I haven’t been bullied in almost 30 years, but the memories of being made fun of as an overweight child with divorced parents in a small town are sharp and painful. Today most of my friends would never think of me as someone who lacked confidence, or who wouldn’t bite back if someone tried to intimidate or demean me. Though moving away from the “City of Brotherly Love” has calmed me, occasionally “Philly Stephanie” (as my friends call her) comes out to bite back when necessary.
She was missing on Sunday when I was reminded how painful bullying can be. I took my daughters to Washington for the March. The chaos and crowds on Saturday prevented them from seeing the White House and so Sunday we trekked back into the city for a look. Most of the marchers were gone, traveling back on their buses with messages and confidence to “be the change”.
What remained were dozens of people with red trucker hats and pins, promising to “Make America Great Again.” I’ll admit, it made my blood boil just a bit, but I bit my tongue. Several of them did not. In just a few minutes of standing in front of the White House I heard verbal criticisms of the “liberals”, and comments like “look at that lady taking pictures of her daughters in front of all those SIGNS” (the protest signs that remained). It was apparent that I was being targeted by a group of them, because of my perceived beliefs.
I did not feel welcome. I felt threatened, and my desire to protect my daughters from any harsher words or actions made me leave. I was so sad, and a little scared. Here we were at the White House, silently taking pictures of the “People’s House”, and a group of strangers did what they could to intimidate us.
Then I remembered the thing about bullying. The actual act is sharp and painful, but the disempowerment stays long after. What started as a victorious day (we found parking right on the National Mall!), turned sour and sad. I tried to turn my psyche around, but after a couple of hours, we escaped to the comfort of our car and drone of NPR.
A few hours later, we were driving through a rural part of Virginia where I could still see Trump signs left over from the November election. It was then I experienced my second moment of intimidation on the same day. The girls and I had taken window paint and written messages on my car about “being the change”. They remained, even through the rainy drive, and we stopped at a fast food restaurant. When we pulled in, my eye caught a man sitting in a truck reading every bit of my car and smirking. We made eye contact and he gave me a hard stare. The girls were starved and we went inside, but I spent the whole meal watching my car from the window to be sure he wasn’t slashing my tires or keying my car.
We’re home now, safe in our progressive little town, and I’ve had time to process my experience on Sunday. I’ve been able to regain the power that stirred in my belly on Saturday and reflect on the people who tried to intimidate us. Bullies bully when they feel threatened. I’ve been focusing on the fact that those people must feel threatened by millions of women marching around the world. Psychologists will also tell you they act out because they are angry and don’t feel in control of their own lives.
The other thing that resonates with me is that I was bullied because I had visible markings that made those people assume my political position or personal background. My March shirt I was wearing and paint on my car can easily be removed and then I can visually look like one of them. But what about the people who can’t? What about the people who are beautifully marked with indicators of their diversity or sexual preference? I’m sure they feel bullied much more often than I do.
So my take away … We’ve got to stand up to the bullies. Look them in the eye and say, “enough”. We are the patriots, we are Americans, we are one nation under God. We must be grounded in love.