Category: women

Protests Don’t Work

Protests don’t work. Yes, I’ve said it. I’ve been an activist for over 30 years, spending a whole lot of time shouting slogans and waving signs, but I’ve been known to say it and will say it again. Protests don’t work. But, let me go a little deeper here and share what’s inspired this post.

On August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed giving women in the US the right to vote. (We could get into the discussion of who exactly got the right to vote, but that’s another post for another time.) Historical societies and museums across the country are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this amazing victory right now with exhibits, documentaries, and educational events. Yesterday, a friend and I went to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to view their exhibit on suffrage. It was an excellent display and I would encourage anyone in the area to check it out.

As we wandered and viewed the images my friend questioned whether some of the tactics used by the suffragettes might provide lessons for organizers today. Could we use any of the same tools? She lamented that protests and rallies no longer work because of the fact that we live in a world of social media in which messages move so quickly and can so easily be modified. I proposed that protests have never worked and never will, at least not on their own.

Protests are only a tool. It is the actions between the protests and behind the scenes that make the work successful or not. Protesting remains important, if well used. It is a tool that can draw public attention and influence decision makers. However, it is important not to expect that protesting on its own is going to bring change. A large portion of the museum display was dedicated to the banners, signs, buttons, sashes, and tunics worn and used during fight for the vote and later fight for the ERA. This makes sense as they are very visual pieces of history. Still, it only shows us the highlights of what was really a much more complex history.

In the 1820’s, one hundred years before the amendment was to pass, white men had gained the right to vote in most states and discussions had begun about this right for women. By 1948, the movement solidified through the Seneca Falls convention. For nearly one hundred years women met, discussed, strategized, argued. They built partnerships and alliances. They wrote letters, created newspapers, handed out pamphlets, spoke to handfuls and to huge crowds of people. They coordinated conferences. Women, and some men, committed their lives to this issue of justice. Some would never see the results of their work as they would die before the passage of the amendment.

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that social change is some sort of fast food where we head up to the capitol or wherever to protest and come home with our win. There is much more. The struggles are long and hard, but the victories and the loves found along the way are well worth it. Take good care of yourselves my friends and keep on moving forward.

What Happened Next? Looking at the History of Underrepresented Peoples

I was watching a documentary on PBS last night about the life of Helen Keller. It was an interesting show that focused primarily on her adult years rather than the childhood picture that so many of us were introduced to as children. It made me wonder about how often we cheat ourselves by contenting ourselves with stories of history that are meant for children and that usually are missing major pieces that really make the story. I wonder how often we cheat the children in our lives by minimizing their education with these simple stories like that of the little deaf and blind girl and fail to tell them of the woman who was a prominent socialist, a skilled writer, an actor, public speaker, ambassador for US, and so much more?

Clearly, stories designed for children whether written or video or some other form are often less complex than those created for adults. But, how do we take that first story and make into a series? When we look at something like “The Miracle Worker” it seems like the story ends with the miracle of Helen learning to communicate, but in reality that’s only the beginning. We do much the same thing when we talk about many other figures in history, particularly those from historically underrepresented groups. Rosa Parks is a great example. We largely get the story that this individual woman was tired, sat down, and refused to give up her seat on the bus. Not only is that historically inaccurate, but it’s incomplete. Mrs. Parks was a trained community activist who had a history in the Civil Rights Movement. She was part of a much larger strategy to integrate the busses in Montgomery. She also remained active working for social justice through the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, as a staff person to US Representative John Conyers, and working to support political prisoners in the US among other issues until her death in 2005.

People like Ms. Keller and Mrs. Parks are so much more than what we often give them credit for. By failing to recognize the breadth of their contributions and those of others like them we fail to fully support and encourage the next generations of those who share pieces of their realities, whether those be young women, people with disabilities, people of color, Indigenous peoples, or others. Reading the children’s books and watching kids movies about these historical figures is great, by all means do it! Don’t forget the next step though. Dig a little deeper. Ask “what happened next?”

Women and the Fear of Aging

I was listening to a podcast by Michelle Obama earlier today. She was discussing women’s health and talked a bit about our fear of aging and our general dislike of our own bodies. It’s a common belief, but I’m not sure I understand anymore. Sure, I have disagreements with my body. I’m not happy that I have seizures. I would like that to change. But, at 49 years old, I have to admit that I look in the mirror and I feel pretty good about what I see.

I don’t see the image that society would call a a model or a superstar. What I see though is a story and that story is far more valuable than any commercial image that we’re sold.

I see my scars. I see where my cat jumped on my face when I was asleep some years ago, missing my eye by only an inch or so. I see where my friend’s dog took took a chunk out of my arm leaving a mark that looks strangely like a smiley face. I see that reminder on my finger of when I was maybe six or seven and I wanted to see if I was strong enough to break a glass with my bare hand, I was. I see the reminder of swimming with friends in college and jumping off the cliff and the memory of when my puppy in his over energetic play landed on my ankle causing it to break, and the lines of surgeries most notably my my VNS implant that keeps me safe from seizures. My scars are like a physical storybook of myself.

I look at my hair. It’s wild. It’s always been wild ever since it started growing when I was two years old. But now, it’s something special. It’s turned almost entirely white. It’s been turning this way for years. I never really got into coloring it. I dyed it at home a couple times, but just for fun. The white means a lot to me. My father’s hair was silver or white since black and white pictures. I don’t know if anyone remembers or knows what color hair grandma had before hers turned white. They both had the most beautiful white hair. I look in the mirror and I see them. How can I not embrace the gray that reminds me of these beautiful people who are now just memories?

I look at my body. There’s extra here and there. My muscles aren’t as toned as they used to be. But, I take good care of myself. I eat healthfully. I walk and do yoga and maybe some other workouts. Still, it’s the body of someone who’s lived some years. Yet, I think of my mom. At my age she’d lost one of her breasts to cancer, was bald, and dealing daily with the impacts of chemotherapy. I cannot feel anything less than extremely grateful for my body and all its flab.

I look at my face. I see that turkey chin that never used to be there when I was twenty and I see all my aunts and uncles and who I am becoming. I am reminded how all of these supposed imperfections tell me who I am and how proud I am to be this person. I have been gifted this life in this family and my body tells me each day who I am.

Reminders of Respect

Today’s words are in memory of a childhood friend and in honor of those who are surviving right now in situations less ideal than my own.

We’d just started our sophomore year of high school. It must have been maybe the second week of classes. I don’t remember the exact date. What I do remember is walking into school that day to find my classmates in the hallways crying. Eventually the pieces came together. There had been a party. Kids were drinking. He was beaten. He didn’t survive.

We went to a small school. Some of us had known him since kindergarten or maybe even before. Now he was gone and a space in our lives was empty.

I was talking with some of my students yesterday. They’re in college now, just a few years older than I was when I first learned how alcohol can kill. They reminded me that people today do just like we did then. They use alcohol and drugs to fight boredom and frustration.

I’d been talking with one of the staff of Someplace Safe this week too. We know that alcohol and drugs plus people stuck together with limited outlets means an increase in violence.

If you’re reading this and find that this staying home thing is increasing your drinking, I am going to ask you to take a look at how that drinking is impacting you and your relationships with the others you’re sharing space with. Are you being respectful to yourself and those others? You and your relationships are worth more than the bottle.

If you’re one of the people who’s in an unsafe space. First, I send you love and strength. You’re not alone. Please, if you are able, call, email, or text, your local domestic violence support group, a friend or family member, police, or someone else you can trust. These are hard times. We all need our support systems. Groups like Someplace Safe are finding creative ways to keep working and get people into safe places out of harm’s way. You deserve to be safe and treated with caring and respect.

Take good care friends.