all of us could just tap out? Take a bath with candles and wine, like they do in commercials and movies and stuff? Feel a vague sense of assurance that someone's got my back, that I'll be fine, even if other people out there, people I don't know personally, won't be. "Hey, we survived Bush!" people like to say. I always remind them that not everyone did.
My women of color friends are exhausted. To step up to educate white women, to educate men of color, to educate white men, to carry the burdens of our other intersectional identities -- queer, trans, immigrant, indocumentada, low income, a single parent, disabled, indebted -- and to have to go to work, to pay the bills, to take care of the people we love, and then, on top of everything else, to be walking down the street, minding our own business, and to have a strange man yell at us to smile.
What do we have to smile about right now?
I'm pretty privileged my own self, but I'm tired. Anyone who's been paying any kind of attention knows that terrible shit didn't start with 45. Maybe white America has just had a really really long fuse, and he's our cartoon stick of TNT. So now, at least, more of us are on the same angry page. More of us are getting woke. Great. But I've been woke awhile, and like I said, I'm tired. I would very much like to go to sleep.
But I'm waiting up tonight for my friends from Philly and Boston. We're marching tomorrow. It took me awhile to decide to participate in this march, to be honest with you. I didn't like the leadership at first, because it seemed too lily-white for me. But now it's grown into something more diverse and representative of the feminism I hope we have moving forward. It's not perfect -- nothing ever is -- but I can't sit it out.
So tomorrow, much to my mother's chagrin, I march.
I march for my father's father, who was captured and tortured in a political prison in his home country, Brasil, and who fled to the United States with his wife and young son because he knew his family would be safe here.
I march for my father's mother, who came to love this country so much after she arrived that she never wanted to leave.
I march for my mother's father, who lost two of his brothers during World War II, who survived the invasion of Normandy, who came home and served his country again in the Department of Energy, and who was also the best grandpa ever in the history of the world.
I march for his parents, who fled to the United States from religious persecution in Austria.
I march for my mother's mother, who didn't give a rat's ass that her parents didn't want her to go to college, and went anyway, and then went on to graduate school, too, where she met my grandpa when he came to do research in the lab that she was running at MIT.
I march for her grandmother, my namesake, who came to the United States when her home country, Ireland, ran out of food.
I march for my father, who had to give up his dual citizenship, and did so gladly, so he could serve his country and make it safer.
I march for my mother, even though she would rather I didn't march at all, because she raised me to understand, in the very marrow of my bones, the importance of a woman's ability to be independent in every possible way.
I march for my sister, who deserves access to the best and most affordable healthcare in the world.
I march for all my friends and family members -- of every race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and citizenship status -- because I love every single one of you and I will set on FIRE anyone who tries to mess with you. I will always fight for your personhood, your safety, and your civil rights. Your bread and your roses too.
I march for my friends' and family members' little ones (and for their little ones on the way), because this shouldn't be the world they live in or the world they come into.
And last, I march because it's my turn. Millions of women came before me and did harder work -- abolishing slavery, winning suffrage, fighting against discrimination and Jim Crow, passing Title IX, securing marriage equality. I can vote, wear pants, run for office, play soccer, run a company, marry whoever I want regardless of their gender or race, and write this, all hopefully without getting stoned or jailed or institutionalized, and I didn't have to do anything. That's privilege. So it's my turn to pay it forward, not just for women like me, but for everyone and anyone who needs help.
Obviously marching for one day out of all of the rest of the days of my life is not going to fix everything. Or anything. But it's something, and I wanted to write about it. It was time to get something out there, no matter how scattershot, because I'm abandoning any perfectionist tendencies in favor of just doing something. I refuse to look back on the next four years and regret any actions not taken.