COMMENTARY: On Saturday my 5-year-old daughter and I joined some 1,500 other people at the “Unified Community Action in Solidarity with the Women’s March” here in Las Cruces.
We almost didn’t go. It was cold and rainy when we woke up, and S. doesn’t like to “hike.” But we talked about what she’d been learning about MLK and Rosa Parks — that some people think white folks are better than anyone else, and those people often have too much power; that sometimes laws are unjust, or powerful leaders disrespect others, and regular people like us have to stand up to them.
We looked at the “Girls Rule” magnet on our fridge and the Clinton/Kaine sticker with its fading “I voted” oval on our car. I like to think S. remembered what it felt like to fill in the bubble for the first girl president. And she put on her big girl pants and her hated puffy coat and we marched.
For me, it was a chance to hug my people, show my colors, and feel some hope. The news on the morning of Nov. 9 hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. I’m privileged enough to have been shocked by the election of a reality TV star who baited racial extremists, bragged of sexually assaulting women, and scorned any appeal to learning or expertise.
American democracy suddenly appeared to me as a fragile and deeply flawed institution, providing cover for naked power plays and for stark racial and economic injustice. I heard walls crumbling in my sleep. Let’s say I was not feeling optimistic. But I picked myself up and tried to teach, to parent, to organize in my community.
I talked too much, as usual. I lectured my father about Standing Rock over Thanksgiving dinner (and I’m not sorry). But I also tried to listen to people who, having lived the reality of racial oppression in America, were far less surprised — if no less shocked — by, say, Trump’s appointment of overt white supremacists to White House posts.
Saturday morning, as S. and I walked through the downtown mall towards the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC), the sun broke through after all. S., an artist, was excited to make our own poster. Because she’s recently learned the Pledge of Allegiance at school, I wrote, “Liberty and Justice for ALL,” and S. added “Girls Rule!” in brilliant rainbow colors.
There were so many people at SWEC that they had to move the rally out to the new downtown plaza. So many people that when we marched, our line stretched from the plaza down Church Street, around the roundabout, and back up Water to meet its own tail at the start. Organizers lined the road yelling “NASTY WOMEN IN THE HOUSE!” Our kindergarten girls chanted and whooped and danced. Singing Out, the local LGBT+ chorus, did “Stand By Me” and, OK, I admit it. I cried.
Because the thing is, it’s been really scary. And I’m not even an obvious target of hate. I don’t know when our DACA students might be deported or our Muslim students attacked openly in parking lots (yes, this has happened); if my friends’ families will be able to keep the protections of federally-recognized marriage; whether S. will be denied health insurance for a preexisting condition; if laws might be passed to limit what my students and I can talk about in our classes.
When the power went out twice in two days last week I had the totally crazy, but newly plausible, thought that the whole damn grid had been hacked. I know many many people have always lived with this kind of fear. And I know that one march, however impressive or uplifting, does not systemic change make.
But I marched, and I took my daughter, so that we could feel proud and strong and brave together, and show the world — and especially, the Trump administration — that we nasty women are a force to be reckoned with.
I marched, and I took my daughter, because this is how democracy works, and how our country rights itself. We need more democracy, not less. More and more and more.
Liz Schirmer is a humanities professor at New Mexico State University and a queer single parent by choice. She has lived in Las Cruces for 15 years and is proud to call it home.