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I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Standing inside what could be.

June 9th, 2017

To some, the place might have seemed like any big old woods. To me, it represented what we have lost, what should be, and what can exist when those with power recognize and protect a voiceless fortune that, if all men had acted sensibly, would never have dissipated. This wasn’t just a forest, this was a cathedral.

In the Forest Catherdral

After hiking through 11 miles of the northwestern Pennsylvania state park, I stopped to read the kiosk. It showed a photo from an old brochure. A man appeared pensively yet insignificantly among a glorious stand of substantial trees, only the tree trunks able to fit in the photo, the canopy towering far above the frame. The caption read, “The Last of ‘Penn’s Woods’; Save it for Posterity.”

Brochure Photo

Cook Forest State Park was dedicated in 1928. The memorial plaque read, “For years Anthony Wayne Cook, from whom this tract was acquired, with rare patience and idealism saved these great trees in hope and faith that they might become a public trust.” Of course, he didn’t do it alone. The “vision and zeal of Thomas Ligget” and other businessmen and citizens convinced the general assembly of Pennsylvania to appropriate $450,000 to preserve it, a healthy sum at the time.

Influential businessmen

Within a 171-acre section, some of the trees “remained untouched” by the booming lumber industry. Some trees there had been dated at 450 years old. Primarily the makeup was eastern white pine and hemlock.

Kiosk explanation

I have a penchant for hemlocks; they are my favorite kind of tree. Designated as Pennsylvania’s state tree, the number of living hemlocks around my home is dwindling, due in large part to an attack by a bug called the Woolly Adelgid. Man is not the only aggressor in nature’s collection. He is however, or should be, smart enough to control himself.

For me, seeing a forest of hemlocks standing hundreds of feet tall and more than thirteen feet in diameter was like peering into the tomb of treasures of King Tut.

One Big Hemlock
Mohawk Trail


Inside the cathedral area, some giants had recently fallen. A lumberman would most certainly shudder to see such precious material lying on the ground, destined to rot in "waste." However, I imaged the park staff, the appointed guardians, when they found the monarchs. They must have been saddened instead by the simple fact that these ancient trees had been brought down.

Fallen giant

Still, regeneration and renewal was taking place wherever the sunlight could reach the floor. Four hundred years from now, will any of these babies still exist? Will man have allowed it? Will he still appreciate their existence, their age, their contribution to the continuation of life? Will posterity have anything left?

Regeneration

My vacation to Cook Forest, five hours from my home, was what is referred to as a “bucket list” experience. It took some coaxing to get my husband to agree to spend his hard-earned vacation in an area where “there wasn’t much” in the way of things to do beyond outdoor recreation. He feared that we might get bored. Instead, we got tired out. We hiked 15 miles, biked 15, and kayaked (floating and paddling) about 9. More than anything, though, we stood still in awe, breathing in fresh pine and listening to the breeze, the call of the warbler, and the trickle of the stream, all the while, very often, looking up.

Looking up

Meanwhile, the area surrounding Cook Forest State Park provided a stark contrast. It bled with the ever-changing fluid of economic desire. This is where I found names such as Oil City, Petroleum Avenue, and Sawtown, adversaries of old-growth forests.

Billboards advertised legal assistance to coal miners whose lungs had turned black. Two hours outside Pittsburgh, resource-rich towns had been bargained by exchanging nature for cash. Titusville, the home of the modern day petroleum industry, where Col. Edwin Drake struck oil and birthed the industry, gleaned with its historic legacy. Good or bad? It depends on who looks, I guess.

Dissatisfied with simply being a destination of historical significance, Titusville recently developed a 134-page strategic plan for what it believes will be "the second energy boom": the natural gas of the Utica Shale. Over and over again the document begged, "Come back to where it all started. We've been drilling here since 1859. We get it!" Get what? The means of selling out, of cashing in, of turning precious earth into temporary opulence?

Minutes to the north of Cook Forest is the southern border of the Allegheny National Forest. The trees there are part of the nation's crop. Trucks loaded heavy with the latest harvest rumbled down narrow roads with such speed I could not help but imagine a disastrous scene should an emergency stop be necessary.

Route 132

Here and there, steel mechanical arms pumped up and down to supplement the bank account with proceeds from the natural gas cow. Roads, pipelines, and power lines all cut through the fields of expertly managed, mature trees, none willing to share space with the other, each requiring its own scar, some growing old, others freshly slashed.

The towns to the west of the Allegheny Forest reeked of evaporated wealth, even if the odor smelled a bit different. “This place is suffering,” my husband said as we passed the vacant storefronts of Union City during our side trip to touch Lake Erie for the first time in either of our lives.

It's common knowledge that reducing expenses makes for bigger profits. And so, whether it was the boss man's quest to get even richer or the consumer's desire to save a buck, America stopped making the things it needed. An unwillingness to pay Americans for American craftsmanship overcame our sensibilities, trickling down to flood the zone in poverty.

Outside of town, I imagined the owners of the paint-pealed porches. Once highly valued, the people strong enough to get the job done—the hard-working, not-afraid-to-get-hurt roughnecks—now struggle to find a coin on our latest path, one being repaved for brains instead of brawn.

Monetary success is a fleeting, ghostly thing to chase. One minute its attraction is distinct and tangible; the next it's gone. What price must we pay to keep the wheel spinning? We passed a video rental store, possibly the last one in existence. How soon before its inventory is dumped into the landfill, forcing nature to swallow our unnatural, forgotten creations? What will it take for us to re-evaluate our priorities?

There is no denying that we are in an age when joblessness means starvation. The economy is our culture's sacred ceremony. None of us is capable of stopping this crazy thing. The boss man has been undercutting his workforce for as long as there has been a boss and a worker. And even after one grassroots campaign successfully limits the harm of a commercial endeavor, another scourge comes quickly to take its place. DDT became glyphosate. Coal mining transferred to fracking. River dams become beach nourishment. From the wind we removed ozone-depleting CFCs, only to release, however accidentally, plastic grocery bags.

Still, everywhere I found a community sentiment of historic determination and grit.

Historic quote
Erie, PA

On our drive to Erie, I did see quite a few dusty clues of manufacturing; some of the previous century’s brick buildings were re-purposed for modern day production; some operated out of fresh pole buildings. On our way home at vacation's end, we stopped for a short factory tour at BWP Bats. There the trees were turning into baseball bats. Being the busy spring season, their regular inventory was nearly sold out. Baseball loving employees were hand crafting bats that both little and big league players could swing with pride.

BWP Bats

People are growing weary of foreign-made junk. Around the country, a prosperous workforce is downshifting the economic engine into a gear better suited for the environment, without choking abundance or wellbeing. Socially responsible businesses are gaining recognition and a higher market share. Organic food is in demand. College students are graduating with degrees that will help them design an economy that is both profitable and eco-sensitive. Citizens are still marching, demanding protection of the planet.

This is where I saw Cook Forest as a profoundly invaluable "attraction," one that I needed to visit. It inspired. It reminded. It proved. It showed what nature will build when humans show restraint. By the hundreds, these ancient survivors stood in confidence. Where any DID fall—brought down by the storms of insects and wind—new growth had sprouted, ready to take over, the seeds and roots and flesh of the victims endlessly transferred to the lives of the future. I wish everyone could, at least once in a while, immerse themselves in the possibilities of a kingdom such as this.

Forest Catherdral

The kiosk back at the parking lot read, “As you leave the forest with memories of its struggles and endurance, commit to conservation. Begin a legacy of your own to last through the centuries.” Oh what could exist if only…

Why They Marched

May 2nd, 2017

I drove to work on the morning of Saturday, January 21, 2017 with a nagging sense that I should be elsewhere. How were my friends doing? What were they experiencing? Instead of joining them, I had decided to honor a prior commitment. Besides, a million women at once? I wasn’t sure I could handle that. Regardless, I was inspired by the fact that the Women’s March on Washington had reached such an enormous scale. I tried to imagine all those people, speaking out in favor of equal rights. They were representing me. My gratitude stayed with them all day.

Later, in the quiet moments after sunset, I had an idea. Maybe I could contribute after all. The news reports weren’t going tell me what I wanted to know in order to understand what it is was like to be there. To do that, I needed to talk to my friends. Media sound bites and agenda-driven slants weren’t going to cut it. And if that was true for me, that was true for others, whether they were mutual friends or far-off strangers. I decided then to organize an interview. I would record, document, and post what I learned from my friends about their experience for the benefit of others to read.

Since January, Americans have witnessed (or participated in) other Trump-administration-related marches, including marches of support for or against its policies. The media is currently scrutinizing the new president's first 100 days in office. Tensions are continuing to grow between differences of opinion, between coworkers, between friends, between lovers, family members, house chambers, political districts, and now nuclear-armed nations.

Meanwhile, I knew how fleeting the empowerment gained at an event could be. Like a day spent at an amusement park, the feeling of being lifted and carried to greater heights rarely lasts long. Once your feet spend time back on the ground, the aching weight of your troubles quickly fades the elation.

Take for instance the Sundays of my youth. In my household, no excuse short of pneumonia would get me out of going to church. My body would drag across the entrance, as I really wanted to play outside. But soon enough I would be floating across the exit, soaring with the desire to do good after listening to the inspirational stories of the gospel. The words had motivated me to be selfless and respectful and brave. However, by the time the Wonderful World of Disney came on television at seven o'clock that evening, the old feelings of frustration, unhappiness, even anger had resurfaced. Either I had to deal with my brother or my chores or some random physical or mental limitation that had come up during the day. Inspiration is perishable.

And so it was that I knew I could not haste in capturing the energy and thoughts from the women I knew who marched on Washington that Saturday. Thus, I acted quickly to capture their collective story. Here, months later, is the result. The interview below includes simple facts about basic logistics of going to such an event as well as thoughtful responses to burning questions. The transcription is rough. It’s long. And there are most certainly typos. But I still believe it serves its purpose, because most of all it tells what they marched FOR during our inevitable future of fighting AGAINST.

Two of my six friends who marched responded via email. Three were able to speak in person. We met just three days after the March, on a dark, winter, Tuesday evening, with the trace scent of my recently cleaned up dinner still in the air. I recorded our conservation, which took place as we sat around my kitchen table in a rural suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Loosely formalized ground rules were set to avoid the enthusiasm-driven consequence of speaking at once, and everyone was made aware that the interview was being taped.

Although well acquainted with each other previously, each of the three at the table had marched separately. Each had her own reasons for attending. Each was, I hope, comfortable enough to answer honestly and openly.

Here’s a brief introduction of who they are:

Brooke: An avid cyclist and craft brewery enthusiast, Brooke is involved with various community-focused groups such as the Rotary, and she serves on the board of a public library. Self-employed, she spends a great deal of time networking and communicating with regional entrepreneurs. She can often be found supporting the fundraising efforts of causes she believes in. In her early thirties, she was the youngest at the table.

Gail: With an affinity for fashion, sewing, and fun, Gail has a strong moral compass. She believes in acting responsibly and fairly and can be counted on to do the right thing, especially when it comes to supporting her friends and family. Although she may hold strong opinions, she constantly seeks out knowledge for clarity, and thus she isn’t afraid to change her mind. Sometimes her perspective borders on conservative; other times liberal. Nearing retirement age, she has worked at the same manufacturing and technology company for the majority of her career.

Paula: Possessing an encyclopedia and a dictionary in her head, Paula is a wealth of knowledge, some trivial, some critical. The oldest at the table, she has spent the majority of her career in the newspaper business, working primarily as an editor. Someday we might see her on the television game show, Jeopardy. Until then you will find her--like me--on the dance floor at a good concert, particularly if the band is playing the blues.

Brooke, Gail, and Paula, holding up messages from their day in Washington.

The following two responded via email. They had traveled to Washington together with Gail and a few other people.

Rosalie: The biggest advocate for women’s health I know, Rosalie is a women’s health nurse practitioner who works with Planned Parenthood in addition to her hours spent at a regular group practice. Fluent in Spanish, she laughs easily but takes human rights deadly seriously. She is dedicated to her daughter who now lives abroad, and Rosalie too has reached a wise age. She has seen enough to know how hardship and poor health hides behind many corners, yet she remains hopeful and grateful for life’s blessings.

Lori: A visual artist who never entered the commercial art trade, Lori does not bow to cruel people. Unafraid, she is someone who puts her trust in the odds that most people are kind and will rarely back down from an opportunity to help a person in need. After focusing for years on raising her now-twenty-something daughter (the sixth friend who attended the March), Lori re-entered the workforce in her forties, where she assists the elderly at a retirement community.

I’ve paraphrased some of the following material. I clipped out or smoothed unfinished sentences, backtracks, and the random thoughts that served as building blocks for the main point. Names have not been changed.

Question: How did you find out about the march?

Answers:

The consensus was generally, “Facebook,” with Rosalie also serving as a catalyst for information.

Brooke: “You could see it develop online." Brooke described watching the movement start as a loosely organized idea. “What, in over two-and-a-half months it grew from like a Facebook impact of 40 people to over 600 marches around the world, and I think 2 million people or more total around the world marching?

“I don’t know what the heck I signed up for initially,” she continued, describing how she first selected “interested” on Facebook in an event. “There was a Women’s March on Washington, and then there were all these regional sites like Women’s March on Washington-Philadelphia, where you were going to Washington from Philadelphia. Then there was also a Philadelphia march. All these other events grew up out of that in two months, and it was interesting to see it.”

She remembered, “If you were on this page, it said ‘go to this page,’ and ‘we’ve changed the name of it to this page, because we’re all getting confused.’ There was a lot of organizing on the fly that was happening, because they didn’t realize it was gonna’ be such a gigantic thing.”

Gail: “Things just sprang up. There’s stuff that was happening that you didn’t even know about, that people just told you about.”

Paula agreed: “A friend of mine from Nova Scotia put something on my page about a small town up there. The women couldn’t get to Halifax, the capital, so they staged a march in their little town called Sandy Bay with 12 people. [They were] marching down the road with a little bit of snow on the road, men and women, holding their signs.”

Rosalie: “Various websites had rumblings, but it was the Planned Parenthood information that prompted me into action. I had planned to attend with some folks from there and then learned that Gail, Daisy (Lori’s daughter) and Lori were interested also. I was so happy to share the day with friends.”

Lori's daughter, Gail, and Rosalie (back) and others (Lori not pictured) representing Planned Parenthood. Photo provided by Rosalie.

The Planned Parenthood group, this time with Lori. Photo provided by Gail.

Question: Was this the first protest you attended? If not, what others did you experience?

Answers:

Brooke: “I’m thinking this was my first one, which is kind of surprising to me. I’m always telling people to get out to vote more than trying to change their opinions. I’ve tried to volunteer for stuff like driving people to the polls. It turns out there’s not a whole lot of non-partisan need for that. Trust me I’m super left, but I’m uncomfortable trying to change people’s minds. I’ve tried, but I haven’t been really engaged politically for that reason.”

Gail: “I only went to one other one, a women’s march.” She stated that she definitely didn’t do any kind of campaigning work like Paula had described (below).

Paula: “I marched in the 80s for abortion rights. Then I did one about 1995 for women’s rights and Aids and a couple of different things. That was more of a gathering.” She also participated in a local prayer vigil before the war in Iraq.

Paula also noted that, concerning general political engagement, she worked on Hillary Clinton's and Obama’s campaigns, making phone calls and canvasing. She remembered back in college, while studying political science, working for Bill Green, the mayor of Philadelphia.

Ro: “March for Women’s Lives in 1989, March for Women’s Lives in 1992, March for Women’s Lives in 2004.”

Lori: “I attended some small protests against the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant after the accident. Also, I’ve attended many political rallies and find them to be very similar in their passion and presentation to the Women’s March.”

Question: Whom did you go with?

Answers:

Brooke: She went down “randomly” with a good friend’s sister, a different friend’s teenage friend, and his two friends. “It was three teenage boys and two ladies who barely knew each other. We met additional people down in the city.” She described their group, particularly the teenage boys, being the picture of white, upper class privilege.

Gail: She went with three close friends, who also brought two friends. (Daisy, Lori, Rosalie, and Rosalie’s friends, Barb and her daughter Corinne).

Paula: She drove to Washington the prior afternoon, parked at a family member’s house, then took the metro into DC and stayed at a cousin’s house Friday night. Paula, her cousin, and a cousin’s friend went to the March. She said, “It turned out that three was a good number to be with as far as trying to get through the crowd and everything.”

Although Paula and Brooke later realized they were likely standing near each other at some point, no group found another.

Gail laughed, “We could have been within four feet of each other and wouldn’t have seen each other.”

Question: What time did you leave that morning?

Note: interview subjects all live roughly 150 miles north of Washington via the Route 95 corridor

Answers:

Brooke: “I got picked up at 3:15 (am). We reserved a parking space, but we weren’t sure what the road closures would be like...and traffic...and we just kinda’ wanted to get in there. We figured once we got there we could relax.”

Gail: “Rosalie picked me up at 4:30 (am), and I got home at 11 at night.”

Paula: “Friday after around 3:30pm, but the morning of the march, we got up around 8:30 to leave around nine. It was a ten- or fifteen-minute walk to the site.”

Question: How did you get there?

Answers:

Brooke: “Somebody in our group (who didn’t end up going) researched online that there was a garage where you could reserve a parking spot in advance. If you could get there, then at least you knew you had a spot to park. We drove down, and at that point there were already cops blocking intersections at 6:15 in the morning.”

Gail: “We went down to the King of Prussia mall to get the bus, which I have to put in a plug for RallyBus, because they hired Perkiomen Tours. That’s whose busses we were on. There were like eight buses. Theirs is some crazy outfit that is capitalizing on any kind of public event that you need buses to go to and you might need, like concerts, especially rallys, because they can just keep hiring more buses as they need ’em. And the price keeps going up. Blesie paid $45, I paid $55, and then Rosalie’s friends that were with us, Barb and Corinne, paid something like $140 because they got it a month late...for the same bus.” Gail confirmed that the fee only included a ride down and back. “It took us right into Union Station. It was really perfect for us. Otherwise, we’d have to park out at JFK and go with the mass of humanity on the Metro, and that was going to be nightmare. But they told us to buy Metro passes, so now we have metro passes we didn’t use."

Brooke: “Did you see the thing online where you can give it to someone who needs one?”

Gail: “I didn’t see it, but I will be doing that.”

Paula: Drove and took the metro.

Ro: “Rallybus-very comfortable bus with energetic people-mostly in 40s-50s. Daisy (Lori’s daughter) appeared to be the youngest.”

Lori: “The day could not have gone off more perfectly. We had a last minute change of report time and drop off location in DC, which actually worked 100% in our favor!!! We were within walking distance of the Capitol and Rally location.”

Question: When did you return?

Answers:

The Rally bus got back around to the pick up spot 10:30 pm. Paula’s group got back home around 5 pm, but there was discussion about the fact that it wasn't over, that there were still people on stage talking past sunset. Brooke got home around 9 pm.

Question: Why did you choose to go?

Answers:

Brooke: “With the election, immediately after the election, I was 'what can I do?’ and 'what should I do?’ instead of sitting at home and bitching about it, which I was happy to do that, too. [laughter] What can I do to make myself feel better? What can I do to foster change or to keep bad change from happening? So, I immediately signed up with Planned Parenthood to volunteer there. When I heard about the rally, I said 'that’s something I can do. That’s an actual action I can take.’”

Gail: “I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I do remember saying to Rosalie, ‘we have to go this, right?’ It took us like a day to decide that we just needed to go. Now I’m a little more middle-of-the-road when it comes to the whole thing, but I’m going because of the things that I care about and I want the government to care about. I’m not really there against a person, I’m for something.”

“Here’s something to think about: If Donald Trump could give Flint Michigan clean water, what would you think about him then? How would you react if somebody could do something big and important like that for the county? That was one of the signs we saw down there. That’s what made it so massive, it was because everybody has something they feel very strongly about.”

Paula: “I didn’t choose it, it chose me. It was like ‘I have to be there’" Because, you know it’s women, it’s the day after the inauguration, and we have to make sure that we’re not left in his dust, him and his nominees.”

Ro: “Women’s issues are family, environmental, and global issues. As I saw on many signs, Women’s Rights are Human Rights. I have NEVER felt so threatened. There does not appear to be a separation of church and state. I have been marching with the same concerns since 1989!”

Lori: “I am deeply troubled and concerned about the agenda of this administration. I needed a way to voice the anxiety and outrage with like-minded people.”

Question: What ONE message resonated with you the most (whether on a sign, via a chant, a conversation, or an overheard statement)?

Answers:

Brooke: “In addition to Michael Moore’s speech, there was a bunch of 'well what are you going to do tomorrow? What happens the next day?’ I was there to try to do something proactive, to DO something. Just being there and marching in a way does something -- sends a message -- but what are you going to do tomorrow? What’s your next action?

Yah, we’re all here doing this and it’s almost kinda’ fun, but tomorrow’s maybe not going to as fun, and the next day’s probably going to be less fun, but you've got to keep doing stuff. And just the fact that there were so many different causes there. I know intersectionalist is a buzz word in social work and volunteerism now, but there so many people with multiple identities intersecting with the people that were there.”

Gail: “It didn’t happen ’till the end of the march when we were standing on the lawn of the white house” she then corrected herself, “actually when we were getting up to there, when we were shuffling and marching, and they were saying, ‘We won’t go away; welcome to your first day’ There were a lot of good chants; that one I really liked.”

Paula: “At the bottom of my sign, it says, 'Our power.’ It starts out our bodies, which would be reproductive rights and of course that’s a big thing to me, our minds, yes, but our power is the big thing. To show that we have the power. I started to sing, ‘Sister’s are doing it for ourselves.’ Not to say that men were excluded in my mind, I thought it was fantastic. Men looked so sexy in pink hats.”

Brooke: “Is there anything sexier than a man marching for women’s rights?” [laughter]

Paula continued: “One guy had a sign that read something like, ‘Men of substance aren’t threatened by women of character,’ or something like that.”

Gail chimed in to agree, there were people from everywhere, a lot of different people.

Ro: “I received a picture from Corinne while we were on the bus going to DC. She is in Milan [Italy], 6 hours ahead. She sent a photo of herself at the March in Milan. It dawned on me that this past election season, our president and the current house and senate has not only affected me, my daughter, community, country, but the world. Profound.”

Rosalie's daughter in Milan. Sign translation: It's our body. It's our mind. It's our power. Photo provided by Rosalie.

Lori: “Probably the most heard chant....(caller) ‘Tell me what Democracy Looks like’....(crowd) ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ Peaceful protests–and especially the causes that women have been fighting for a hundred years–are a statement of what our democracy is. It’s at the core of our belief system as a nation, it’s our constitutional right and for some, myself included, my obligation as a citizen.”

Question: Did you watch any news coverage following or during the march? If so, what did you think was covered well? What do you think was missed?

Answers:

Brooke: “I didn’t watch any normal news coverage. Once I got back in the car I was looking for how many people were there. It was interesting because then you get into all these other stories about what Trump was saying about how many people were at his inauguration. Those were all the stories, 'compared to this’ and 'how many more than that.’ It was also interesting how they get the numbers. There were some sources that went into the how of the numbers, 'these are what the resources are, this is why numbers they may or may not be accurate.’ I found good reporting on that.

“I was searching to see if there were any arrests or anything, ’cause it was such a huge group of people, if something happened on the far end you wouldn’t know. As far I know there was nothing.

“I didn’t expect any initial political news, cause seriously, Donald Trump could have tweated something nasty about us.”

Gail broke in jokingly, “I was hoping for that.”

Brooke continued, “Yah, so I wasn’t really expecting immediate change to happen like all of a sudden we get our rights guaranteed or anything.”

Gail: “Coming home on the bus, we spent practically the whole two and half hours looking at all kinds of coverage all over the internet. There were tons and tons of stuff; you couldn’t get away from it. [At home] I taped four news programs that were on Saturday night, and we [the marchers] were on every one of them. They had a lot of coverage, and it was a pretty amazing thing that you were in the midst of it.

Honestly, I know one of the programs, the way they framed what happen, it’s all about how they present...everybody’s presenting the same pictures, but it’s what they’re telling you that’s different. Like one of them said, ‘this large protest against Donald Trump on his first day in office,’ and I thought, well, 'I wasn’t at that. That’s not what this was.’ It depends on where you get your news.

“My personal opinion is that everybody’s news is told from a point-of-view, and if you continue to get your news from the same people that think like you do, you’re never really going to see the full picture of what’s going on.”

Paula: “We’ll of course I had to find the clip of me being interviewed.”

(Note: Paula was interviewed on the street by Fox News. Video clip: "Women explain why they chose to march on Washington.")

“But I thought [our interview] was going to be something on tape. I didn’t realize we were going to be live at 4 o’clock. [laughter] So we were just standing around waiting. And the reporter even said how this crowd was so much bigger and that this was going to be something they’ll compare other marches to (which he repeated on the air).

Paula being interviewed by Fox News. Photo provided by Paula.

Then when we got back to my cousin’s place, we were looking for continued solidarity (and plus we were in DC so of course their coverage was nonstop). I think if we were in some other place, some other town, it would be just a 30-second clip.

“But we did not know about all the marches all around the world. Then they showed Paris and huge throngs in New York at the Trump Tower and we couldn’t get enough of it. Then we were all on our devices talking with people ... this was just too exciting. We were just SO excited by it.

“Yes, we watched the coverage and it seemed pretty fair, except when Trump’s Spicer guy came on, and I saw that press conference right afterwards, and he was an idiot. Everything he said was idiotic, but especially when he was talking about the march not having the numbers [compared to the inauguration]. . . he didn’t know what he was talking about. They came out and did that at that point, I think, to take away from the March, to give people something else to talk about.

“It was great that all the coverage that I saw emphasized how peaceful it was. There were no arrests. We also noted there were no news helicopters. On the Fox thing that they did, they had a view from up above, but it must have been mounted on the building.”

Gail and Brooke agreed they knew of or saw cameras or camera operators taking panoramic shots from above.

Question: What did you take with you; what did you wear; how did you prepare for such a thing?

Answers:

Brooke: “So I got there really early and thought I could grab a breakfast sandwich or something, and the line at Starbucks was like a quarter-of-a-mile long. Every place–we were going blocks further and further away–still had big long lines. Even the food trucks had lines; there was just one when we got there. But, we carried snacks. I didn’t grab a bottle of water from the car, and I’m kinda’ glad I didn’t because then I’d need to pee. Although there were a lot of Porta Potties, you would have to get to them through the crowd, which would be a total pain in the butt. The Porta Potties were in good shape. I didn’t have to use my tissues. I was glad to have them ’cause my nose was running.”

Gail: “I just took water and sandwiches.”

Paula dressed warm, worrying that she might be too warm. “I didn’t wear a hat" to which the others joked, ‘You didn’t wear your pink pussy hat?’ which was a symbolic attire worn by many of the attendees. She responded, “I didn’t have one.

“We brought apples and snack bars and water. I had bought a portable, fold-up stool in a bag that I carried, because I thought I’m not going to be able to stand the whole time.”

Lori: “I took the basic necessities, tissues, wet ones, snacks, water, gloves, sign (which I nick-named a ‘soft placard’) and of course a pink pussy hat!”

I asked about stamina and comfort.

Answers:

Brooke: “My back really hurt from standing, but that’s a personal issue.”

Gail: “My hips were killing me, because we stood basically from when we got off the bus--I think we sat down for maybe 10 minutes at one spot--then we went all the way around until we got back to the bus station at about 6 o’clock. We had gotten there about 9 in morning. ”

Paula: “My knee was bothering me. I was worried about drinking water, but I never really felt like I had to go. Then, we were going to go into this one building--the Federal Building--and they closed the doors and wouldn’t let us in. My cousin’s friend said, 'I’ll just go there by those trees.’ It was pretty wide open. [laughter] We all just held our little posters in front of each other while we peed there. I didn’t really have to go, but I thought I should. All our butts were hanging out by the railroad tracks.” [laughter continued]

A conversation broke out concerning the schedule and the speakers on stage.

Paula: “It went longer than expected.”

Brooke: “A lot longer,” Brooke agreed.

Gail: “It was like 2:30, we were by the Sackler Museum. It sounded like they were winding up, but you couldn’t really tell. People were chanting, 'March. March. March.’ But they still kept announcing people for the stage. Eventually it was announced that, since there were so many people, the crowd might want to start making their way down to White House. Then it was just like a mass of humanity shuffling down the street, and another mass coming down the other road to go onto the lawn at the White House. We came down around this corner and it was just so crowded you couldn’t believe it.

“While we were doing that is when Madonna came on. [This was close to 3 pm.] We stopped and listened to her but missed the most outrageous of her remarks.”

Brooke: “She said ‘fuck you’ like five times. Well I didn’t cheer for that, I guess.”

Paula, quoting Madonna: “I feel like blowing up the White House.”

Brooke: “I don’t think she should have said that. That was wrong.”

Gail: “The one I would listen to is Gloria Steinem. She’s so well spoken.”

Paula: “And Michael Moore.”

Gail (who didn’t hear him): “I thought he would do something rude.”

Brooke: “No, he literally was just telling you how to call your congress people and how to take action.”

Question: Can someone still see coverage of the presentations?

Answers:

Everyone agreed that you could find it online, particularly YouTube.

Question: Have you seen the 15 unity principles on the Women’s March website?

Click here for Women's March Unity Principles

Answers:

Brooke: “I didn’t read them all thoroughly, but I did see them.”

Gail: “I did.”

Paula had not seen them.

Rosalie: “I agree with them all. What challenges these rights are greed and personal religious dogma.”

Lori: “The Unity Principles are far reaching and included (by design?) a wide range of issues. Many, but not all, are issues I feel more passionate about, some I would say I am more privately passionate for lack of a better word. I’m not as inclined to lend my voice to them.”

Question: Brooke or Gail, was there anything in there that gave you pause?

Answers:

“No.”

Gail: “You know how you’re reading in the paper how they’re complaining that the pro-life people weren’t asked to join this. They wanted to come, too, and they said 'no you’re not invited.’ Well this is the list of basically all the people, all the types of people and groups they wanted to include, from Native American’s to Black Lives Matter, that’s what they’re saying in all those different principles.”

Brooke: “I don’t feel like they were told they weren’t welcomed. They just almost unwelcomed themselves, because they didn’t believe in one of the principles.”

Question: Can anyone clarify this principle: We believe that all workers including domestic and farm workers must have the right to fight for a minimum wage....undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections and we stand in solidarity with the sex workers rights movement. Are they speaking of prostitution?

Answers:

Brooke: “There’s much information out there on the web basically. In a way it’s decriminalizing prostitution. One of the things that just came up more recently was in California, they were doing some kind of mandatory STD testing or registry, which required you to use your real name. Anybody that’s in an upstanding version of the pornography industry knows that you get tested all the time. Those people get tested so often that if you ever wanted to have sex with somebody unprotected, you should have sex with one of those people. Because they get tested all the time, they’re very clean and they know exactly what’s going and they know everybody that they had sex with. But they were mandating that you get registered on this thing with your first and last name. Sometimes that’s a career that you have for five years and then you want to go be an elementary school teacher or something. That was requiring people to register out in public that they were doing that. It was almost like criminalizing that kind of work. So just the rights of those people and then also sex work is a different thing where, if it’s consensual, is it....I think the fact that you can’t do it consensually also probably increases the amount of human trafficking. That creates that industry on the black market because you can’t get it on the non-black market.”

Question: While the mission statement at WomensMarch.com points to 'rhetoric of the last election cycle,’ nowhere does the site define the purpose to be a direct rejection of Trump as president. How do you feel about that? Was this actually an anti-Trump rally?

Answers:

Brooke: “So I would say that Trump hasn’t taken any action yet. It’s appalling to me that someone that speaks the way he does–the pussy grabbing and all that other awful stuff that he says about disabled people–it’s appalling to me that someone like that would get elected. But he did get elected. He’s legally elected as far as I know. I hope that they do investigate the whole Russian thing. I trust my government to handle that to a degree.

“I think for me it was a march on like ‘don’t take the rights that we have away.’ So none of those have been taken away as of the March, but we’re out there to say, ‘hey these are all the people that are going to give you hell if you try to take something away.’ It wasn’t necessarily against him. It was against things that we’re afraid are going to happen...for me that was part of it. I’m always interested in advancing rights. For sure they’ve already taken a bunch of rights away from citizens about voting rights and reproductive health rights. But that’s not Trump. That’s the existing legislature, state and national. But for me it was more like let’s dig in and say this can’t keep going in this direction, whether it’s under Trump or anybody.”

Question restated: Did you get a sense, though, that there were large contingencies of people who were there just to say, “He’s not my president?”

Answers:

Brooke: “I don’t think there were many wacky people there. There weren’t people saying it was illegitimate. Maybe they felt like it was illegitimate, like they had been robbed, but people weren’t straight out saying that he shouldn’t be president.”

Gail: “There was definitely a contingency, but I would say not large. I stated this repeatedly: it’s a very personal thing. Nobody can speak for everybody that was there or what each person’s personal values were. For me personally, it was not about him. I completely agree with Brooke, he hasn’t done anything yet other than act like an idiot. And he can’t help it. Someone I work with just told me that last night. Her sister is a psychiatric nurse. She said, ‘He’s a narcissist. He cannot help the way he’s acting because that’s just his personality.’ It’s always reflecting on him. That’s why that one sign said, ‘Your so vain; I bet you think this march is about you.’ [laughter]

“I did see one sign that said something like 2 million or some odd votes that were unable to be counted.”

Paula: “That’s supposedly about the margin that Hillary had in the popular vote," referring to the difference in the Electoral College.

“I think it was a combination. I don’t think people would have turned out if it was Marco Rubio who won, or I don’t think that it would have been a turnout like that. He’s a polarizing figure.”

Gail: “It’s the hate speech. There were a lot of signs against the hate."
Some of the signs were so creative you needed to have somebody explain it to you, or you needed to look at it awhile and say, 'what?’”

Ro: Declined to answer

Lori: “For me it ABSOLUTELY was a direct rejection to Donald Trump, his policies, his rhetoric and his lack of readiness to be POTUS. It seemed to me about 1/2 the crowd advertised their displeasure with him via their signs...the other half were more issue-driven messages. I completely understand the organizers not making this about him but about the causes and issues. But let's face it, if it WEREN’T for him this most likely would not have happened.”

Paula: “We can’t reject him as the president because he is the president. We can reject his policies and his aspirations. It was not just a rejection of what he believes but what of all the people he’s appointing to government and a rejection of the people who are already there in congress who gave Barrack Obama such a hard time. Especially the Supreme Court thing. So yah, a part of it was anti-Trump, but that was not my main reason. When we were doing that interview and my partner said something about ‘all these people who did not vote for trump,’ I thought, ‘I wasn’t there to contest the election.’”

Brooke: “We’re not dumb.”

Paula: “I wasn’t there to contest the election or whine about the results of the election, as people are accused of doing. It was like Brooke said. It was to stand up for ourselves and make them know that we’re still here.”

Question: Describe the people?

Answers:

Brooke: “The demographic was so varied. I thought it was amazing. Every race, every age, every sex.”

Question: Geographically?

Answers:


People came from everywhere.

Gail: “I saw signs with people from everywhere. We were talking with people from Colorado. I was marching with a guy who was from Austin. When we were on the White House lawn a lady had a sash that said 'Hawaii.’ There were two people carrying signs with the shape of their state. One was Wisconsin; the other was Michigan. People were from New York.”

Brooke added: “I saw Rhode Island and New Jersey.”

Paula: “On the highway coming home in the traffic jam on 95, there were rows and rows of cars with New York plates. I saw Kentucky. And Maryland, of course.”

Question: And what did it feel like being in that sea of humanity?

Answers:

Brooke: She described where she was standing on Independence in front of the Smithsonian and how fences were installed to control the crowd. “That was really scary. If something happened you could only go up or down the street; there was no way out on the side. Those guys do this stuff all the time. They handle these events all the time. I trust that there was some logic to what was going on, but there was a moment like, if something actually happened, where would I go? There would be tramplings. But I felt relatively safe, because nobody was being angry.” She described how, early on, they were taking fences from the inauguration down and putting up other fences.

Gail: “I’ve never seen a sea of humanity like that. There were a couple times, when we were packed in there, I was like, 'it’s a good thing that none of us is getting freaked out or being claustrophobic.’ Because there were at least five times that day when we were absolutely just jammed together. And by the end of the day, if you were going to go somewhere you had to make a big snake. You had to hold onto each other.” She described how one young girl with them would hold up her “I stand with Planned Parenthood” sign and they followed her. She described seeing others using tactics in which they used plastic, blowup giraffes held high above their heads.

And it was noted that the phones didn’t work. One text sent took an hour to send.

Paula: “You know I am not a fan of crowds. It’s unlike the crowd at the ballpark, where everybody has seat. My cousin has a bit of claustrophobia. So we decided to go back where it was a little less crowded. Where we were, it was relatively uncrowded. As the day went on, more and more people piled behind us. It was like a river of people. People were trying to climb over the fence where we were. We didn’t want to have everybody start a thing, where they were climbing over. I felt a little greedy that I had a spot at the fence, plus my little seat, as if I was taking up two spots.”

Question: What about the advice I heard online that said if you can’t handle crowds, stand along the edge?

Answers:

Brooke: “Where I was, there was fencing on the edge.”

Gail: “We came out from the Union Station and came down the road next to the Capital, so we came up behind the stage. We thought this would be all right, but we couldn’t hear. Then were getting jammed in there against the fence. We said, ‘We gotta’ get out of here.’ We wound up out on the mall in breathing room again. There were just people everywhere. There were guys in the trees starting a chant. Two girls with bullhorns were having a competition.

“Then we walked by the Sackler museum where we could almost hear a little bit. But then they were talking about starting the march, and the only way you could get out of this thing--this little courtyard--was this one little gate. And everybody was jammed everywhere. But we wanted to get out and get into the street because we thought they were going to start marching. So we just walked over the gardens and through these things and pushed our way out into the street.”

Brooke: “It was almost gridlock.”

Gail: “It was solid people. Then we would shuffle along. Then it would open up a little bit. We said, ‘We can’t call this a march; it’s a shuffle.’ We went all the way to the White House.”

Paula: “Our worst part was trying to join the crowd to start the march. We then climbed the fence to get down there. Then were just standing there, we weren’t really moving. When we took that break to give her some air to breathe and to pee, Ninth was pretty clear flowing back onto Independence. I did not go all the way to the White House. We went to the Washington Monument.”

Brooke: “We went to the Washington monument and stopped there.”

Question: It was projected to attract about 5 million people around the world, 1 million in Washington. How does it feel to be a part of something so intense?

Answers:

Brooke: “For us it was like a family, even though it wasn’t my family, it was this odd conglomeration of people like a family event. Four, white, middle class, local-to-me teenage boys there that were engaged and interested and listening to the speakers and cheering. That was pretty cool. I’m glad I was there, I saw a lot of cool stuff. I saw the people that I associate with. Seeing all my friends that went down on Facebook. It was what it was. It was solidarity. Positivity.”

Gail: “It was one of the happiest days. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was so happy to be there. A lot of those signs were so damn funny.”

Paula: “It felt great . . . because it was so peaceful.”

Ro: “I am not alone, which is comforting. We are all very concerned, which is frightening.”

Lori: “One word....Amazing. For the first couple of days following the march, I just wanted to stay in a cocoon and within myself to absorb what had happened. It was probably one of the most powerful days of my life. To share with Daisy especially and to see her passion and commitment was really meaningful. The mass of people was hard to even comprehend! Everywhere you looked people....women, men, children, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, you name it...were pouring into the city with a common cause. To say there is power in number is an understatement, but describes the experience. The friendliness, camaraderie, excitement, passion were indescribable. Social media was a really interesting tool to help us see how it was building around the country and added to the experience! Seeing Crinney in ITALY!!! Holding up her sign....talk about connected!”

Question: What have you learned from attending this about engagement and what do you wish others could know?

Answers:

Brooke: “There’s a publication that’s out called Indivisible. Legislative staffers and representative staffers put out this publication that tells you how to be an activist basically, how to be an effective activist.” She described a few recommendations such as, ‘Don’t call someone who is not your senator.’ She had heard an interview with one of the authors, but “besides the rah-rah stuff which was all great and motivational, it was about Michael Moore telling us we should call our congress people. In reality those people represent us. It all came from studies of the Tea party where this small group of people were able to turn over an entire election cycle by being vocal and effectively vocal.

“I think it just reinforced what I already knew about people and how awesome we all are. It’s frustrating to hear people on Facebook posts about why we shouldn’t have gone. I wish those people could have been down there and experienced it. They’re just totally ignorant in the definition of the word ignorant. I wish that they could know why people were there, who was there.

photo supplied by Paula.

Brooke continued: “I liked that there was constructive information about what to do. That’s what I went there for. Michael Moore gave that to me. The rest of the people made me shiver a little bit, [laughter] shed a tear or two, or cheer and raise my fist. But to be able to leave with something tangible to do, that’s what I went there for, and I left with that.

“You don’t always have to put it in to words about how you feel about things. It’s so exhausting to have to explain or convince people or whatever. A lot of times I just avoid it. But I think this election, and having to have to try to have intelligent conversations with people -- even just to tell people I’m not going to have that conversation and make people be quiet -- in order to have a conversation with likeminded people about what can we do, you need to be able to put your thoughts into words. This whole entire thing has helped me, although I know how I feel, put it into a couple of sentences in order to explain my point of view to somebody else. That’s come in helpful, to get together with people and talk about stuff.

“At breakfast, we finally found a place to eat and we were hearing other people talk about stuff. I thought, ‘Wow you put it into a sentence what I wanted to say.’ I wish I could hang out with these kind of people to discuss that kind of stuff.”

Paula: “I’ve learned that there’s a hell of a lot of people out there who believe the same things that I do -- or in general -- who are progressively minded, which I sort of know from Facebook and personal connections. But I mean we all have friends who are not progressive, we have conservative friends, but that’s all right...’cause we don’t talk politics with them. We just hang out. So what I learned is what Brooke was saying. You can get some talking points. Ideas you have in your own mind--maybe not just there but on Facebook or whatever you’ll see somebody articulate things that you never articulated and your go ‘Ahh. When I hear that I can give this response.’

“But, again I feel freer to speak out more. I’ve always–on Facebook or in other conversations I have with people–it’s never been about like trashing Republicans or trashing Trump, well maybe a little as a person [laughter], but mostly my whole thing is–I guess because I’m a journalist–to put the truth out there. You know, like Fox says, ‘We report; you decide.’ Well that’s bullshit. You put the FACTS out there. Everybody has their own truth. But there aren’t alternative facts. There are alternative truths. But put the facts out there and people can’t argue with you.

“What I put on my Facebook page about that Spicer press conference, I know for a fact that he was lying about putting down the white covering over the lawn. He said, ‘this has never been done before at the mall,’ and I know for a fact that it was done before, because I was there four years ago, and it was done. So I put that. Put the facts out there and people can argue if they want to or maybe it might make somebody think. That’s the goal, to make people think. So yah, we got some good talking points out of it. A lot of slogans, too, on the signs.”

Gail: “I think what this did for me was to make me more willing to talk about it. But since I’ve come home and had time to think and haven’t looked at Facebook, I think it’s time to take it off of Facebook and do it in person. Because I don’t think you’re really reaching the audience that you’re think you’re reaching when you’re writing on Facebook, and your friends who are not likeminded are probably just becoming offended, because it’s not really a place to have a conversation.

“So, I’ve decided for myself that I’m going to try to back away from it a little bit. Not that I’m not going to have an opinion, but I think things don’t come across right when you just put one or two words or a sentence or two on Facebook. That’s what I’ve gotten, even before I went to this, talking about it at work, which I would never do before. I talk to people I work with now. I don’t think everybody needs to agree with me, and I think the reason we are where we are at now is because we don’t talk about it. Half the country doesn’t agree with us. That doesn’t mean that we’re right and they’re wrong or they’re right and we’re wrong. This is hopefully where this is going to take us. I really do.

“My friend at work said to me twice already, and he’s very smart in saying this, he described how the Tea Party started. If people feel that way, they keep talking about the Democratic Party and that kinda’ like upsets me because I’m not even sure that they are my people. My personal hope is that something will come out of this and it won’t be Democratic or Republican; it’ll be something complete different.”

Brooke broke in: “People thinking critically about the information?”

Gail: “Like I said if Donald Trump gets clean water for Flint, Michigan in six months, who could argue with that? Why has this gone on for, what is it, two years now? I mean come on. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of things I don’t agree with. He’s says infrastructure. You know we’re driving on these roads, you know about infrastructure.”

Brooke: “Yah, but how much crap did they give Obama when he put that shovel-ready program, a whole ton of money for infrastructure and people complained about it? Since it’s not their idea, I think it’s different.”

Paula: “They’re [Republicans] not excited about it either.”

Gail: “I think it’s going to be interesting.”

Brooke: “If he spends a ton of money on infrastructure, then that’s cool I think we need it.”

Paula agreed

Brooke: “I know my friends who were Bernie Sanders supporters are going to agree with him about abandoning the [Transpacific Partnership].”

Lori: “I would not describe myself as an activist. My feelings about issues did not change as a result of the March. Rather, for me anyway, it was more of a therapeutic experience. A release in a sense. I’ve always had my finger on the pulse in terms of politics....I’m a political junkie with a preference for news that favors my own points of view, but I do investigate what the other side has to say.”

Question: What do you hope for now?

Answers:

Brooke: “I don’t know how I feel about the whole two-party system. I just think the whole fact that when Obama was in they were like ‘We just don’t want anything he does to pass.’ I don’t think Dems will act the same way, because we’re too nice. I don’t want to be in the douche bag party, but at the same time we’re not being effective. I don’t think them going and gerrymandering the next time around will just stop anything from actually happening.

“As public servants they’re supposed to be serving the public. They’re not doing their jobs. I don’t know that that was the dialog we’re having necessarily on that level, but I think that needs to change. I still find it, as much as this was a positive and hopeful event, I’m not sure how to convince someone that I should have equal rights if they just don’t understand that we don’t have equal rights.”

Gail: “I already told you I want to see a new political party.”

Paula: “I hope for people to stay involved. And I think they will. Actually today at work my boss’s boss who was there -- she knew that I had been there and somebody else was there -- said ‘let’s go out to lunch and strategize.’ We have this organization there called the women’s employee resources, of which I am the co-chair. She invited two others who had been to the Philly March, one was a guy in his late 60s. We just went to lunch and talked about it. We were loud. We were in West Chester. The guy next to us looked like a lawyer. Who knows what he was into, but yah, it seems to me the people who were there were energized, and they’re looking for things to do. One thing I did, I have the phone numbers of my two senators in my phone, and I can just call them any time I want.”

Brooke: “You should read this indivisible thing.”

Paula: “That’s a new series they have every night at 8 pm on NPR. Yesterday was the reaction to the March. ”

Lori: “That this clown settles the fuck down and stops deceiving people....and people vote in two years when all congressional seats are up for grabs. (And some Senate seats) and change the present course.”

Question: Final thoughts?

Answers:

Paula: “The one thing we talked about today was that the Democratic party is a bunch of wusses, which is what Michael Moore was talking about. The Republicans have this group, it’s called ALEC, Americans Legislative Exchange Council. They’re a conservative, right wing group funded partly by the Koch brothers. They get together, and they look at what’s going on in the states. They come up with a template for legislation they want to get passed. That’s what happened in NC with the bathroom law. It’s cookie cutter. And they send it out to all the legislators, all the conservative legislators in all the states, and this is why you see these same bills coming up, because they have this group and it’s coordinated.

“It’s like Will Rogers said, ‘I don’t belong to any organized party; I’m a democrat.’ “I’m not a Democrat. But it’s like you said, we want to the be the party of conscience, and if you’re going to be democrat you go with that, because it’s the party of conscience, not because it’s a party of bullying. But I like the fact that Chuck Schumer is now the minority leader, because I think he’s tough and he’s out there, he’s talking. I don’t know how well he’ll do.”

Brooke: “He had a relationship in Trump. Trump donated a whole bunch of money to him as well. It will be interesting since they know each other.”

Paula: “Democrats have to get tougher.”

Brooke: “We happened to be right near Ninth Street, and there were a whole bunch of protestors who were so offensive. They were like anti-protestors.

“One of the signs was so ridiculously sexist, I couldn’t understand it. But the signs of those people, it felt really good to be in a spot ...it happens sometimes at events...where you’re in a place where everybody is cool and we weren’t all there with the same purpose, but everybody was cool with each other and working towards a positive purpose. ”

Ro: “I was thrilled to share it with friends. I was happy that a coworker from Planned Parenthood and her daughter joined us for the day. We haphazardly met on the bus from King of Prussia.”

[End Interview]
----
Just a few days after the interview, I saw Gail at a social function. She expressed continued enthusiasm for the momentum of the day, reiterating again how she saw great potential in an open dialog. When we keep quiet to avoid conflict or push away others who do not share our perspectives, we feed the political problem. We have got to change the way in which we communicate before we can expect our leaders to change the way they govern.

Thank you for reading this all the way through to the end. I hope you found this to be insightful. And thank you to the brave gals who marched and then agreed to speak out publicly via this interview.

by Ruth Heil

Cracks in the Sidewalk

March 22nd, 2017

More letters keep getting added. Not long ago, there were just three: L, G, and B. Then the Ts demanded inclusion. Soon others bravely emerged from the shadows. At last check, the full label was LGBTQIAP+, the plus being coverage for anyone missed.

Days after the Women's March on Washington I got to interview three friends who went. Each of them traveled separately, from different backgrounds, with different reasons for going. Overall, the message was about demanding equal rights for all people. I'm still working on transcribing the interview, and I will post it here when I'm finished. Their experiences were inspiring. It was invigorating to know so many people were willing to stand up for equal rights. There is no doubt, diversity colors life.

Still, despite the best intentions, every time one more letter is added to the description I see it as one more discord, yet another sidewalk crack on which I must be careful not step. Offensive as my perspective may be, it has become obvious that it is no longer helpful to keep politely silent. Like the toddler who tests the boundaries set by his mother, it's important that the advocates for equality understand when they've gone too far, otherwise they risk perpetual adolescence. As I watch the battles unfold, as I cheer for progress and denounce bigotry, I am left to wonder if this will ever end. I come to same conclusion each time. The flaw in each is that it does not recognize the rights of all. With this post, I will do my best to explain.

Deluded is the idea that true equality can prevail with such divisive labels. All of us, no matter where we come from, no matter what we have or choose to do, no matter how many achievements, mistakes, rewards, setbacks, accolades, misunderstandings, gifts, or shortcomings we encounter, are all just people.

Since so many haven’t learned that yet, the fight rages on. The close-minded, brutal, ignorant, heavy-footed, vengeful, and unkind still inflict cruelty. I have no issue with resistance to that. I am an ally to the equal rights movement of every alphabet. Cruelty to one is detrimental to all.

But true unity cannot happen when every off color, “marginalized,” or struggling group demands spotlight recognition. Gender aside, this also includes black lives. It applies to blue lives. Latinos. Immigrants. Refuges. Women. Muslims. Plus. Each time one shade of diversity shouts to be free of discrimination, another falls farther into darkness. Since I prefer not to choose, I have been given no choice. Instead of acceptance, in order to avoid treading on these forever-expanding obstacles, I freeze. Wanting to move forward I am forced to stand still.

Much of this comes from the endless campaigns to understand each and every splintered clan. It's called political correctness, but the issue goes far beyond politics. The tensile strength of human compassion is reaching its limit. Too much vigilance is required to step gently these days. Treating others as I wish to be treated is no longer good enough. It's just not that simple anymore.

Understanding

Peace and love are embraceable, but understanding seems forever elusive.

For instance, I remember the days when, in hopes of more fluid desegregation, whites were urged to stop seeing skin color. This I could understand. My first reaction to any person presented to me should naturally be that I'm looking at a person.

Then, this came to be considered a wrongful denial of blackness. "See me as black, because that is who I am." This too I could understand. I value a connection to ancestry. We must all remained tapped into the lineage of who we are.

But honestly, is it really my role to identify, recognize, and understand the plight of every race which stands before me? In an age when even the seasoned anthropologist is questioning the ability to identify all the racial subspecies of the Homo sapien, how am I supposed to know the makeup and desires of every stranger? I still cannot differentiate with confidence the Asian people. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese?

And is it really my role to identify--to even ask--what gender you identify with? Male or female, Vietnamese or Korean, how badly will you be offended if I get it wrong?

As a heterosexual, spiritual, middle-class, average, white American with European roots, I am left in quandary, a damned-if-I-do-or-don’t position. Inside the margins of the blank, white page, with hope for our community to be whole, these labels cripple me when I should be empowered to do the right thing. And that's toxic to the equal rights movement. It is part of what has delivered to us a presidential leader who speaks to only his kind, further empowering the supremacist who believes only his kind is best.

Who doesn’t want their true self to be recognized as understood? Who doesn’t struggle to understand whom exactly that true self is?

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender, transexual, and transvestite. Queer. Intersex. Asexual. Pansexual. Thinning this alphabet soup, someone has produced MOGAI: Marginalized Orientations, Gender Identities, and Intersex, further testing my compassionate knowledge. It's bad enough that we haven't all caught on to the new label; how many among us even know what pansexual means?

The more each “non-confirming” individual seeks vindication in the popular vein, the more the issue of equality becomes clogged with idiosyncrasies. I cannot understand you until I’ve truly been you, and I cannot be anything other than who I am. Doesn’t that make me the same as you? Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that exactly what this fight is all about, being free to be who you are?

Sex

Moreover, I’m exceptionally tired of talking about sex. I’m tired of it as entertainment. I’m tired of it as news. I’m tired of it as a measure of our relationships. I’m tired of having to protect children from it. I’m tired of selling products with it. And I’m tired of it being used to identify a person.

“Gender is not sex!" and "This is not a lifestyle!” the misunderstood will shout in defense. Still, the letters mean sexual orientation, any way you spell it. And I don’t care about the position or the partner you choose. I don’t care what you possess underneath your clothes. I don’t want to have to think about it every time I look at you. I pray you don’t theorize when you look at me. All I want to see is the person you are, preferably dressed and smiling and free.

Plus, when do we stop adding letters? What about the sadists and masochists? The celibates? We have reached a point in which the most personal and sacred aspects of ourselves are not fully appreciated until we have branded them with a diversity-seeking symbol. If it's equality we want, why this push for specificity?

And why this need for pride?

Pride

The past summer, while visiting Halifax, Canada, I was present for one of the country’s largest gay pride celebrations. People lined the streets to cheer as rainbow-decorated flatbeds floated down the parade route. There was a great unity in the messaging, on the sidelines and in the parade, mostly through body language, attire, and poise. The overall behavior was tremendously respectful. People were fully clothed. They smiled. They made eye contact. And glorious of all, they were celebrating each other. They were celebrating the lives of people. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

However, there were also people who I considered disgraceful. They flashed skin, seemingly for the value of shock treatment. Outlandish costumes screamed, "Look at me! I am outlandish. You are ordinary." Off the parade route, I passed two men wearing nothing but gray, tight-fitting briefs. They each proudly pushed forward a hard bulge as their bare feet tramped along the filthy concrete. Out on the streets of society, where all measure of society is trying to raise children, in the admittedly lonely place that is normalcy, in order to appreciate each other on equal terms as equal people, I expect you to put your clothes on and act with respect. The size of and access to your prosthetic dick does not determine your worthiness, unless you prefer life in the jungle of reproductive beguilement.

Furthermore, I’m torn by these events, because pride is a sticky business. Christian gospel warns against it, which I think is for good reason. Pride is self-worship. And that too is divisive. The fact that you are proud means you have mentally raised yourself above one who is not. Even the atheist should be able to see the wisdom in the virtue of humility. To be humble is to open yourself up to accept that your life depends on other things, other people, in every moment of time. Plus, it is humility that dictates the universal truth of the words of Maya Angelou: “You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”

Acceptance and Love

Still, for most, I think the inarguable struggles come down to acceptance and love.

My advice for those looking for acceptance: do not base your happiness on my acceptance. Just be happy that I'm glad to let you be. There is this unwritten expectation that says, in order to accept someone, you have to like the person. This is a source of great animosity for me. There are simply people who I find abrasive to my personality. In this way, people are not (and never will be) equal to each other. I detest being manipulated, being forced to deny my emotions to accommodate a stranger's desire. Current relations demand that I control my dislike when the target falls into any one of many impoverished categories. It is only when the target is exactly like me -- the same race, class, gender, or creed -- that I am entitled to follow my heart.

As for limiting love or instructing people about who they should love, this is not just sticky, it’s ancient. Arranged marriages and our mothers' expectations are as old as society itself. Still, we may be conditioned; we may be influenced; but we are not gods. We do not control the universe or the genetics of attraction. It is not for me to dictate who you love. While a society may benefit from limiting hate, what benefit shall be derived from limiting love?

Well, for the betterment of American society as a whole, laws were created. Based on the morals of spirituality, these laws aim to prevent bigamy, to favor monogamy, and to characterize the pedophile as a predatory criminal. But marriage has always been known to me as an act of the church. In fact, Catholicism deems matrimony a holy sacrament. I’ve often wondered how, given the separation of church and state, marriage became so entangled in law. Unlike the biblical laws of killing and stealing, why is it necessary?

On the day that a military chaplain legally joined my husband to me on the lawn of a very non-religious bed-and-breakfast, I wondered how the true meaning of a religious marriage translated to that of our marriage certificate, our non-religious permit. I am spiritually committed to my husband for life, but I’m still not sure why I need legal documentation for this commitment to apply. Are not the emotional and financial entanglements of any who share a life the same whether married or not? When we force our legislators to define the boundaries of marriage, are we not forcing our legislators to follow our religion?

We also share a deep emotional need to be recognized as significant. We all struggle to make our mark with the physique, talents, flaws, and emotions with which we are born or have since acquired. I have no right to tarnish the significance of any other person. No law or public policy shall ever facilitate such an act. Those who believe otherwise are doomed to life of insignificance and distress.

Conclusion

Martin Luther King, Jr. led his people to higher ground. He opened the eyes of those who could not see the truth. However, the people outside his tribe were left to create their own opportunities. The lines were drawn: black or white. Lesbians and gays rose up behind Harvey Milk. The feminists had Billie Jean King. The list will continue, on and on, each group fighting to end the same evils of discrimination. Each campaign starting at the bottom, requiring the cultural psyche to first understand, then accept, and finally adopt. Progress is limited to the label of the day.

When will we learn that we are people? When will we come to the blanket realization that, despite what we think of each other, we must treat each other equally in the eyes of the law?

Let us drop the labels. Drop the relentless need to be understood by a society that doesn’t understand itself. Let us all simply be free to make our own way down the tricky, windy, bumpy sidewalk. Let us stop hindering each other by constantly measuring our racial and gender-bias temperature, and let's just get on to the business of living a life that is, at its core, profoundly beautiful.

(Watch for my Women's March interview to appear here soon.)

Whatever happened to compassion?

December 23rd, 2016

There is a lot to be said for the trepidation felt among the American citizenry right now. This is especially true for the sensitive individuals who abide by a moral code which includes compassion for others. Through compassion, we come to see how each of us is connected, not just to other people but to every living thing on earth. Thus, through compassion we come to care about life. Soon to take our highest office is a man whose compassion, whatever may exist, is smothered by ego, ego being one of the greatest enemies of tolerance, clemency, sympathy, lenience, and courtesy. As a result and now more than ever, it's up to each of us to stay true to the compass which guides us instead towards morality and humanity.

Whatever happened to compassion?

The more we know about the impact of our day-to-day actions and words, the more willingly we put aside luxury, convenience, and personal gain whenever those goals may bring harm. Ironically, in doing so, we come to develop the most luxurious sense of appreciation and wealth. As others thrive in the conditions of our restraint, we benefit even further, like the gardener and the bee. After one refrains from picking the blossoms the other comes to feed, and so yields fruit.

Yet, as if faced with some desperate need to stay alive, the culture of America seems to have given in to self indulgence. “What’s in it for me” reigns supreme. Like drowning swimmers, citizens grab at whatever means is necessary to save themselves and maybe their loved ones. They're tired of waiting. They pick what they want and justify the action with a flippant notion that there will be more tomorrow. Prudence has been replaced with entitlement. This unfounded recklessness has washed over every class and generation. Best get what you need now before some pest comes along and eats it first.

The charm is subtle and clever. Even the most kind creatures among us have begun to display hints of it within themselves. Yet for those of us who have successfully resisted--for any who still cling to ideals of prudence--the evidence rests in our discordant position among the majority. We are at odds. Outcasts. Fools.

How so?

Most hunt for bargains online oblivious of the workers and resources the cheap product harms. For instance, they let discounters dictate the true value of a book, ignoring the contributions of the writer, the publisher, or the tree. Saving money, winning the deal, finding the shortcut: these are the virtues rewarded.

They applaud and tweet with glee after the award winner glides across the stage to accept the highest achievement of her life while wearing a dress befitting a high-priced prostitute.

They get in line to pre-purchase the “game” with the most life-like graphics, the one that splatters even more realistic blood to indicate a win.

They tune in nightly to the big network news, happy to let journalists investigate the real-feel temperature on a really cold day, removing the burden of truthful discovery that can only be found by stepping outside the front door.

Why not then allow our most powerful leader to dedicate himself to personal gain? Why is it so atrocious that he should profit from the hardships of others? Is it just because he is so much better at it than we? He got the Taj Mahal; I got a new table at the going-out-of-business sale. Shall we not both be rewarded for our savvy economic prowess?

Is it because he degrades woman, too?

Whatever happened to compassion?

Is it because he supports violence? Is there really any psychological difference between shrugging off digital violence as entertainment and passing off real violence as security?

Whatever happened to compassion?

Why shouldn't he lie to increase his popularity? Instead of investing a few dollars a year to support public-media journalism, do the ratings not show that we'd rather buy the lies sold on the mass-market news?

I have spent the better part of my adult life learning about innovation and progressive ideas for products, services, policy, and infrastructure that would position the United States as a world leader in intelligence and benefit all living things on this beautiful planet. Yet, during that entire time, I’ve had to listen to rhetoric against it. We can’t afford it. It won’t work. The technology is not there yet. In everything from parking lot materials to electricity transmission, legacy greed has held a tight grip on our advancement, and instead of fighting for new and better, we’ve somehow come to accept that the sharks know best. To cope with the ensuing boredom from perpetually standing still, we escape by entertaining ourselves with sex, violence, scandal, and shopping, which further suits the sharks just fine.

And so, here we are: stuck with a representative of greed and self interest as our most powerful leader-to-be. This week, valiant attempts to remove him from this electoral position failed. They were unsuccessful in suppressing this single symptom of a country-wide plague. With our country's highest honor in shambles, we must remove the mask that covers what really ails us. The voter's choice dwindled to the very bottom of the dried-up political bucket for a reason, and we have to find it in ourselves to heal this ourselves.

tattered flag

I believe strongly in the power of strong leadership. But as I see, if our leaders aren’t taking us where we want to go, we should STOP FOLLOWING. And just because we should have turned around long ago doesn’t mean we can’t turn around now. To do this we must demand quality, peace, ethics, and respect not just from them, but first from ourselves and our culture. Then, before you know it, proper, ethical leaders will emerge, invigorated by the positive momentum of the crowd.

Until then, where do we start? With compassion. Let us remember that it is inherent in each of us. Let us remember the true power it brings. Let us consider it’s long-term value. Let us remember how easy it is to lose. And let us reward those who act upon it. Don't be fooled into thinking it doesn’t exist. Reserve judgment, explore the facts, buck the trends, reject wickedness, and defend kindness. Continue to do the right thing even when . . . especially when . . . it's most difficult or uncomfortable.

In a world seemingly gone mad, your concern for others is shared by more people than you might think. Your positive actions and words make more of an impact that you might realize. Your intention to do the right thing is matched by more neighbors than you know exist. Your distaste for big box stores, giant media conglomerates, violence- and sex-crazed entertainment, and scandal-ridden political campaigns is far from reserved for you alone.

There is good reason for that constant feeling of trepidation. And you are most certainly not the only one to feel lonesome, hopeless, or distrustful right now. Let this current situation not further tear us apart but compel us to act. Let us plant a new garden, one in which we can once again be free to imagine, dream, and grow the fruits of compassion so that we may all come to care about life once more.

moonrise

Fission or fussion? A look at the science of social change.

November 16th, 2016

I’ve been silent, I know. For one thing, I felt this blog would get lost in the election chatter. For another, I couldn’t come up with much to write, at least not much besides expressions of sadness or fear, and I was pretty sure you've had enough of that. But today I'm ready to challenge myself to look for the best in our current situation, despite the discomfort, pain, anger, and sacrifice that will likely come during the process. I'm ready because the future of this planet depends upon it.

Clouds can sometimes indicate change.

The fact remains that, now that the votes are in, I am even more saddened with the fear of grave danger. However, I’m also no longer forced to wait for choices of strangers. I can move back to thinking about today's reality in terms of what is or what surely will be, not what might hopefully happen. And in the vein of such knowledge, let me attempt to explain my analogy of what I see is the best, universal action for people like me by stripping it down to the atomic level.

The characteristics of any element is greatly defined by the makeup of the center of its atom. The usefulness of any one chemical element to a goal is often determined by the combination of neutrons and protons in its nucleus, its center. An example is uranium, particularly uranium-235, the stuff of nuclear energy.

The number of neutrons (neutral charge) and protons (positive charge) present determines how the element behaves during a change such as a nuclear reaction. When scientists forcefully introduce an overabundance of neutrality into U-235, nuclear fission . . . or division . . . occurs. This releases energy, but the result is also radioactive.

Meanwhile, crush enough "positivity" together (using hydrogen atoms) and the protons fuse, releasing a huge amount of energy in the process without evoking cancer. Positive charges that would typically repel each other are held close together in the presence of a super strong force such as gravity. This brings about fusion. . .or union.

What does this have to do with social change? Consider that we too are a product of our atomic makeup. And remember that the United States seems ready to split when we really need to fuse.

It is my position that individual Americans need not give up their positive, energized charges–-whatever the characteristics of their personal makeup–-in order that we come together. Neutrality, in fact, could be toxic. However, we do need a whole lot of gravity to force us to unify. Yes, apologies are required to clear the field of the relentless negative energy that keeps spinning around us. But I still believe we can unite, if for no other reason than to protect our future.

Most of us are in this emotional fight because of a positive reason. On both sides there is a quest for improvement. This might include safety, prosperity, or opportunity. Clouding our ability to see that is the curtain of negative disagreement on how to achieve those results.

Thus, fusion requires a strong force to emerge, one able to drive repellent charges to congregate. Of course not all elements are appropriate for achieving this goal. But among those willing, there are mentors and non-governmental leaders who commit to protecting the people and the planet with hope and ethical purpose. They can be that force. Or it might come from each of us adjusting our focus, our conversations, our outlooks. Whatever it takes, we don’t get our non-radioactive power back until things change.