Saturday was an amazing day for anyone who believes in feminism, inclusion, and fundamental human rights. But, as Steven put it so beautifully yesterday, it was only a start. There are many fights to be had and we need to stay focused, a team that is ever moving forward.
And as uplifting as this weekend felt, as unified as we all were, there are still a lot of pitfalls ahead. Because the liberal Left is and does many amazing things, but getting behind a Unity of Purpose, a Unity of Vision, isn’t a strength of ours. Look no further than the Bernie/Hillary division that never fully healed after the primary. The other side of the ticket was Donald Trump and every single person who considers themselves a humanitarian or a Democrat should have been coalescing around ensuring that he didn’t win, that we didn’t end up where we are now. This never happened, and there is plenty of blame to go around, some starting at the top with Hillary and the DNC. But the blame game doesn’t matter any more. What matters is continuing what we started this weekend, and the relevant lesson from the Bernie/Hillary divide is that there were pockets of people that refused to meaningfully talk to each other. I mean really talk, by not just speaking but also listening.
As I marched on Saturday morning with an amazing three-quarters-of-a-million beautiful people, I saw signs supporting virtually every issue the Left cares about: reproductive rights, gender rights, sexual rights, immigrant rights, veterans’ rights, workers’ rights, free speech and a free press, the environment, and (of course) anti-jingoistic nationalism, anti-fascism and anti-Trump — it was all there and it’s part of what made the day so amazing. Folks talked among themselves about these issues, learning and celebrating all the causes and aspects of this movement. For a few hours, we were all able to look past the fights, look past the desire to prioritize our issues over the other issues of the movement, to appreciate and love our unity. That person holding their sign did not mean they were belittling or didn’t care about that other person and the issue addressed by their sign. We are all in this together.
Moving forward, we have to keep this focus. I have always given the Republicans credit, for better or for worse, for having a machine that knows how to pull its constituents together. Their machine finds a singular and focused set of core issues — usually involving the trampling of rights — and gets factions that otherwise have many differences to come together over that defined platform. We’ve seen the Right come together to fight against gay rights, women’s rights, and reasonable gun control, and they fight with unity of focus on these issues, despite their widespread disagreements on so many other things. With Trump, yes there was racism and sexism and hate. But there was also this emphasis on the poor and lower-middle classes. The party pretended to offer economic solutions to their problems (something I hope they’re already seeing was nothing but lies) and many people were willing to put aside their own dislike of the racism and sexism and other negative aspects of Trump and his campaign.
Right now, the Movement should be focused on the common goal of ensuring that this administration only has a four-year run and, at least to the many administration goals that run against what we believe, making that four-year run as ineffective as possible. And that means we have to pick our battles. We can’t attack everything or we lose everything. What is the central set of key issues that will best unify all of us and move our ball forward? I don’t know the answer, but we need to be willing to sit down and have this conversation. It’s a hard, complicated, and long conversation. But it has to be a conversation.
We have to stop eating ourselves alive from within. We can’t keep fighting and squabbling among ourselves. Where we disagree on issues, and the prioritization of those issues, we need to talk about it and work through it, remembering that we all ultimately want the same thing and that we have to be productive to make any of it happen. We need to always be thinking about moving our unified ball forward.
But this is hard, because every person, every group, wants their key issues to be top priorities and everything can’t be a top priority. How can we tell someone that the issue that impacts them so much, that may impact their very safety and right to life, needs to be second fiddle to some other issue? I don’t know, but the start is definitely that it can’t be about “telling.” Especially if you’re like me. I am a privileged, upper-middle class white cis male. Sure, I’m a Jew with a Jew nose and a Jew name, and I’ve had ugly antisemitism thrown my way, but that doesn’t give me the right to tell our black, gay, trans, immigrant (etc. etc.) brothers and sisters what to fight for, how to fight for it, or what should matter and not matter.
I am on a lifelong journey to grow and become a better feminist, advocate and citizen. If I have learned anything on this journey, it’s that it starts with listening. Yesterday, TK wrote a fantastic piece about this “is it OK to punch a Nazi” bullshit and why that’s the wrong question to be asking, given the violence that people of color face on a regular basis with little condemnation or discussion like this. While hundreds were in agreement with the first half of TK’s post, the part the needed the most attention was the latter and a lot of people weren’t listening. The comments are a shit show. Focusing on “yeah, Nazis bad, punch away” or “all violence bad, shame, don’t stoop” … that’s not listening. TK raised an important point, an issue that is deathly important to our friends of color, and if we don’t listen, if we talk about not just the problem but the problems behind the problem and try to figure out how to attack them, we’ll never win.
The other thing white men have to do is own our privilege. I have a friend who refuses to see that he is privileged, and he takes offense at the term. God damn it, it’s nothing to be offended by. I have rewritten a decent chunk of this article already after a wonderful woman pointed out some unintended perceptions or consequences in my original words, things which I didn’t pick up on. Even still, I am sure there are one or more things here that I can be called out on from a place of “dude, you’re missing the point, or you can’t say that, because you’re a white cis male.” But what I can do is show up authentically and commit to continuing to learn, not to get angry or defensive, but to listen and try to understand.
Us privileged white boys say we get it. We say we’re with you. But we don’t show up for a Black Lives Matter march. Personally, I marched in DC in 1993 for LGBT rights, but I can’t say I’ve done much to support that community in the 24 years since. I’ve done some good immigration pro bono work and getting my hands dirty, listening to my clients, that’s how I’ve really come to understand certain key immigration issues. I can do better — we can do better — by meeting you all more than halfway, by helping and supporting you.
That’s step one and, frankly, that’s the easy one. Step two is harder. Because it’s not necessarily right or fair for me, the privileged white boy, to call for unity when I don’t really have anything to give up. Women, people of color, gay people, trans people, Muslims, immigrants, etc. each have their own key issues, things that impact their daily lives, their safety, their basic humanity and right to life. The harsh reality is that we cannot get it all done at once. Somehow, we have to find a way to identify the key underlying issues that can advance things forward for as much of you (us) as possible, key issues that everyone can coalesce behind and fight for. I can’t tell us how to find this unity, but I’ll listen and help however I can.
The unity we all felt at the Women’s March has to sustain, or we lose. If we talk at and through each other, rather than to each other, we lose. If we don’t start having hard discussions now, we lose. You guys, I’m terrified that we can’t do this and if we lose, all the issues that we care about not only fail to advance, but fall further away. We can only accomplish everything after we begin to accomplish something. I love you all and want us to win this Fight. So let’s talk ….