It was a sight I never thought I’d see: On Jan. 21, 2,400 people walked down the main street of my small town in one of the more than 600 “sister marches” led by the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
Much as I love it, Walla Walla is a far cry from our nation’s capital. It’s a place where the population of 32,000 is more likely to sport yard signs for Trump than Clinton. Saturday is usually a day to pick up groceries and do chores at home, not pick up and protest.
Yet, a little over two months after the election that put Donald Trump in the White House, these people were holding signs, holding hands, and holding their arms open to those who feel, now more than ever, that their place in society is no longer safe.
It’s not the Walla Walla I thought I knew.
Ever since Nov. 8, I’ve seen Americans filled with sadness, confusion, anger, and elation. Although many lapsed into silence the day after, a few began working, organizing and planning, rekindling hope among those of us who feel that they’ve lost.
After last week, it seems fair to say that the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States won’t be the end of the fight for equal rights. And the remarkable thing is that young people will probably lead it. In Birmingham in the 1960s, children cut class and took to the streets to protest segregation and were in turn fire-hosed by the police. It was a children’s crusade, and it symbolizes an age-old struggle for equality and acceptance. With the travel ban on Muslims and the end of the U.S. refugee resettlement program announced just yesterday, now is a time for “we” and not “I” — Jews and Muslims, Latino/as and LGBTQ, and every other American who is being targeted, mistreated, marginalized and stopped at the border. Now is no time to obsess over divisions; instead, we really need to think about is what we have in common. What makes us human? We need to come together and work towards our goals — human rights, a free press, the right to assemble and protest peacefully, and yes, even the right to dissent.
Driving to school last week, I saw Trump bumper stickers, too many to just stand by quietly any longer. So what real steps will I take?
For starters, I’ll write to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and urge friends to do the same. As the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, she’s in the front lines of the fight for affordable health care and against cuts to Planned Parenthood. Importantly, she’s also advocating for the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination in the workplace, and she’s pushing for greater gender equality with the Fair Paychecks Act. Tweeting @PattyMurray is the first step.
Second, I’m getting back in my car. Why not visit Murray when Congress isn’t in session and she visits us back home? I’m a queer Canadian-born green card holder, and a proud one. But that means I can’t vote, so I have to speak. It takes five hours to drive from Walla Walla to Seattle and I have eight seats in my Honda Pilot. Sounds like a pretty good political road trip to me.
To my peers who disagree with me — and I know, in all fairness to the dissent I value, that there will be plenty — understand that while you may feel unthreatened and safe, I don’t. Closing off our hearts to the homeless because they don’t sleep on your front porch, or refusing refuge to those who are fleeing their countries because we dislike the people they’re fleeing from, should be the definition of un-American. And as a nation in turmoil, standing together should be our true course. Bigotry, misogyny and racial and religious discrimination have no place here in the United States.
So if you concur, and even if you don’t, do what you can. Write, tweet, get in your car. Read and inform yourself, don’t create walls between yourself and others, build a bridge to the place you’d be proud to live in. Stand together. And get on the road.