In April 1989, my then-14-year-old daughter, 65-year-old mother, and I flew from California to Washington, DC for the National Organization for Women’s March for Women’s Lives. I remember camping out with my sister-in-law and elderly aunt in my youngest brother’s finished basement in Takoma Park, MD. Only a couple of us had beds. The rest slept in borrowed sleeping bags on the carpeted floor.
I remember it was colder that April than I had expected. It always seemed colder in our nation’s capital than back home. I remember marching in slow motion, looking for restrooms, looking for pay phone booths. It was not, however, my first such large-scale march, coming from a liberal, religious Unitarian, and political family where going on a march (civil rights, anti-nuclear weapons, anti-Vietnam War) was nearly as common an activity as miniature golf or San Francisco Giants games. So I had been on quite a few justice and peace demonstrations before – though none as large, some half a million people – and there would be quite a few after: marches opposing other wars, annual Pride marches and parades.
But I have not chosen to go on other DC women’s pro-choice or other rights marches. Not until this coming Saturday, January 21, 2017. It was only a few days after the presidential election when I decided to attend what is simply called the Women’s March. I could not miss a chance to be in solidarity with – and feel the strength of – other women and their allies who were stunned as I was by the election outcome and scared for the future of reproductive justice and other human rights of women.
As a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF), this time I am flying in alone from Atlanta and meeting up with two friends. Fortunately, we have been warmly welcomed by my ministerial colleague Rev. Debra Haffner, the newly installed parish minister at the UU church in Reston, VA, to join her and a group of her congregants on the bus Saturday and at a potluck gathering the night before. So I will not be separated from my UU peeps.
As the former president of the Religious Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a multi-faith perspective on matters of human sexuality, she is a veteran marcher and organizer. Before the meal, she will be doing a training on what to expect as we join in the crowds walking the less-than-two-mile route to the White House, as will be other UU ministerial colleagues and lay leaders for groups on their way to DC. And of course groups that will be part of some 600 sister marches in all 50 states and around the world.
Rev. Kathy Schmitz, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, FL, traveled to DC for the same 1989 March for Women’s Lives as I did, so she is no stranger to the preparations or the experience. Her interest in holding one or more pre-march orientations was perked when she began seeing posts specifically about training aimed at ways to deal with potential counter-protestors, heckling, and other disruptive incidents. She had experienced being taunted herself while on a demonstration against the Iraq War. She knew there are resources particular to the UU, including a de-escalation video produced by Standing on the Side of Love.
She wanted a time to go over the most current information about the bus trip and the march itself, and she wanted also to build community by having a time to share whether people had been on marches before. If so, to hear their perspectives, expectations, and concerns. She wanted also to engage in a conversation about the societal location of those going on the march – about race, class and privilege.
There were over 30 participants for the bus-specific gatherings and over 50 for an open meeting last Sunday. About half of the total attendees were not members of the congregation and, among those going on marches, it was about evenly split between those traveling to DC and those headed to the Women’s Rally in Central Florida.
Surprises for Rev. Schmitz? That many had never been on a march or a rally before, and that many had not heard about the leadership controversies that went on in the early weeks of march planning. Heated discussions were held around a lack of diversity and the need for intersectionality of justice oppressions in the agenda, partners and speakers.
As a representative of one of the now-hundreds of partner organizations sponsoring the March for Women’s Lives, I was so impressed by the last call this week when the logistical details were shared and the attention to the needs of disabled persons – including those who will be rolling or scooting instead of walking, and those who will need sound amplification. The coordination of route limitations and navigating all the permits required, especially during an inaugural weekend, was amazing.
In this viral social media age, information sharing about bathrooms, places to warm up, and cellphone charging stations have been spread with lightning speed. But most of all I have been beyond impressed by the thoughtful, deep, and eloquent work that has gone into the heart of this Women’s March: its guiding vision and unifying principles.
Starting with the “basic and original tenet from which all our values stem… We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.”
Not one of us should leave our homes and join in the marches without taking these words to heart and grounding ourselves in the premise that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.”
Safe journeys all.
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