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The America Yet to Be

Lessons from the Women’s March and Trump’s First Week in Office

Steve Penley

It’s been over a week since the Women’s March on Washington, and already it feels like a lifetime has passed. This last week has been marked by various people and even governmental agencies taking a stand against the new administration, which culminated in the massive protests this past weekend against Trump’s executive order limiting refugees’ entry in the Unites States.

We should hold on to this momentum, let it build and carry us forward, because, by God, we need all the forward momentum we can muster.

Trump has been in office for barely a week, and look at what he’s done.

But, looking back, the Women’s March and the narrative around it has brought with it some very important lessons, lessons that are very hard for us white folks and white women to hear. Wendi Muse wrote brilliantly about the call to “#AddHerName” that preceded the March in her article, “Add Whose Name? The Hidden Histories of ‘Human Rights Are Women’s Rights’”. Muse dissected the revisionism present in our feministic movements that serve to wash away and rebrand feminism until it applies only to a narrow identity: white women.

After the March, many of us read the accounts of women of color, of indigenous women, and minorities who were further marginalized and ridiculed by the very women marching for women’s rights. You can see the experiences of two of these women in the twitter threads below.

This cannot be the story going forward. Jenée Desmond-Harris explores the failure of the feminist movement’s “we’re all the same” messaging to serve women of color in her essay, “Doubts about inclusive feminism have little to do with the Women’s March. They’re rooted in history.”  A quote stood out to me from Desmond-Harris’s article:

Since feminism relies on solidarity, some people fall victim to the temptation to push all other issues and identities aside so that gender is primary […] But intersectional feminism — and that’s how we must move forward if there’s any hope of coalition building, any hope of real change — cannot allow for that to happen. – Aviva Dove-Viebahn, an honors faculty fellow at Arizona State University

I believe Ms. Dove-Viebahn is correct. Wendi Muse also addressed this in her aptly named essay, “Feminism of the Few Has No Place in a Nation for All.” Intersectional feminism, in fact, the pursuit of intersectional justice, is the way forward, the way to build real change in these divided states of America.

I also believe Tatiana Tenreyro was accurate when she wrote: “White Women, You Can Do Better.” We white women can do better. We must do better, and boy, do we have some work to do. Okay, we actually have a lot of work to do.

It is a wonderful thing to march, it’s a wonderful thing to believe in the power of hope to bring about change, but that change must come from inside, too. Not in the way that was recently raised at a fancy lunch-turned-debate this weekend. No, we must ask ourselves to look at the way we participate in the systemic injustices in our current society. We have to embrace our sisters and our brothers of this world, we have to embrace their voices and listen. Only once we understand that our movements are indebted to the very people we have silenced can we also understand that our differences are what make us stronger. We are a people of many stories, of many burdens, and if we take a step back and look at all of these individual stories, and see all of these people, black people, brown people, indigenous people, people of varying ethnic backgrounds, or immigration status, as part of our narrative, not as mere commodities or distractions from our white narrative… Maybe we have a shot.

We need to embrace intersectionality so we can embrace solidarity.

So, like I said earlier, we white women have a lot of work to do. And this is good work. This is worthwhile work because this is what progress looks like. It is a messy journey of swallowing our pride, listening, and lifting each other up.

This isn’t to diminish the accomplishment of the Women’s March or the recent protests, because, heck, we’re having the conversation. But it is to say we have to do better. The purpose of progress is to constantly move forward, and that means we have to be open to admitting when we make mistakes.

As we go forward, we have to be mindful. That USA that we white women and men have imagined, the land of the free, the home of the brave, where all is possible? That land is a work of fiction for many Americans. That dream has not been accomplished for people of color, our indigenous peoples, and minorities. The words of Langston Hughes, which I first read all those years ago in High School, have never left me:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again. – Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again

Our country has built its progress on the marginalization and exploitation of minorities so that we white people can live in our bubble of fiction, our whitewashed land built on a lie.  As we organize and participate in these events, protests, and marches, we must not walk on the backs of our sisters in our fight for progress. We have to fight for a better world, not a return to a world that never existed.

I saw Nina Turner speak recently, and oh, how the words she spoke gave me chills, “…the creator of this great universe has given us two hands. One to reach forward and one to reach back, lifting as we climb.”

As we rise up, as we fight for everything we believe in, we would do well to remember those words. I know I need the frequent reminder but I believe with every fiber of my being: We can climb this mountain. These will be four long years, but as we rise up, let’s move forward with the plan to, as Ms. Turner said, lift as we climb, and to reforge this land into the America it has yet to be.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be! -Hughes, Ibid.

Written by R. R. Wolfgang

R. R. Wolfgang

Mother. Wife. Sister. Survivor. She grew up poor and went to the University of Cambridge to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic languages, literature, paleography, and history. Now, she's interested in social justice and seeing if history could kindly stop repeating itself.

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