In photographs of me in my pink hat in front of the U.S. Capitol at the Women’s March on Washington, I’m smiling. So are the women with me. So are thousands of women and men and children captured in photographs from that January day. We are happy, energized, inspired, and we are not going away.
The photographs don’t reveal how every cell in my body was screaming in pain. Marching is hard. The day of the Women’s March was colder than I’d anticipated and I was not dressed for it. My muscles fought back by tensing up. The crowd was exhilaratingly massive but also oppressive. More than once I feared I might faint. My friends and I got pinned on a side street where we could barely hear the speakers. For four hours. Standing on concrete. In the cold. My moral compass got thrown out of whack when my body’s need to start marching battled with my heart’s need to hear the last speakers: women of color speaking truth.
When the marching began there was no clear way to go and so we filled Washington’s streets like water spreading every which way. My initial anger that the march wasn’t better organized turned into elation that we were too big to organize. Bathrooms? The lines were too long. Snacks? We didn’t bring enough. By evening, our feet, legs, backs, shoulders, and necks all ached, but we were ready to do it again.
We have done it again. Marching for science, for climate change action, for immigrants, for Planned Parenthood, marching against the Muslim ban, against anti-LGBTQ bills, against Trumpian corruption, and most recently against Republican “health care reform.” We’re mobilized to call, write, and visit the offices of our unresponsive representatives. I have not made it to every march and some days I can’t summon the will to make one more phone call, but I believe in shared responsibility: One person can’t do everything but everybody can do something.
These are times that call for action. Our challenge: to prevent the normalization of corruption, thuggery, hypocrisy, ignorance, regression, criminality, incivility, and demagoguery that brought Trump to power and keeps him there. It will be hard. It will take time, and we will lose, a lot. We will get discouraged, feel despair, and grow tired, but we can’t give up. Remember: The struggle for civil rights that began before the 13th Amendment goes on still. A season of marching does not yield victory. Change comes only with unwavering, clear-eyed struggle.
It will be hard because the opposition is strong, determined, ruthless, and wealthy. Did the Koch brothers finance the defeat of Insure Tennessee because they care who gets Medicaid? No. They did it to demonstrate who has power. Power has replaced the common good and common sense. This power shift has taken us well down the road toward losing our democracy but we’ve not lost the rule of law. Yet.
On the Fourth of July I heard a woman declare she’s “not political.” She might as well have claimed to be a unicorn, which is to say, not possible. Choosing not to “be political” in these times means you’re okay with weakened environmental and public health protections. You’re not bothered by a legal system that treats some people better than other people. You’re not sure health care is a right, don’t care that a $7 inhaler in France costs $250 here, or that some woman in Iowa can’t get an abortion. You’re content with a government that works for established wealth and against the poor. You’re not upset that Congress can ignore the majority of Americans supporting background checks for guns. Voter suppression? You’re not political! You don’t get what’s the big deal about a living wage, crippling student loans, or mass incarceration. You don’t “believe” climate change is “real.” You’re unmoved by desperate refuges or families ICE-broken. You kind of always liked Russia anyway. You’re not a bit worried about a president who is clearly unstable, vindictive, dishonest, uninformed, and reckless, or that more than half of Congress pretends nothing is rotten. Not to decide is to decide. Not to engage is to condone.
Not everybody can march. Not everybody can incorporate habits of activism into their busy lives. But everybody can seek to become informed as deeply and broadly as possible. Citizenship requires nothing less. Only under tyranny does it not matter what you think about what your government’s up to. Yet even this is not easy in these times of media consolidation when a large chunk of our population is fed news that does not inform, but instead fuels fear, elevates dogma, and pushes the agenda of the people who already hold power.
Which brings me to the Mercury. How many people understand how crucial it is for a community to have a local, independent newspaper? A lot of us, I know. The Mercury tried mightily to rise above a fast-changing, profit-driven media market. Knoxville needs the Mercury and will feel its absence.
I don’t know what will happen as a result of all this marching and phone calling. Systemic, institutional change is called for, but until we build the political structure required for that, we absolutely cannot give up. Because we are right to care about the Earth and its people. Because, more than a resistance, we need a movement to build a more just society. Because we could be a force that spreads like water. And because we need each other.
I don’t know what will happen to Knoxville without its local, independent newspaper. Building the structures that nourish a community is hard. To the Mercury staff: thank you for more than two years of excellence. It has been my privilege to be a part of your struggle.
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