*Photo taken at the Women’s March of January 2018 in Reno, NV.
Hello, darlings, and happy Halloween. I hope it’s been a night to remember, whether you celebrate with your children or go out to parties with adults. Last week I encouraged you to find some fun, to enjoy the sweetness of life, and I hope you did that. If you’re from the U.S., you know our nation has had quite a rough time lately. As I have said before, some people are only now becoming aware of the depth of our country’s brokenness, and it seems as though we are coming apart at the seams. And yet, the hatred, injustice, violence, and short-sightedness of certain people has always been there, right from the very inception of our country. As I continue to learn more and more about how to be strong in such desperate times, I am learning that peoples who have been dealing with systemic oppression for hundreds of years know best how to teach us about living with oppression and injustice. Though we may not have been aware of it, wars have been raging on specific populations for the duration of our “democracy.” Only now that we are seeing the hate burn so brightly can we appreciate its magnitude in this moment of history. Such times are the fuel for change, and over the weekend I attended a women’s rally in Keene, New Hampshire to find out what this region is doing to stir up good trouble.
Saturday afternoon, the rain fell in a misty, half-hearted way that seems like it shouldn’t really get you wet, but tends to soak you after a few minutes. I drove my new/used Subaru to the Keene State campus where the rally was scheduled, though I had no idea who would be speaking other than a young woman who is part of the March for Our Lives movement. That alone was enough to get me there, since the activism of that group has been tremendous, and I have appreciated the thoughtful and inclusive approach of the high school students who have been taking activism to a whole new level. In any case, as I hopped over puddles with my umbrella shielding me from the rain, I was fortunate to be led into the right place by a helpful woman who was also going to the event. When I got into the lobby of the auditorium, it was surrounded by tables of literature about voting, political candidates, local nonprofits, and others I didn’t see in my hurry to get inside. I did take the time to visit the table where I found out folks from my small town of Nelson were handing out literature about our local candidates. Whenever I vote, I do my best to research as thoroughly as possible. No way am I giving power to someone who I believe will abuse it. The event started moments after I arrived and got myself seated.
To my surprise, the gubernatorial candidate for New Hampshire, Molly Kelly, was supposed to attend. The emcee for the event announced that a stand-in would speak in her stead because of a scheduling conflict, and I wish I could say I know who it was, but I can’t remember. It may have been a state senator, but either way, the speaker gave a good run-down of the issues on which Molly Kelly is running. It helped. Right after that opening, however, came a presentation about an organization called Girls at Work, a program which teaches girls woodworking skills. The founder of the program, Elaine Hamel, gave an incredibly inspiring speech about the girls and how much they benefit from the environment of support they receive. Elaine’s obvious passion for helping girls from abusive homes absolutely floored me. Knowing such a program exists in the world is a beautiful thing. Like Mr. Rogers used to say, “Look for the helpers.” It always makes me feel better to find the helpers, and then join them. After learning about Girls at Work, we heard from a candidate running for re-election, Anne Kuster. Her politics impressed me, and she gave a heartfelt speech about what she hopes to continue to accomplish in office. A short informal presentation from a dynamic duo named Metta Dael and Martha Neubert educated the very white audience on the topic of oppression, inclusion, and justice. They were fabulous, and I am not too proud to say I learned a great deal from them. Finally, the keynote speaker, Bria Smith, took the stage.
Ms. Smith began her address by getting the audience to greet a stranger sitting next to them, and then recite to them a few phrases about justice, protecting each other, and doing our part. It was actually quite powerful, and left me feeling a duty to remember to love even the strangers in my midst. We never know what others are thinking or feeling until we get to know them. When they stop being “strangers” and we realize their humanity, we can no longer put people in a box of “other.” As I said the words to a white woman who looked to be in her 70s, a kinship of sorts flared up in my heart. If I ever see her again, I am certain I will still feel that visceral connection to her. After our recitation, we all settled in to hear about this young woman’s activism. She shared thoughts about how she grew up surrounded by death, gun violence, and constant loss in the streets of Milwaukee. The stories she told about growing up with a steely continence did not entreat us to pity her, but rather to care enough about the gravity of such experiences to want to stop them from happening. Her story is not uncommon, and yet so often the story of inner city life is broken down into segments, compartments in which we place black and brown people into boxes as criminals, forgetting that children, families, elderly folks, people with disabilities, and regular folks just trying to get by all live in that environment, too. Children have to walk by dead bodies on their way to school, or may often see the blood stains of a murder on the sidewalk. They lose parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends…many of them lose several people they know by the time they reach adulthood. Rarely do we consider the desperation of living with violence and death as a way of life, unless you live that way.
Bria’s keynote got me thinking about women and children who suffer sexual abuse and harassment, and I couldn’t help but find the similarities of our suffering. Both groups live in the same wealthy country, right in the midst of privileged people who never see gun violence in their neighborhoods, who roll up their windows and lock their doors when they drive through certain parts of the city, and who tell themselves that because they don’t see racism or sexual abuse in their lives, it must not exist. I grew up in a religious family which looked on the outside like everything was fine, but it wasn’t. Few people knew what was really happening to me outside of certain members of my family, and if they did know, they didn’t do anything. None of the women in my family were fine, but they put up a good front. It’s what all women learn how to do from a very young age. We learn how to pretend everything is fine, we keep gluing the family together by taking care of everyone else, meanwhile plastering over the brokenness of our spirits. We really need to stop that. All victims of abuse really need to stop pretending, because it eats you up inside, riddles you with anger, fear, resentment, and depression. No one deserves to live with such heart-rending secrets holed up in the tissues of your body, fermenting into lord-only-knows-what kind of illness later. This is what #metoo is really about: loving yourself enough to say it aloud. Yes, I was abused. I suffered. It still hurts sometimes, even if it happened a long time ago. But I’m not broken; I’m strong because I survived. I don’t need pity—I need justice. See me. This is what #metoo means. It’s not about catching predators and stringing them up like some kind of spectacle, it’s about finally being seen, heard, and believed. This is true of people of color, too. See their suffering and believe it’s real, because it is.
When oppression affects us so deeply, the most healing comes from being heard, acknowledged, and believed. We can’t walk in another person’s shoes, but we can listen to their stories and believe they are real. For the majority of my childhood and youth, I suffered at the hands of several men who took advantage of my inability to protect myself. My story is not unusual, nor do I need to be coddled because of it. I don’t need special attention, and I’m not fragile—just the opposite. I am now a formidable ally to the oppressed because my experience deepened my compassion and heightened my desire to protect others. If we allow the saddest parts of our lives to be the only story we tell, we will never be whole. Instead, we must tell the whole truth, and remember the good, too. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “Blame honestly.” Though my childhood was rife with suffering, I remember a lot of good, too. We get to choose which parts become most powerful, even though it might be hard to let go of the pain. Near the end of Bria’s keynote, she made a statement which got a lot of heads nodding in the audience: “I’m tired of having to keep my mouth shut to make other people feel good about themselves.” The truth in that statement is profound. Too often women are made to feel ashamed if we speak up about how we are treated, which is probably why so many people are trying to shut down the #metoo movement. If we keep speaking up, soon the whole world will be aware of how deep the scars run in every family of the entire globe. I doubt any family is free of the sickness of sexual abuse, even if you have to go back a few generations. Sexual predators are more prevalent than we like to admit, and they usually are people we know, often family members. I know this may be crushing to think about, but if we are ever going to repair the damage of what is happening in our world, we are first going to have to see the breadth of the carnage we created and continue to cultivate.
As we move into election week in the U.S., I hope everyone is thinking about the seriousness of the civic duty of voting and being involved in public forums of debate. It’s very recent in our country’s history that women and people of color were given the right to vote, and we had to fight tooth and nail to be afforded that privilege—and it is a privilege. To have a ballot to cast is serious business, and if you are a person who believes your vote doesn’t matter, I can tell you that isn’t true. Every vote matters in every election. Imagine if you live in a town of 30 people. If someone runs for mayor and only three people vote, those three people just decided who gets to run the town. What if those three people are the worst three people of the town? What if they elect leaders who spend all the money on frivolous, unnecessary things no one needs? The rest of those people will still have to pay, whether they voted or not. We don’t connect those dots very often in public forums, but we should. Don’t let the loud, obnoxious, mean people be the only ones voting. Let’s make sure intelligent, decent, kind, compassionate people vote, too. If you have neighbors who need a ride and you have a car, please drive them. If you know someone who doesn’t plan to vote, please convince them to cast a ballot, even if they write Mickey Mouse on it. The more voters we have, the more likely the outcome will reflect the moderate middle where most of us live, instead of the extremes of the large hoards of nutjobs who get together at rallies and form mobs, whether liberal or conservative is irrelevant. There will always be extremes, and that is perfectly fine, as long as everyone gets out to vote. Most people fall into the middle on most issues, and most leaders we elect would reflect that truth if we get out and do our civic duty.
The final few moments of the women’s rally drove home a serious thought that has stayed with me since then. Bria said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” #truth. In this dark hour, when it seems that democracy may be dying all over the globe, remember truth. When we tell people the truth, we connect on a far more meaningful level. Be honest with yourself and you’ll realize how important it is to live as you are meant to live. None of us should live with the burden of secrets, simply because it makes other people uncomfortable. We all suffer, and we deserve to be seen. Before you vote, listen to the stories of the oppressed. Take their power with you to the polls, because no one is stronger than people who have endured the pain of oppression and are still here to tell you about it. Those of us who have survived are worthy of recognition for our strength and courage to hold our shit together, even though other human beings may have done heinous acts to us. We know love when we feel it, and we can show it by taking back our power. Be brave this week and look someone in the eye while you tell them your truth. Be real, be strong, and know we are stronger together, with love to bind us. Keeping people out never heals the wounds, only letting them into the most vulnerable spaces can we heal. What have you got to lose? Only your chains.