The Accidental Activist

WomensMarchFlyerInstagram4

WomensMarchFlyerInstagram4By Amber Ukena

I wouldn’t classify myself as an activist. I agree with “activist ideals” but I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never once marched to protest injustice. Calls to my congressional representatives weren’t something I did. I’m too busy or too tired, or maybe the issues didn’t feel personal enough or dire enough for me to protest, or maybe I was just afraid. In any case, someone else would do it for me. Right?

Yet here I am, finalizing plans to drive to Washington, D.C. with two friends on Friday evening so that we can join the Women’s March on Washington the following day. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to expect or what to put on my sign. I don’t even have a t-shirt! But I’m going. And I’m not the only one. Two-hundred thousand people are expected to join me, along with many more globally in sister marches.

There is no doubt that last November’s election fractured our country. Many Americans felt disappointed, victimized and fearful about our future. Others cheered with surprised delight that their candidate won. There were protests, reports of increased bullying in schools, and a spike in hate crimes. The new buzzword quickly became “normalize,” as in “don’t normalize this behavior,” while others told dissidents to fall in line, be a patriot and support the president-elect.

Since then, the divide has continued to grow. Personally, I was heartbroken. Both by the direction of our country and the support of that direction by many people I love. For the first time in my life I felt a true sense of hopelessness and fear. But what can you do when you’re not an activist? When you’re a suburban mom juggling kids, a home and a business?

The Women’s March on Washington gave me my answer. On November 11th, the day the march was announced, I made a commitment to myself to be there. Even if I had to sleep in my car, or on someone’s couch, I would be in Washington, D.C. on January 21st. Our country needed me to be there, and most of all my heart needed it.

Since then, I’ve called my congressional representatives about cabinet selections. Not every day and every time, but many times. My hands shake every time I call. I practice my script before dialing so my voice doesn’t crack with anxiety. I worry that they aren’t listening to me because things only seem to be getting worse, but I keep calling.  

As I write this, I’m recovering from the brutal stomach bug that’s going around, hoping and praying that I’ll be 100-percent by Friday so I can take in every moment of this historic march. I’ve been quarantined in my bedroom for a few days, coordinating my trip in-between naps. When my 10-year-old son came in yesterday to tell me good night, he asked me to tell him again why I was going to Washington, D.C. this weekend. In my fever haze, I said something general about protecting the rights of women and pushing for equality for all people regardless of race or gender.

As I opened my mouth to say more (because the issues feel almost too immense to put into just a few words), he said “oh right!” and began to march singing “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats. And dauntless crusaders for women’s votes,” – the Sister Suffragette song from Mary Poppins. He knows exactly why I’m going, and he didn’t need a long explanation to understand.

And perhaps my wise son understands that connection more deeply than I. In 1913 the Women’s Suffrage Parade served as the first major national women’s suffrage event, on the day before the inauguration of President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Historians credit that parade with injecting the suffrage movement new inspiration and purpose.

I truly believe that from immense struggle comes immense growth and possibility. That’s the belief I’m taking with me to Washington, D.C. on Saturday as I join my first march as an activist.

 




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