Why I March, With Fearless Listening (Part 2)

 

Last week I shared WHY I march for justice and human rights (in this post).

 

I shined a light on what the stormy sea of pink hats, rainbow-lettered signs, and thunderous chants at the Women’s March represented for me.

 

I also mentioned that I saw (and see) cracks in the movement. Today I’ll share what the cracks have to do with why I march.

 

This realization hit home in a conversation with my partner a few weeks ago.

 

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Before I go on, I’d like to share a few things (for context):

 

You may be thinking–The Women’s March feels so distant! There are thousands of other marches and protests to focus on. Is this the most relevant topic right now?

 

And to that I’ll say: I hear you, and yes.

 

Here’s why. I’m focusing on women because: A) After taking time to process all that’s surfaced, I believe the cracks in this movement are symbolic of the cracks in other movements; and B) because, let’s be honest, if women can heal the breach in our movement, anyone can.

 

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll also note that I’m a speaker and coach who facilitates conversations about racial equity and systemic oppression for a living. I spend a great deal of time on the power of listening.

 

I emphasize that listening is not the absence of talking, but rather the presence of attention. Listening is the open, calm, exchange that we need to truly build bridges and strengthen communities. I urge people to listen, even when it’s painful. Especially when it’s painful.

 

I’m also a relentless optimist. Relentless. I mean, to some people I’m that annoying smiley woman who’s like, “but I see the silver lining…”. For real. I used to hold back, but now I own it.

Okay, back to my story…

So, as Lia (my partner) and I were driving to the movies one day, we had a moment that illuminated the cultural lily pads our feet tend to straddle in our interracial relationship.

 

One foot on the lily pad of my white family/community, and one foot with her African American family/community.

 

My default-mode tends to lean on the side of my upbringing, and I’m very aware that I have blind-spots, so I tend to ask a lot of questions.

 

On this particular day in the car, our topic was the upcoming Women’s March.

 

I asked Lia if I was being naively optimistic in my excitement. I knew there were cracks in the movement, but I felt hopeful that we could forge a united front as women.

 

Her face showed some ambivalence and disappointment after glancing at her phone.

 

I leaned in and asked why.

 

As she shared more, I realized her newsfeed painted some of her facial expression.

 

“What are you reading about?” I asked.

 

She answered that a lot of people were sharing posts with frustration—and they were largely frustrated with white women. On that particular day, at that particular moment, there was a lot of energy around the NAACP pulling out of Portland’s March.

 

In case you didn’t hear about it, the situation in Portland was unfortunate. The leadership of the March (at the time) made some very poor, inexcusable decisions that were  not in support of or in  solidarity with issues of immigration and Black Lives Matter, because they were “too political” according to the author in this piece. She captures the gist of it.

 

When I listened to Lia share more about the frustrations of the Black community, I felt the pain in her face.  

 

Honestly, I first felt confused and frustrated that I hadn’t heard about any of this. At one point I even felt misunderstood, and I froze for a moment.

 

But then, I paused. I arrived at a critical juncture: I could throw my hands up, feel stuck and confused in my frozen state…OR I could let go of my shame, acknowledge it as a privilege, and listen with fearless curiosity.

 

I went with the latter, but it took intentional effort. I had to breathe in and out all the feelings that came with my initial reactions after hearing her reflections.

 

I then chose to do more listening and learning. I was on a mission to read more blogs and articles with different perspectives.

 

This quote from Margaret Corvid’s blog resonated a lot with me:

 

“[white women] need to learn to follow, and to use their privilege to protect and strengthen the movements that directly challenge the brutal order, not to push them out of the way.”

 

Yes. This is why I march.

 

I also found this article by Brittany Oliver to be insightful. She explains why many women of color find the Women’s March movement hurtful.

 

Oliver points out that the march was originally named after two historic moments in civil rights history. By stealing their names, it threatened to bury the memory of these important achievements by people of color: the One Million Woman March led by Black women in 1997, and the March on Washington in 1963 that ended with Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream.”

 

In her message to Women’s March organizers, Oliver says:

“Overall, you all have co-opted the messaging of these two very important historical moments in Black history and it’s unfortunate because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to preserve Black activism…This is why so many Black women and Black people of various identities struggle with connecting to mainstream feminism. It has so often failed to give us a platform to discuss how racial inequality relates to gender inequality. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care about equal rights across the board; it just means we can’t ignore the racism within the movement.”

 

Oliver’s words press right on the painful knot that could paralyze the movement.

 

This is why I march.

 

On one hand, each group within the women’s rights movement has a unique perspective and needs it’s own place at the table. On the other hand, we need to speak with one voice to be heard above the rhetoric that legitimizes human rights abuse.

 

This is a complicated problem, and I fear it could become an excuse for white women to give up or get discouraged while fighting for human rights.

 

As a white woman, I realize that privilege can lead to apathy; if I feel rejected in activism, it is easy to lose hope and want to give up.

 

But I refuse to let that happen. That would mean I was taking advantage of a luxury that other women do not have.

 

And that’s not okay.

 

And this is why I march.

 

Millions of people don’t have the luxury to ignore what happens to the rights of oppressed groups. It’s not right for me to choose apathy or silence when I have the power to speak up.

 

Here are two of my prints posted on Instagram that week: 

 

Bottom line: we can’t afford to let anyone flounder, because a world that abandons the weak devours everyone in the end.

 

We need to come together for strength.

 

There may always be tensions among us as haves and have-not’s, but I refuse to believe that our efforts to come together are wasted.

 

I felt our power at the March and continue to feel it when I organize and gather people together.

 

With love. For love.  

 

And I live every day of my life bridging different perspectives: From my LGBTQ lens to my straight allies; From my white world to Lia’s Black world.

 

I know that it IS possible to connect across these gaps to form loving, powerful, mutually-supportive relationships on a personal level.

 

The question is, how do we do it as a nation?

 

How on earth do we bridge this divide and move forward?

 

I believe we can find the answer if we bring our political goals down to a personal level.

 

We need to cultivate courageous curiosity in our personal lives.

 

We need to commit to fearless listening and self-reflection that makes room for different perspectives.

 

To do this, we must:

  1.   Acknowledge the Fact that We Can’t Read Each Other’s Minds
  2.   Challenge Ourselves to Seek Out Differing Perspectives
  3.   Practice Listening Without Judgment
  4.   Acknowledge Our Fears that Prevent Us from Reaching Outside Our Bubble
  5.   Allow Ourselves to be Vulnerable in Listening and Self-Reflection
  6.   Recognize that Misunderstanding Can be Enlightening; Our Real Enemy is Silence, Apathy, and Fear of Difference

 

These understandings and processes could heal the wound in the many movements that are present, and they could help us ride the momentum from our marches to a higher level of liberation.

 

This may seem like a distant goal, but our path there is simpler than you think.

 

And we start with listening. 

 

This is how we march. With courageous curiosity and fearless listening

 

For inspiration about easy ways to bring more Courageous Curiosity into everyday life, check out Lia’s and my video, Let’s Talk.

 

If this philosophy feels true to you, I invite you to think of ways to embrace these goals:

  1.   Get Out of Your Bubble: seek a different perspective on an issue that interests you
  2.   Plan a “SPARK” Event: invite people to share and listen to each other’s perspective
  3.   Practice Listening: You don’t have to agree or solve the problem. Just hear it.
  4.   Develop Patience: Baby steps are FINE! They’re great in fact. The only way to stretch our abilities and comfort zones is by stretching them gradually.
  5.   Follow Your Heart: You don’t have to pretend to think like anyone else. Just open yourself to learning something from them.

 

Above all, don’t be afraid of our differences. They provide textures to our collective beauty.

 

Give yourself permission to own your limits, and commit to expanding your perspective.

 

And know that every step you take toward connection and inclusion lifts us all up.

 

Now, if you feel the need to connect, heal, and lift each other up, get out there and start listening with fearlessness.

 

I’d love to hear from you:

*Which one (of the 5 goals) are you going to work on with us?

*What does listening with fearlessness and courageous curiosity look like to you?

*What other ideas/connections do you have?

 

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PS: If you’re interested in attending or hosting a SPARK event, we’ll be hosting a monthly gathering, starting next Sunday. Here’s the invite!
For more info, just reply or comment below, and I’ll send you our SPARK Facilitator’s Guidebook, a check-list for your gathering, and more!  

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