Today, I participated in the Still We Rise Rally and March in Corvallis, Oregon on the anniversary weekend of the Women’s March on Washington DC (2017). Last year, I marched in PDX. This year, I marched in the city where I learned to be a social justice advocate. If was fitting to be in Corvallis to hear the speakers talk about the people who weren’t at the march, those who decided to sit out as many of us angry white women stepped up to the plate to advocate for ourselves and our rights as women. What the speakers reminded us was that we should be participating in the intersectional kind of advocacy that forces us to learn about and support people who may not share our identities.
I’ve been silent about my disgust for the policy changes that have been terrorizing transgender folks. I’ve been silent about my frustration with the health care religious freedom reform that essentially guarantees the sort of Nazi-like discrimination and heterosexism that will hurt many of my fellow humans. I’ve been silent about my frustration with the lawmakers who continue to make horrible policy decisions that privilege the wealthy and widen the socio-economic gaps for the rest of us.
Why have I been silent? I’ve been overwhelmed with the insanity that has cloaked our country and world this past year. My daily work allows me the privilege to support international students coming to the United States to study on F-1 and J-1 visas. In doing so, I encounter students with hardship, many of whom show concern for the things happening here in the U.S. and in their home countries. They’re college students – they should be able to experience life in college with learning and growth in a way that doesn’t force them to worry about visa denials and angry Customs and Border Protection officers, let alone xenophobic lawmakers in DC. But, they do worry about these issues. And it’s my job to help them think about their experience and guide them to resources that can help them navigate their struggles and feelings within the context of this mercurial world in which we live.
Because of my work, I often feel tapped out emotionally. But this feeling of being “tapped out” is cloaked in my privilege as a white person.
This past Monday, I attended the MLK event on Oregon State University’s campus. I heard an amazing speaker and spent some time reflecting on what MLK means to me. At the end of the speaker’s presentation, there was a Peace March in Corvallis. I could have attended – I had time, but instead, I met up with my friends. I’ve thought about this a lot. Why didn’t I march then? Why did I decide to march today, but I didn’t add an extra hour to my MLK celebration to truly respond emotionally to the impact of the Civil Rights movement?
The answer is anything but simple. To understand it, I have to go back to a conversation I had about three weeks ago. I was hanging out with a friend of mine. He moved to Oregon last fall and has been living in Corvallis ever since. He told me that he went to Portland pretty often for a chance to be around more diversity. And then he asked me what it was like to grow up in Oregon. My answer: “I don’t know. I mean – I just grew up here. I didn’t really know it was so white until I got older,” I said. I went on to explain how I always wished for something different which was what lead me to travel internationally. I find it difficult to explain Oregon and the culture here. It’s still my home. But here, I continually have to work to challenge many of the ideological issues that allow racism, sexism, and other prejudice to fester and taint our society.
When I think of why I didn’t participate in the MLK march, it’s partially that struggle – I don’t always know how to actively engage in the struggle – which is why now, in 2018, I’ve been hiking a bit. I either hike alone or go with friends who get the struggle. One of my friends challenges me a lot – when I say a blanket statement that isn’t helping the situation, she’ll challenge it. I need that! I need to be challenged to continue the fight. And honestly, my friends and the green pieces of Oregon called nature are helping me work through the psychological impact of the state of our world in 2018.
I marched today. This made me incredibly proud and also very aware that there is a lot of personal work I must continue to do as I build my life of advocacy for social justice and social change. Because honestly, it takes more than having the job I do and marching for feminism once a year. True advocacy requires the difficult conversations I’ve been avoiding with family. It requires me to speak out at work, on the bus, and at a friends’ house to question the prejudice and bias that continues to spread us apart rather than bringing us together as stronger, wiser communities. It requires me to march for MLK and for Women. And honestly folks, I gotta step to the place and do more every day.
Once again, today is a day I commit to advocacy and equity. I’ll have to remind myself to do this again tomorrow. Are you with me?
Tata for now.