Category Archives: Politics

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The Headwinds of Change

Sailing is like wizardry, computers, or electricity to me. No matter how many times people have explained how it works, how much I’ve read about it, or how many times I’ve seen its observable reality as a means of movement and transportation, it’s still an utter mystery and I’m stunned it actually works. I acknowledge that the words used to describe the forces at play make a kind of sense, but in the inner part of my mind, let’s be real – it’s an amazing superpower we’ve discovered and pretend is normal (c.f. consciousness, the taste of tomatoes and cheese together, music, and the way we feel when making eye contact with animals).

One of the few things I understand intuitively about sailing is that it is a balancing act of precision and flux. When sailing into the wind, to move forward as efficiently as possible, you often have to find the place to put your sails that is as close to being straight into the wind as you can get, without going too far to the other side and having the wind blow back around behind the sail. It is a process of finding and creating the perfect arc, which depends on all kinds of factors including wind speed, temperature, water conditions, drag, but ultimately, magic. When you find that sweet spot and hold it, the boat snaps into place and literally sings – you can feel it soaring just-there, like humming in exact resonance with a pure pitch in music. It is as exhilarating as if you suddenly took flight because, in a lot of ways, you have.

When learning to sail into the wind, it takes a Sisyphean process of trial and error. You edge closer and closer, then hit a wake in the water or jerk the tiller a little too far and get a gust of wind that makes all your sheets blow around like mad (luffing), so you have to pull back. It is enormously tempting to overcorrect and pull back so far away from the wind that you fall off from it entirely, sometimes even accidentally making a tack and spinning in circles, so you not only lose ground but become convinced that the direction you were headed was impossible anyway. With perseverance, patience, and confidence in the boat and the particular variety of magic in the universe you’ve chosen to recognize, you can not only learn to sail into the wind, but find it is one of the fastest and most exciting ways to move forward.

I use sailing as an analogy all the time for vastly complex experiences of being human that I struggle to discuss in their own terms. Love, and our ability to care for other people (even those we’ve never met) is another form of magic that we often take for granted. I have never been able to fully explain the overwhelming emotional response I feel when I read about terrible things that have happened, cruelties and hurts inflicted on innocents, and injustices in the world. That visceral, raw feeling is a scary and seemingly too-powerful headwind, and I recognize that my inclination (and I suspect most people’s) is still toward self-preservation, to turn away from it and to adjust my course to something easier, if slower-moving or regressive. A nice distraction by switching to an article about fashion or a quiz about what 1980s movie boyfriend I might have had often eases me out of it.

This week we have been at the confluence of some dizzying, terrifying winds. So many times I have literally closed my eyes and said, “It’s just too much,” before retreating away from reality. That is the path of cowardice and selfishness, so I know I need to come back and face it.

I have not been able to wrap my mind around the scale of terror experienced by the residents of Grenfell Tower in London, nor the intense coupling of helplessness and rage that the families of the fire’s victims must feel. It is beyond trying to put myself in their shoes and imagine how I’d feel because they are occupying a headspace that no person should ever have to. To know a loved one’s life might have been spared if the building owners had sprung for the fire-resistant cladding, a sprinkler system, or repairing the faulty refrigerator that seems to have started the whole disaster is a scope of cruelty and dehumanization beyond the conscionable. In the decision between human safety and cost-saving, it was ultimately decided that these lives were not worth enough to justify the extra expenses. How can a person ever reconcile that fact with the unutterable scale of grief?

The targeted shooting of Republican members of Congress at an early morning baseball practice in Alexandria this week was not just a senseless act of violence by a delusional man. He was intentional and calculating in attacking what he believed were the advocates and crafters of inhumane policy. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s A+ NRA rating and open advocacy of unrestricted Second Amendment liberties is not ironic or coincidental, but it is also by no means a reason why any such act of violence should be seen as anything but the horror it is. The shooter was not lashing out against the system, but is rather a product of it, the inevitable extension of increasing tolerances of cruelty, hatred, and dehumanizing violence being perpetrated daily.

Put more directly, I am deeply concerned with the erosion of the social contract of the sanctity of life. In many conversations about escalating police violence and extrajudicial executions, I am flummoxed by those who are able to justify these warped and brutal actions with thinking along the lines of, “The rules of law and order are clear, and if you break them, your life is forfeit.” (That is an actual quote from last summer that made me physically ill with disgust.) I guess on the very surface it seems like sound or defensible logic, and it gives people comfort to believe that the system is fair and those who die at its hands broke the rules, but… that is not actually what our society stands for. The deal is not “Follow all traffic laws or you may be executed.”

Last summer, I was shaken to my core by Philando Castile’s death. Everything I read and saw about the traffic stop – from both sides – had me honestly shocked that a man could do nothing wrong but end up shot seven times in front of his girlfriend and her child then left to bleed out and die. I asked those among my friends and family who are the strongest proponents of Second Amendment rights and responsible gun ownership what he could or should have done differently. We debated it for an uncomfortably long time, and the best rationalization one person came up with was that sometimes police officers just get “jumpy” when they are afraid. I don’t want to alienate everyone I know who disagrees with me, but I was so frustrated that our conversations kept turning toward the loss of police pensions or reduced pay as a reason why less qualified officers are on the force, or how maybe the media is actually to blame for constantly portraying men of color as the bad guys in fiction. And yet, I don’t think I successfully convinced anyone that a police officer killing an innocent man should be as alarming to them as it was to me.

No one enjoys confronting the ugly realities of racism and prejudice in America. We are a nation that was built on the massacre of Native Americans and the mass enslavement of African and Caribbean people. There is no history of America without subjugation, violence, and dehumanizing cruelty. We can’t pretend that’s not what happened, we can’t attempt to justify it by saying, “Yeah, but lots of people had slaves then,” or the most bafflingly racist argument I hear a lot, “You know there was slavery in Africa before white people, right?” The ongoing violation of the sanctity of lives of people of color is undeniably real, and it can be traced in a direct line through reluctant abolition, Jim Crow laws, desegregation, and our current iterations of institutionalized racism.

I realize that the deflection tactics and denial I see around me (and in myself) are driven by fear. It is easier to believe that people who lose their lives because of implicit racial biases had a failing of personal responsibility or behavior than to confront such a massive and terrifying headwind of normalized racism and violence. We want to believe that our system is set up fairly to protect people and respond with justice to crime because it allows us to feel basically safe and sleep at night. If we (white people here) don’t do anything obviously wrong, then we should not expect to be shot dead in our cars or in the street. We tell ourselves that we’re not criminals in the capital-C sense (a little jaywalking, some underage drinking and weed in college, or low-level white collar crimes aside), so when people of color are killed in extrajudicial executions, they must have done something wrong, they must be criminals, and there must be more to the story. Facing full-on that our society treats the bodies and lives of some as lesser, or that the system was established to protect property over lives, or that the militarization of police forces is a cynical scheme to maximize profits for weapons manufacturers that has nothing to do with public safety, or that so many of the forces that are endangering our fellow Americans are in place out of greed, and not humanitarianism – that’s a gale-force terror.

I don’t need to have been in the courtroom to know what went wrong in the miscarriage of justice that acquitted the man who killed Philando Castile. I already know what happened and why, and I am once again outraged and disgusted at a soul-level. It hurts my heart that his is another name to add to the list of lives taken carelessly for no reason, with no justice. But it just plain breaks my heart that people of color are told once again that their lives matter less than others. I will never stop fighting against this reality – but that means facing it first.

I have taken to heart something a friend said when I was texting him tearfully in the middle of the night last November wondering what was wrong with my country. “If you didn’t even talk to your own friends and family about the issues you’re so upset about, who should have? I know you didn’t want to get in fights, but was it someone else’s job to help them see another perspective?” He was not born and raised in America, so maybe he is able to see it more clearly than we can, or maybe he is just way smarter than me, but his words echo for me often. I live in a city where the majority of the people I encounter every day share my values and espouse more progressive, humanitarian ideals. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this same city is one of the most culturally and racially diverse on the planet, so I have had countless opportunities to know and understand people with different experiences in life than me. New Yorkers are generally solidly good, kind, and fair people, no matter what fearful tourists may feel, and I think it comes from living harmoniously with such a vibrancy of beliefs, backgrounds, and sheer volume of interacting with others that we have to learn patience, tolerance, and compassion. So how do you bring those lessons and that respectful open-mindedness to people who have never met a Muslim or Jewish person in their lives and genuinely believe they are evil? How do you help people who live in economically, racially, and ideologically segregated areas of the US understand the commonalities of experience and humanity that bind us all worldwide? How can empathy be cultivated where it’s lacking?

I similarly do not believe it’s merely coincidence that a greed-driven mass loss of life in London, a terroristic shooting in Virginia, and the acquittal of an innocent man’s killer should all fall in a row in the same week as the two-year anniversary of the Charleston church shooting, one of the more grotesque modern-day hate crimes. The universe is not ironic, but purposeful here, and the winds are gathering force. We are at an inflection point in history, where we can choose to face them head-on, to confront the harsh and unsettling realities of the erosion of the sanctity of life in the face of greed in our society. We can decide to make massive and essential changes in forward progress because we are unified in our common humanity and belief in the sanctity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Or we could turn away from the wind, retreat into partisan squabbling and the distractions of constant corrupt administration scandals, declare we are exhausted of politics or “divisiveness,” and lose ground.

I am not giving up on America or the sanctity of life. I am not letting the people I love avoid reality or accept unjust inequality rooted in hate and ignorance. We can’t close our eyes or look away, and we must not abandon ship.

All human life is sacred. No human life is inherently better or more valuable than another, especially on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or ability. Human life is more important than profit, property, or power. We need a new social contract that unifies us in the sanctity of life; this change only truly happens in the hearts and minds of our fellow humans when we can see each other as equals. I will never stop facing into this wind and steering as hard as I can toward positive change.

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Keep Your Powder Dry

A few weeks ago, one of my high school friends who consistently brightens my day with her thoughts and photos put up a status on Facebook saying ordinarily she’d like to talk about a silly little event in her life, but in this current political climate, it feels terribly shallow or self-absorbed. I was bummed out to read her self-censorship because I know she is a deeply engaged, caring person, and I couldn’t imagine anyone in her life believing she’d gone into ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand mode, yet I understood where she was coming from (and have maybe been doing the same thing). I was relieved to see another of her friends point out that Facebook is a bit like a cocktail party, and if all you ever did at a party was launch into lengthy political diatribes or microanalysis of current events, you would be just as tedious as if you only ever talked about your recent haircut or your cat.

(For the record, I literally never get tired of talking about cats, and if you’ve ever got like fifteen cat photos you’d like to share with someone, I am your girl.)

I’ve been accused of being overly political, usually by people who haven’t seen me in person in a while. I find it somewhat laughable because I censor probably 98% of the political comments, rants, articles, petitions, etc. that I’d like to share, so the remaining 2% is too much for those who aren’t interested in, well, any politics at all. There are two extremes of the current polarization, both of which are actually fairly aggressive stances, and it seems many people are pulled between them in their lives at the moment.

1.) The “La-La-La No, No Politics Please!” Earmuffs Stance




Image via the Ear Plug Superstore blog, which is full of similarly adorable photos of babies protecting their hearing, awww.

This one can seem innocuous, shouting over conversations that they are tired of all the politics, and asking, “Can’t we talk about something else??” or posting about why social media isn’t joyful and fun for them anymore. Sometimes it’s a pointed refusal to engage in anything remotely political, or to even acknowledge that they live in a political world (I’m sure we all have those friends steadfastly posting diet and workout photos or inviting us to leggings “parties” or vaguebooking about relationship drama or whatever their thing is). I don’t mean the people who refrain from discussing politics publicly for professional reasons (which is an accepted form of capitalistic oppression, but that is neither here nor there) – I mean more the stance that politics are inherently unpleasant or rude, or the people who, to be blunt, can’t be bothered.

A guy who had been hitting on me at a club for an hour actually put his hand over my mouth when I made a political joke and said, “Please, you’re too pretty to think so much about these problems!” (That is a whole separate issue, and I know he was drunk and thought he was being clever, but still, ugh). I’ve been editing them out of my life, but I have had friends who brushed aside any mention of current events with, “No, I’m so sick of that stuff,” then steered the conversation to television shows and gossip. Dates who insistently redirected to what they did for leg day (NOPE).

2.) The Everything-Political-All-the-Time Stance




Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787, oil on canvas, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I am grateful for the friends always ready to call me out on my privilege, identify what they perceive as points of culture that reinforce white supremacy or heteronormativity, and help me constantly question society through a political lens. Sincerely – I think they make me a better person, and I’m glad they put up with me. But I have observed a shift toward aggression and anger that can become alienating and just as oppressive as that which they would like to fight. We all have friends and family on both sides who went overboard with political posts during the election and the post-election period, and I will admit I still have a lot of people hidden online and I have been relieved to be really busy lately and able to duck out of some social events with the more exhausting of them.

This is the type I fear I can be to the people in my life, so I may be overcorrecting to seem an earmuffer. I guarantee I am always reading and overthinking something (usually many things), and if something has happened in the world, you can be reasonably sure I HAVE THOUGHTS ABOUT IT. But I am trying to temper how I express myself so it is not all-caps all the time.



I know that the people in both groups care very much, that they are expressing either their passion for harmony and community (which can be mistaken for complacency or acceptance) or their passion for justice, fairness, and engagement (which can be mistaken for militancy). I am trying – and often struggling – to strike a balance between the two. I think I’ve made my bleeding heart liberal politics crystal clear for years now, but I am also passionate about my interests. I don’t see these things as unrelated, especially when the arts or the environment or human rights are under threat, but I do think it’s important to find balance in one’s life, so we are not trapped in fixation.

I’ve questioned if my art was “political enough,” or if I should be more overt and direct (we’ll talk more about this over on the studio blog soon). I’ve gone through days where my entire existence felt pointless in the face of these massive events and threats, and it felt shallow comforting myself with the apocryphal Winston Churchill quote that if we cut funding for the arts to fuel the war effort, there is nothing worth fighting for. I’ve made my peace with what I’m doing and what more I will be doing, but I still have this uneasiness of feeling like I need to justify the audacity of existing and carrying on, with an attenuation I hadn’t experienced prior to last November.



Here I am grateful for the elasticity of the mind and the way it can simultaneously care intensely about protesting an unjust immigration policy and about a new cake recipe. I once spoke with a veteran who, after a harrowing day with an IED, cried at the book he was reading and wasn’t sure if it was because of the story itself or his relief that he would get to read through to its sad but beautiful ending. There is still music, and it still transports the soul. Awful things are happening in the world and humanity, but rather than spend all my time lamenting them, I need to balance them with kindness, action, creativity, and compassion. I think we all do.

My strategy has become, essentially, “Keep your powder dry,” coupled with “Choose your battles.” There are a lot of people in my life whose political views are intransigent, and just as I will never change my beliefs about egalitarianism or humanitarianism, I know they will never change theirs. It doesn’t make it okay, but ranting at them will only isolate them and prevent any further communication and consideration between us. I believe it is also taking a psychic toll on many people in subtly observable ways, as fatigue sets in from the public performance of citizenship and scrutiny turned on ourselves and one another instead of those we should be holding accountable. I am trying to encourage my friends and family to save their strength for the bigger fights, and to not get mired in petty day-to-day nonsense (that is, after all, the hypernormalisation strategy being deployed) so we can catch the signals through the noise.



Often lately it has been super tempting to lie on the floor and listen to “Holocene” on repeat. But to quote my dad, “This is a lot right now. But we can’t let this be all that there is for us.”




(My dad is hella wise.)

We need to continue making life and culture, engaging each other as full human beings, and finding pleasure in life without stripping the joy away through our guilt or fear. We have some control over how we interpret our experiences, and we can tap out when we need to. As Kumail Nanjiani put it:

During jury duty this week, I was involuntarily subjected to several blaring hours of cable news programs, and I watched the energy of the room shift from a general malaise of boredom or annoyance to acute anxiety to utter exhaustion and exasperation. My district in the Bronx is full of people directly affected by discriminatory policies on immigration, repealing healthcare, institutionalized racism, and the other topics that were being discussed. My district is one the president loves to impugn as the “disastrous inner cities,” mischaracterizing life here as a hellscape of misery, desolate poverty, and unending violence, when my actual experience has been one of a vibrant, beautifully harmonious, and loving community that looks out for everyone in it. It is the most civil and human place I’ve ever lived in New York.

I looked around and chatted with a few fellow jurors, always beginning with a shared eye roll about how we wished they’d turn the televisions off. I started to recognize the face of David staring at the Goliath of a political system gearing up to steamroll everything they cared about, but instead of fear, I saw patience and stone cold determination. One woman who had just described her fairly immediate and urgent concerns about losing healthcare said, “But we’ll outlast them, I know that,” then pointed to Michael Davis’s powerful Equilibrium sculpture overhead emblazoned with MLK’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I was stunned at how comforting her words and unshakable faith in humanity were.



When you think of all the hardship and struggle trees go through, clenching everything significant about themselves into a bud and hoping it’s not frozen or nipped off through seemingly endless months of bitter cold and darkness, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have flowers each spring. They don’t do it because they are brave or heroic, but because that is what they were put here to do: they have a biological imperative and a natural drive to persist and thrive. So too, humans were put here together to help each other and be good stewards of the planet, whether everyone does it or not. I believe we are in a winter of humanity, but spring is coming.

I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of what is happening in the world right now – it is truly as big a crisis as it feels – but I think we need to focus, tap into our reserves of strength and integrity, and organize. We need to resist “either/or” false dichotomies and traps of illogical, lazy thinking or tautology. We need to be critical and clear, use precision and purity of thought and language, and always let compassion lead our principles. It is possible to sacrifice truth for dogma no matter which side of a debate one finds oneself on, so we must resist the attempts to divide and alienate our country wherever they are coming from. Expressing anger is cathartic, and it pains me that some people have not felt able or empowered to express their objections before now, but we have to think about the end games and goals. We should not abandon a good mission over imperfect execution. We should not attack our allies, but instead come together and find our common ground.

We’ll get through this, and I have to believe we’ll eventually be stronger and better for it, if we preserve our humanity and follow our hearts. Nothing is more powerful than the love we share for one another.

Progressive Postcards

I believe strongly in contacting our representatives because the pen is forever mightier than the sword. So I was delighted when the 10 Actions for the First 100 Days began with postcards to senators outlining concerns and requests.

And it turns out, I had quite a lot to say to mine.



I made postcards for 13 of the many, many issues that concern me, then I wrote specific requests for rights I want protected and actions I want taken. With each card, I focused my intentions, and it was a powerful meditative and emotional experience.

I’ve made my designs available for download, if you’d like to print them on cardstock or photo paper to send your own. The PDF download is formatted to print two 4″x6″ postcards (for each of your senators) or you can print one at a time by downloading the JPGs. If you follow USPS postcard regulations, you should be able to mail them using a 34-cent postcard stamp.

If you’d like the whole set, you can download it from Dropbox here (JPGs also on Flickr).




Mni Wiconi: Water Is Life
Download – JPG | PDF




Women’s Rights
Download – JPG | PDF




Environment
Download – JPG | PDF




Health Care is a Human Right
Download – JPG | PDF




Don’t Turn Our Backs On Humanity: Immigration, Refugees, and Ethical Foreign Policy
Download – JPG | PDF




Love Is Love: LGBTQIA Rights and Freedoms
Download – JPG | PDF




Support for Veterans and First Responders
Download – JPG | PDF




Black Lives Matter: Addressing Institutionalized Racism
Download – JPG | PDF




Make America Think Again: Education
Download – JPG | PDF




Disability Access, Independence, and Opportunity
Download – JPG | PDF




End the Epidemic of Gun Violence
Download – JPG | PDF


ERA

Equal Rights Amendment
Download – JPG | PDF


Workers_Rights

Treat Workers Like People: Fair and Humane Labor Policies
Download – JPG | PDF

I feel obliged to put the usual disclaimers that while our values may differ, I think it is essential that you also communicate yours. I’m happy to share what specifically I wrote about each issue, if you’re struggling to find words or have questions about my stances. Politics are nuanced and complex, as our conversations should be.

And while I doubt it’s necessary, I also feel obliged to remind you to please use respectful, clear, and concise language while communicating with your representatives.

The Women’s March on NYC

I had hoped to just write about what participating in this weekend’s Women’s March on NYC, a sister protest of the Women’s March on Washington, meant to me personally. But I also see there are a number of misunderstandings about what the march was about, what it was like, what marchers personally stood for, how marchers behaved, and general purpose nay-saying, so I will address that a bit too.



First, some background. The Women’s March movement was begun with a Facebook post by a woman in Hawaii, shared with friends, and it went viral, gathering momentum through the stages of grassroots organization into something global. With the need to organize millions of people and apply for legal permits, they gained partners and sponsors. (If you are inclined to think it was a bunch of women acting like sheep and somehow organized or funded under the aegis of George Soros, the DNC, the Clinton Foundation, or some vast left-wing conspiracy, I suggest you stop reading right now and if we are friends on social media, do me the favor of changing that.) There were a lot of questions in the early phases of planning, which coalesced into the decisions to include sister cities and to march the day after the Inauguration, in part so that the marchers would not be included in the administration’s attempts to fudge Inaugural attendance numbers (of course they still tried, #alternativefacts).

The march was not simply anti-Trump or pro-abortion, as I’ve seen many falsely claim, but in fact has a number of Unity Principles, which clearly reflect the nonviolence built into the Women’s March Mission and Vision. Not every marcher supported every principle, but the consensus agreement was to use First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly in nonviolent protest. This march was not affiliated with any protests that occurred on Inauguration Day, including those that advocated violence or destruction of property and were characterized on the news as riots. I was surprised that my brother and father still texted us a few times during the day to check if we were safe, but when I later saw how the first wave of protests were covered, I understood a little better how they misunderstood the nonviolent missions of ours.

(I don’t like that I keep feeling like I must have such a defensive or over-explaining tone, but it seems like a lot of basic facts I’ve taken for granted are being warped and not getting across to all my friends and family, so I am trying to be perhaps excessively clear. I am, of course, always happy to discuss anything further one-on-one or in the comments.)

I chose to see my participation as a march FOR and not AGAINST, though I was marching for both. To this end, among other things I was marching FOR:

  • equality and sanctity of humanity regardless of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, wealth, or family status
  • human rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, and freedom of conscience
  • environmental protection and responsible policies in the face of climate change
  • ethical treatment of Native American and First Nations people and respect for their lands and culture
  • equitable and ethical treatment under the law for Black lives and all people of color because extrajudicial executions and institutionalized racism are reprehensible
  • immigrants and refugees, who deserve a safe haven in the world and a path to citizenship
  • universal, affordable health care because I believe health care is a human right
  • veterans and service members whose health care, benefits, and job assistance services should be nonnegotiable; increased access to mental health care and support for PTSD
  • preservation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with the other social safety nets that protect vulnerable people when they need help
  • protecting disability rights and ensuring disabled people have access to education, independence, and opportunities to work and thrive in society
  • a living wage for hourly employees, expanded family leave, and protections for workers’ rights
  • protection of women against violence, rape, and sexual assault, including removing the biased institutional policies that protect perpetrators at the expense of survivors (Brock Turner, for example)
  • preservation of voting rights for all citizens and expansion of access to polls by making Election Day a federal holiday and removing discriminatory voting registration laws
  • peace and not waging untenable wars that destabilize entire regions over oil
  • honesty and transparency in our government, answerable to all citizens and not just corporate donors or SuperPACs



And that is the short list. The thing is, I was marching for everyone, as some of these concerns don’t affect me personally, though others do or could. That is what “Liberty and Justice for All” means. Mostly I was marching for what I believe is right, for the principles our nation is built on, and for what I consider ethical and morally responsible comportment in the world. I know that not everyone will agree with where I land on every issue, but some are nonnegotiable. If you are okay with the government making policies that are specifically designed to disenfranchise people of color because it benefits your candidate, you are supporting institutionalized racism. If you are okay with our government discriminating against poverty or disability in the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” then we have a much bigger discussion about morality and the role of government ahead.

So now that we’ve established just some of the reasons why I marched (I could go on), I want to move on to how incredible it was to be part of it.

A few weeks ago my mother and I started discussing the Inauguration and people planning to protest it. We discussed the Women’s March on Washington and what a peaceful demonstration could plausibly achieve. One of us pointed out there was a sister march in NYC, and I said it meant more to me to march in my beloved city than the Capitol. I wanted to be with fellow New Yorkers, to make our presence known where I live. We continued a then-hypothetical conversation about the goals of the march, the history and spirit of nonviolent protest, and by the end, we both felt compelled to join the Women’s March in NYC. I registered us with the organizers (so they could apply for an appropriate amount of permits), we worked out our logistics, and we were in. I don’t know what possessed me to, but I asked my mother, “Will Dad be cool with you marching?” and she laughed, “Frankly, it’s not his decision, now is it?” (He was, for the record, not only cool with it, but wholly supportive, proud, and said, “This is something really important.” You can’t grow up with a strong mother and five sisters and marry my mother without being an avowed feminist.)

A few days before the march, I decided to knit our protest hats. At first my mother and I weren’t going to wear any, as we were concerned they were infantilizing or made light of seriously life-or-death concerns. The more I read about the Pussyhat Project and discussed it with fellow knitters, the better I understood its power as a unifying symbol, summarized well in this article. I appreciated that these hats were handmade, as individualized as the people making them, and they served a practical purpose in January weather. Some knitters and crocheters made and donated dozens of hats for other marchers, and I wish I’d made more than our two.



The night before the march, we ate pizza, talked at length, and painted our signs. I went with Hillary Clinton’s quote, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and my mother made a more specific message, “Complacent Is Complicit / Strong Women Stand Together” in a somewhat retro style to reflect that she has been fighting for equality and basic human decency her whole life. As we made our way to Midtown through subway delays and extra transfers, we started to see more and more pink hats and marchers, and it was a genuine treat to feel like we were joining our tribe. People stopped us to take photos of our hats and signs, and we instantly bonded with other New Yorkers in ways I wouldn’t have considered possible before. By the time we got to Grand Central, there were hundreds of marchers in every direction, and I’ve never seen such a pleasant, considerate mood in New York.



The start times of the march were staggered by last name, so we could already hear thousands of people marching down 42nd Street as we made our way to the start point. It was an astonishingly beautiful sound. When we got to the plaza where the march was assembling, we were amazed at the sheer volume of people, dazzled by so many hats, signs, and such beauty in literally resplendent afternoon light (I have a mild sunburn on my cheeks to show for it even though I was wearing SPF 30). As we waited for our start time, we participated in chants and pointed out particularly clever or emotionally impactful signs to one another. Say what you will about New Yorkers, but our reputation for being an exceptionally literary city is well-earned. I can be hypersensitive to spelling and grammar mistakes, and I saw almost none. Just pause for a second to recognize that of the thousands of signs I read over several hours, I may have seen a total of three grammar errors or misspellings. That by itself is kind of miraculous.



© Jenny Sowry, via Mashable, #WokeBaby

I observed an incredible diversity of people marching, representing more causes than I could possibly list, with varying levels of specificity, complex emotional nuance, and unbelievable creativity. As an artist, I was deeply touched at all the people who took the time to express themselves visually, and I was stunned by how truly effective many of the signs were (including, of course, #WokeBaby from the Charlotte march, above).

The march picked up as we turned the corner onto 42nd Street, down a corridor of amazing architecture toward the gleaming Chrysler Building. I have literally never seen so many people in my life, a sea of humanity united as far as I could see, and it was just plain staggering. The family behind us lifted their children onto their shoulders to show them how far the march stretched in both directions, and their mother said, “Look at how many people are marching for what they believe in,” as my mother and I simultaneously became overwhelmed with emotion.

They continued to explain how everyone was marching for people like those in the children’s lives, whom they named by name and cause, including “so Grandma can still have her medicine,” which hit me right in the feels. They told the brother how all these people want to make sure his sister and mother have the same rights and freedoms as him and Daddy. Right about when I’d regained my composure, they said, “But it’s important that no matter what, you decide what you believe and that you care about that as much as we care about this.” Considering our family motto growing up might as well have been, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you what to think, including us,” my mother and I both turned to thank the parents for raising socially conscious children and encouraging them to think for themselves. That family gives me so much hope for the future.



I didn’t take many photos, but I will never forget some of my favorite signs, chants, and experiences:

  • The Resistance is Fertile (imagery of plants and the earth)
  • A photo of Malala Yousafzai captioned just, “EDUCATION”
  • A young woman marching in memory of her grandmother, a feminist and civil rights activist who had passed away in 2017, noted “With Us In Spirit”
  • A 9- or 10-year old girl beside us shouting, “My Body, My Choice!” at the top of her lungs
  • The call-and-response style of men chanting “Her Body, Her Choice!” after women
  • People playing upbeat songs out of their apartment windows to energize the marchers; one guy saying he didn’t like the song one group was playing and his friend quipping, “Hey man, her apartment, her choice.”
  • A man in head-to-toe rainbow clothes waving a Pride flag joking, “How did they know I love this song??” when “YMCA” came on
  • The same strength and enthusiasm of chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No DAPL” as everything else (this shouldn’t be remarkable, but it still is)
  • A group of women marching with the Statue of Liberty’s torch
  • The incredible feeling of shouting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and knowing it was true
  • In Grand Central, a man carrying a sign as tall as him reading Don’t Be a Dick
  • The admittedly somewhat petty and slightly mean-spirited chant of, “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build the Wall!”
  • The second line and drum bands leading the marchers in singalongs of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful”
  • Several police officers being given pink hats to wear over their uniform hats, cheering for various signs and chanting along with “Black Lives Matter”
  • Speaking with several college-aged women about how for some marchers like my mother, it wasn’t clear if they were protesting Again or Still; the awe in their eyes as they asked how she could stand it, and the fire in my mother’s as she said, “By insisting we don’t go backwards.”
  • An image of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia with “A woman’s place is in the resistance”
  • Pithy one-word signs that got the point across, “UGH!” and “NOPE.”
  • An elaborate drawing of the earth surrounded by flowers and hearts, against a backdrop of space, “I Love the Whole Universe”
  • The spectacular echo under an overpass as we chanted, “This is not normal!”
  • Signs in Spanish that repeated 70s-era feminist slogans like, “I am woman, hear me roar”
  • Weak Men Fear Strong Women (one of my badass friends in Los Angeles had a great version of this one)
  • Fight Like a Girl
  • Shortly after an anti-Wall chant, “Have no fear, you’re welcome here!”
  • “We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter”
  • You Don’t Need to Suppress the Press If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong
  • Very young boy’s sign decorated with the Twitter logo Xed out, “Quit Tweeting and Get to Work!”; his explanation, “Sometimes I play video games when I’m supposed to do my homework, but the President shouldn’t be bad.”
  • Save the ACA If You Insist On Making Us Sick
  • I’m With Her, with arrows pointing in every direction
  • A moment I shared with a Black woman in about her late 70s, when she stumbled in a low spot and I reflexively offered her my arm. She looked me in the eyes, nodded, smiled, then said, “Thanks, sister” like she meant it.
  • A group of young women starting the Meredith Brooks song “Bitch,” but everyone forgetting the words past the intro, mumbling to the refrain, then one yelling, “The point is bitches are complex and beautiful!”
  • A quote from Hillary Clinton’s graceful and inspiring concession speech, “[To] all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world…”
  • The fact that very few of the chants mentioned the President by name, and none of them had expletives (the latter by request of the organizers)
  • Science is Not a Partisan Issue
  • Without the Arts, I Would Be Dead
  • Without the Arts, I Couldn’t Make Such a *Glorious* Sign (beautifully lettered with loads of glitter)
  • Incredible quotes by MLK and other nonviolent civil rights leaders and thinkers from history
  • And lastly, this guy, who truly pulled off that bow:


  • (You can see loads more here.)

    When we were finished marching we walked back down Fifth Avenue near the New York Public Library, where an impromptu gallery of signs had been set up (a much larger display was being established at the President’s tower). I’ve seen another misguided criticism of the marches that slams people for “leaving their trash behind” as if the signs were just discarded litter, but it was clear that this was an intentional installation so the message could continue to be considered and spread after the march. We saw crowds of pedestrians and tourists thoughtfully reading and photographing the signs, clusters of conversation among strangers discussing the issues presented in the signs, and we were stopped to have our photos taken by people who particularly responded to our messages.

    After the march, we had one of the coolest, most healing experiences of my life (I will write all about that soon) and I went home positively glowing.

    As I looked at photos and read accounts from literally every continent on the globe the next morning, the full reality of what we’d participated in hit home. We marched at the same time as millions of people in other states, for causes so important that women around the world organized in solidarity. The collective positive energy of nonviolent protest and determination was palpable, and I believe we were heard. We participated in a powerful moment in history, and I will be proud for the rest of my life that we refused to be complacent. I felt more connected to humanity and the universe in that one day than I ever have in my life, and it was more beautiful than I could have imagined.

    Naturally, I have also seen plenty of cynicism and criticism, misconstruing the tone and intent in ways that seem woefully ignorant and needlessly partisan. The march was held on a Saturday so most people would not have to miss work, yet there are still plenty of people sneering that maybe if the marchers had jobs they wouldn’t be protesting. I’ve seen attempts to bash the Women’s March as a bunch of self-involved, overprivileged white women whining because our candidate didn’t win an election, using the gaslighting technique of criticizing marchers for not doing anything about oppressed women in other parts of the world; to this I say, it’s not either / or, and I was specifically marching for their rights too. (Also, do you support NGOs that help women in India escape domestic violence or sex slavery to achieve self-sufficiency and economic freedom? Because I do, and I have met these women – it’s part of why I’m so passionate about women’s rights.)

    I’ve seen friends ordered by out-of-touch relatives to stop posting “such vulgarities” because “men are watching this!” and I’ve seen people suggest that if every marcher cooked a meal for a veteran or homeless person that day we could actually make a difference (but of course, they didn’t do anything charitable that day – I think they had something really important to do like go grocery shopping, run errands, and comment on Facebook posts). There is a common and mystifying misconception that the women who marched aren’t also actively involved in volunteer work and community organizations because they took one day to make a stand against bigoted institutional policies. As I learned about other causes and efforts made by my fellow marchers, I saw how that couldn’t be further from the truth. But while we’re at it, when did it become okay to police how others spend their free time??

    The work, obviously, is just beginning, and it’s never too late to join. Check out the 10 Actions for 100 Days, and don’t hesitate to contact your representatives to make your voice heard. Seek out local and grassroots organizations where you can volunteer or donate to national organizations to help the causes you believe in. Even something seemingly small like tutoring for adult literacy or ESL can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Above all, please never stop speaking up for what is right, and never stop standing up for what you believe in.

    I, for one, refuse to sit down, shut up, and behave myself ever again.

The Fairer Sex and Why I March

I’m writing this post in advance of the Women’s March on NYC this Saturday, to express some of the reasons Why I March. There are, unfortunately, many other reasons, but let’s start with the first: I am a woman, and that still means I am a second-class citizen in America in 2017.



Unless you are a woman, there are some experiences of discrimination and misogyny I don’t think you can ever fully understand. For the sake of not airing all my grievances at once (a lady must keep some semblance of mystery), let’s say I haven’t lived everything on this list, just most of it, and it’s nowhere near a complete list. But if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s definitely happened to a woman I know and probably someone you know too.

It probably goes without saying, but fair warning, there is discussion of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, among other things below.

Unless you are a woman, you probably haven’t…

  • Had adult men leer at your pre-teen adolescent body and make suggestive, hypersexualizing statements about how you are developing.
  • Been groped or fondled by a complete stranger in public, with no one saying or doing anything. Or had it suggested that you had it coming for dressing the way you did and smiling too much.
  • Been told your choice of a major in math or science “isn’t easy, you know,” and been told repeatedly that you would maybe prefer something like English or communications “where girls seem to thrive.”
  • Sat through an exam or a work meeting with menstrual cramps that are as painful as a heart attack, knowing you can’t flinch or react because it’s not appropriate to talk about that kind of pain.
  • Discovered you were pregnant when you started to have a miscarriage at work, then not being given any time off except the actual time you may have been hospitalized.
  • Sought treatment for mental health concerns, asked if better regulating your hormones might help, and learning that antidepressants and mood stabilizers make it that oral contraceptives don’t work; asking why this fact isn’t better known, and your doctor just shrugging because people don’t really research “that kind of stuff.”
  • Dated a man who fully expected you to give up your career one day to raise his children and referred to your degree as your academic interest, even when you earned more than him.
  • Worked yourself sick at a job while struggling to make ends meet, then learned the men at your office were making easily 2-3 times what you earned and none of the other women had ever gotten a raise.
  • Had a construction foreman pantomime to your boss that you should be put over his knee and spanked for a small mistake, then your boss laughing along with everyone on the site who you were supposed to be supervising, even when you asked, “Would you make that joke if [my male coworker] forgot his keys??” (Okay, yeah, this one really happened to me in Paris and it broke my heart.)
  • Had a man shove his hand up your dress on the subway with such force that he left bloody scratch marks on your inner thigh, arrived at the office late because you needed to sit in a park and cry for a bit, then been reprimanded for not being friendly when your coworker greeted you with objectifying comments about the dress you would now like to burn. (Yes, this one is also me, and I still can’t wear that dress.)
  • Had every bite of food you eat in public monitored and judged, as everyone feels they should offer advice on your weight and fitness level.
  • Suffered severe post-partum depression and been told by everyone in your life you just need to shake it off and concentrate on the joy of your new baby.
  • Been kept as a contractor for over a decade so your employer could deny you benefits; been repeatedly passed up for promotions because your boss felt the male employees should be prioritized as “they have families to support.”
  • Been denied a promotion because it is assumed you are going to marry your boyfriend and quit in a few years to have children.
  • Gained 20 pounds when you went on medication and been told “you have gotten so fat I can’t even see you as a woman anymore, let alone find you attractive.” (Yeah, I am not ever going to forgive him for that.)
  • Seriously assessed your safety level at a party or bar and concluded if you don’t want to be raped, you need to leave immediately.
  • Been told by a professor that you should probably focus on marrying well.
  • Known that everywhere you go and at any time, a man can rape you, and you may not legally be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy.
  • Been told you should take sexual objectification as a compliment and “enjoy it while it lasts.”
  • Dated a man who declared you were solely responsible for birth control, mostly because he didn’t want to wear a condom. Dated another man who refused to discuss birth control or what would happen if you became pregnant because, “That’s your problem, baby.”
  • Considered the ways you could make suicide look like an accident if it turned out you were pregnant and not just missing your period from the stress of an abusive relationship.
  • Mentioned how encouraging it was to work with an all-women team of scientists at a research symposium and having several men make jokes about your periods syncing.
  • Had your neighbors suggest a pattern you could knock on their wall if you ever needed them to call the police on your boyfriend or kick down your door to help you.
  • Participated in political conversations about reproductive rights characterizing women seeking affordable contraception as morally loose “sluts” because men didn’t want their health insurance to pay for family planning, while wondering if they considered their wives sluts too.
  • Given a presentation while a classmate, professor, or professional colleague openly stared at your breasts the entire time, wishing you could crawl out of your skin.
  • Had a strange man masturbate, to completion, while you were alone on a subway car being held between stations, petrified and trying not to react at all. Reported it to the conductor at the next stop and been told the train crew watched it in the cameras laughing, but it didn’t occur to them to intervene.
  • Requested an estimate for a car repair and been told you should come back with your husband or father, so he can help you understand it.
  • Been raped by a friend and had a mutual friend say it was your fault for leading him on.
  • Been screamed at and assaulted at work then had your HR complaint disregarded because you were being “overly emotional” about it. Later having your job threatened because you still seemed upset and uncomfortable and it was bumming people out.
  • Been called a bitch repeatedly in the same day, more days than you can count.
  • Developed a habit of figuring out how to escape every room and building you enter on a date, in case he decides to pin you against a wall somewhere and gets violent.
  • Weighed the odds of a man seriously hurting or killing you against your ability to talk or fight your way out of an aggressive sexual assault.
  • Learned that you were hired as a bartender with the intent to convince you to also become a prostitute for the owner, who assumed you understood that’s why he hired you despite your lack of experience.
  • Invited a man for dinner to discuss a contract job you’d like to hire him for, and had him say, “Okay, if you bring your best friend so I have something nice to look at while we talk.”
  • Discussed stories of the many ways your body has been violated and had a male friend say he is surprised because “you’re cute and all,” but not the kind of woman you’d expect to “get hit on” so much.
  • Had a seemingly sane guy you had spent a few hours dancing with wrap his arm around your neck, holding you in some kind of headlock so he could show you the money in his wallet that he offered you if you would go to a hotel room with him right then. (This just happened on my birthday.)
  • Expressed a controversial opinion on Facebook and had your face photoshopped on pornographic images and pasted all over your page and messaged to several of your friends.
  • Felt forced to choose between education and a career or starting a family. Been called crazy by men who don’t have an expiration date on their reproductive years and can’t understand why you are concerned with not wasting time. Been treated as if you are trying to “trap” a man when you say you only pursue monogamous relationships.
  • Only been able to deter a would-be rapist by saying you have a husband, and it happens to be someone he knows.
  • Had your concerns about pay equality, reproductive freedom, sexual assault survivors’ rights, and women’s health care coverage dismissed as “whining” and been told, “If you want higher pay, you should work harder for it or get better at negotiating” by men who have known nothing but privilege in life.
  • Told your friends and family about a new job and been asked repeatedly, “And are there any handsome men there? Anyone who might make a nice boyfriend?”
  • Been sent unsolicited dick pics by more than ten of your completely platonic male friends and anyone you’ve met online, including men pretending they are interested in commissioning art from you or hiring you for a job.
  • Spent a date deflecting attempts to steer the conversation toward a man’s salary because you don’t want to be called a “gold-digging whore” when you don’t agree to a second date on the basis of his personality.
  • Been referred to as “the girl” well into your 30s and called infantilizing names like honey, sweetie, baby, and dear in public and professional settings by strangers and vendors, whether you object or not.
  • Had a rumor spread to all of your coworkers that you got your promotion from $7 to $11 an hour by sleeping with your supervisor and having an entire receiving department of a clothing store pantomime you performing oral sex and telling you everything they’d like to do with you every time they saw you.
  • Formed a sincere friendship with a married man and had your coworkers start a rumor that you must be trying to lure him into an affair because they can’t see any other reason he would want to talk with you.
  • Been sexually assaulted, then told it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk.
  • Gone to an art exhibit and dinner with a professor on the guise of talking about painting, pretended you didn’t notice his “accidental” hand on your thigh or brush of your breast when he helped you with your coat, turned your head and pretended he was just kissing you goodbye on the cheek as he licked your face, then went home to frantically calculate how much of your grade in his class could still be affected. Felt genuinely grateful a few weeks later that he didn’t punish you for rejecting his advances.
  • Called the super of your building for repairs to the oven in your first apartment and been cornered in your kitchen with one hand squeezing your neck while he shoved the other up your blouse, thrusting against you. Later had his wife come to threaten you for telling the building owner what he did in your tearful request that he never come into your apartment unaccompanied again.
  • Dyed your hair red for several months after a friend of a friend shoved into a bar bathroom with you and tried to force himself on you, excusing himself with, “I can never control myself around blondes.”
  • Engaged in constant and exhausting self-monitoring of your posture, bodily position, use of language that could be misinterpreted as suggestive, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dress to hide as much of your figure as possible at work so your boss and colleagues don’t treat you as a sex object all day.
  • Believed the way men mistreat you is all your fault, or that maybe the way you’re treated really is your only worth.

I could easily go on for another thousand words, but I’m getting exhausted remembering all these experiences. I know that for every man who has treated me as nothing but a body he was entitled to use for gratification, there are other truly good, kind, feminist men out there who would never dream of treating a woman this way. I am grateful that so many of my friends who are fathers are as concerned with protecting the sanctity of women’s lives and bodies as I am, and I have hope that they are raising their sons to treat women better than past generations have. I know there are men who recognized the pay gap and encouraged me to ask for raises, and there are men who have seen me as their equal, or respected me personally or professionally – but they are few and far between. I still find it so incredibly frustrating to discuss issues of professional inequality, objectification, sexual predation, and institutionalized misogyny with most men because they just don’t see it.

I think about all of the experiences above that have happened to me and women I know, and I know not to trust most men to pass laws that affect women’s bodies and access to healthcare. I’ve discussed trans-phobic bathroom discrimination bills with men at length, and they’ve often come back to the myth of a man claiming to be a trans woman so he can expose himself to young women in a bathroom or locker room. They don’t seem capable of understanding that by the time a girl is old enough to go to the bathroom by herself, odds are high she’s already seen more unwelcome male genitalia than she can count, and she would be relieved if this strawman were able to just stick to flashing.

We don’t talk about the manifold ways girls’ and women’s bodies are violated, in part because we live in a victim-blaming culture that repeatedly casts women as wanton temptresses and their sexual assaulters as red-blooded American males feeling their oats. When the president-elect bragged about sexually assaulting women, it was dismissed by some as “locker room talk,” but just about every woman I know recoiled at the memory of their own assaults. Plural – often repeatedly, and violently, by people they should have been able to trust in settings where they should have been safe. I can’t accept that state of being as anywhere near okay.

I don’t know if it is helpful to share these experiences with men and confront them with what it’s really like to be a woman, but I think we should try. Or maybe share them with women and work on ways to prevent them from happening again to others. Because somehow women are still not being treated as equal human beings, and that needs to change right now.

As with other forms of discrimination, I believe that codifying unjust treatment of women by laws that restrict reproductive rights or limit access to healthcare is a way of sanctioning our treatment as lesser, making it the law of the land that our bodies are not our own, but open for others to possess and legislate. I feel it is crucial to protect women’s rights and keep on fighting for equality, now more than ever.