Lessons Learned at the Women's March: Compassion is a Tool in the Resistance
On the way back from the Women's March, my wife and I listened to a TED Radio Hour episode that got me thinking about the experience we'd just had marching in DC and the best way to take that momentum forward and make change. The TED talk that stuck with me was about emotional correctness vs. political correctness —or why liberals are pricks, how that interested with progressive messaging, and what we can learn from conservatives.
The speaker, Sally Kohn, is a cable news host who makes her living arguing with people like Sean Hannity.
Kohn, said (more or less):
People like Sean Hannity are the nicest people you'd ever meet. They'd do anything for their staff, set them up on dates, etc. Even if their politics are horrible. Whereas liberals are smug and condescending. They're right, they know they're right, but you don't want to listen to them.
Her words sunk in as we drove north. I've been that liberal asshole, that smug progressive person. For a lot of my life, I wanted to be right and as long as I was right, how I got there mattered little.
Just last week my wife accused me of looking down on someone we work with because they're not very smart. While it's true, that also doesn't give me license to condescend because I understand how grammar and spelling work and they don't.
Kohn also said,
If I can start the conversation... with a connection, I'm not invalidating that other person's experience.
The night before the Women's March, my wife and I made protest signs, drank beer, and generally bemoaned the awfulness of the upcoming Trump administration with other march attendees. We listened to Ani DiFranco, the Rent soundtrack, and other queer classics.
Somewhere in New Jersey, our long day's drive to DC turned into a caravan of pussy hatters streaming down the Thruway. The singular despair we'd been feeling tucked in our rural community grew more collective with every mile.
We were here to do a thing and we were going to do it, and we weren't alone any more. We weren't weak anymore. We weren't useless anymore.
It felt exciting. It felt empowering.
After we readied ourselves for the march, we went out dancing. As a country queer, I take what scattered opportunities I get to do things like dance or hang out in queer spaces. It was fun to be together on the dance floor, watching the baby queers hang out with friends or look for women or make out.
Knowing we would be getting up early to head to the march, we called a Lyft in the early morning. "How was your day today?" the driver asked, offering us water.
On any other day, a "Fine" would have felt sufficient, but on Inauguration Day none of us were feeling anything like fine.
"Not the best day," we said. Or "hard."
Not taking the hint, our driver pushed on. "How do you feel about the new president?"
"We don't like him!" someone said. The ice broken, more people chimed in with comments. 97 percent of DC residents voted against Trump, our friends told us, so there was very little chance this guy had encountered many Trump supporters in his rounds.
"So you don't like him, why?" the driver continued.
What was a car full of six queers supposed to say to that? Trying to put some part of our fear into words, I said that Trump was only out for himself and his interests. He would make decisions that would harm everyday people by taking away health care, not delivering on jobs, and oppressing vulnerable people. Words felt clunky in my mouth as I tried to explain what we were feared.
Our driver was brown-skinned and had a thick accent, clearly an immigrant. To me, he was the sort of person who should be seriously afraid of what his future held under Trump. Yet weaving through the streets of DC, he didn't sound afraid.
"If he is as bad as you say, why do these people, all these politicians, support him?"
Someone else chimed in at that point, as we collectively tried to explain to our driver that the Republican party was disinterested in looking out for the social good, and Congress leaders would go along with Trump if it meant they could get their way on their issues.
Our driver wasn't exactly in disagreement with us. He never articulated a support of Trump (or a clear lack thereof). He merely wanted to understand the present moment—something we all wanted.
We were not rude to him, but neither did we come at the conversation from a place of trying to understand what he was truly asking or why he was asking it.
We came up short on compassion that night, blinded by our collective despair, rage, fear, and excitement for what the morning held.
The next day, we joined the throngs to put our bodies on the line of resistance. Then we scattered, and now we do the work of carrying our resistance onward.
As I move forward, I hope to approach conversations like the one we had that night from a mindful point of view.