And So We March…

*Here’s my YouTube video inspired by the march! Ignore the fact that my eyes sort of roam around the room…*

 

Woah, people in cafes talk about really personal things really loudly. Really, really personal things. Really, really loudly. There is a mom and her son’s girlfriend talking about their unhealthy, awkward relationship. There are kids with their faces covered in chocolate whining about needing to use the bathroom. There’s a gaggle of women in their twenties searching on their phones for how to avoid government surveillance and deal with their periods during marches. Again, really, really personal. Really, really loudly.

I am writing this a week or so after I left for the women’s march in Washington, D.C., and it seems important that I emulate that blind sort of bravery to be loud and personal.  It feels like a lot of things have happened since January twenty-first (the immigration ban? the EPA? the freaking wall?), and so to stay sane and stave off hopelessness, I wanted to reflect upon the day in which I donned a pink, cat-eared hat and made my voice heard.

I made about twelve packing lists to prepare myself for the march.  Would I have enough food? What boots should I wear? How many names should I scribble on my arm in Sharpie?  A week before, I had the requisite “I don’t know if I should be doing this…” anxiety, especially as my health condition can make lack of sleep dangerous. But by Thursday, I was determined to go and to do it right.  I brought my crappy ukulele and Rise Up Singing, two granola bars and some melatonin.  I was ready for whatever the marching gods threw at me.

When I left with a busload of women (and one man!) on Friday evening, pink hats of all shades and patterns peppered the already salt-and-pepper heads.  Honestly, just that was moving!  (I feel like I’ve really become an adult when the diversity of hat patterns brings me close to tears.) We were individuals that made up an empowered, excited group—there for different reasons, but committed to the same ultimate goal.

So why was I marching?  Why was I willing to risk the consequences and board a bus headed for the unknown? Because it was something I could do in the face of overwhelming anxiety. On one level, marching was a straightforward, bite-size solution.  It was something concrete, a way for my body to align with my mind and heart. I was marching because I am taking this political moment really, really personally, and I am trying to do it really, really loudly. I was searching for solidarity and hope, and I found it in every single cat-inspired sign and chant.

Still, it is easy to say that I was marching for love and peace in the face of hate and fear. It is harder to think about what I hate and what I fear. I am trying to be loud and curious—loud and loving. But how? Really, I want to know. How??  Because love and unity are concepts that I think everyone in the world wants to embody. People across the country of all political persuasions believe in uniting for a common cause.

We just need to ask ourselves what it is we want to unite over.

At the march, I met up with one of my dearest friends from college. We navigated the crowds with our elbows linked and laughed at the signs, half of which seemed to mention that infamous cat euphemism. When we couldn’t hear any of the rally, we bailed and went to Subway for lunch, where I waited 30 minutes to use the bathroom and tried to surreptitiously stuff my turkey and avocado sandwich into my mouth. Once we finally got back to the march, I surprised myself by how much I liked to chant. “Tell me what democracy looks like!” I screamed. “This is what democracy looks like!”

I wasn’t expected to feel as moved as I did. I still felt anxious to please, anxious of the crowds, anxious of the expectation that I would change the world. But my overwhelming feeling was one of hope and solidarity. Why was that kind of unity possible?

Honestly, I think a big part of what made my march so successful and moving was that trip to Subway. Every big movement is as strong as the hungry, tired, inspired, marching individuals. We can hold signs and shout slogans—and man, it is fun to do so!!—but we can also take the march personally enough to sit down and wonder. Why am I here? What is important? To me, the strength of my relationships and my own humanity was what made the march so powerful—that hunger, that questioning, that body aligning with my mind and heart.

I defined what I was marching for, and I think that is what we all have to do. What do we hate, what do we fear? Can we take marches or movements seriously enough to ask those questions? That is where true hope and solidarity springs from, and maybe that is how we are loud and personal. Maybe that is how we truly vanquish hate and fear.

I am sitting in a café drinking my decaf maple latte with soymilk, and political conversations are woven into the air around me. I can only hope that the movement of pink hats can include many ideas of right and wrong and can listen as much as it chants. May we navigate the crowds with our elbows linked, do the things we need to do, and ask ourselves—what exactly am I fighting for?

Celebration

*Disclaimer:  This was supposed to be posted a week and a half ago, but it slipped my mind—so forgive the not-quite-timeliness!*

It is now 2017!  The holiday season has somehow evaporated, and we are facing a new, fresh, clean-slate year.  I didn’t make any resolutions, because I was sniffely and grumpy, but I did think about celebration.

This Christmas, I spent a few nights with the entire Ellis family at my gramma’s house.  We counted seventeen of us in all, and seventeen is a lot… but seventeen Ellis men and women can sometimes seem like ONE HUNDRED and seventeen Ellis men and women.  There are a lot of bathroom jokes and gag gifts, and last year we all died when my aunt gave my mom a water bottle that looked like a dildo.  We laugh a lot—but this year we cried, too, because my gramma is sick, and it is a challenge for her to do almost anything.

Last Christmas, I focused a lot on the “lasts”—as in, “this is the last time we’ll spend a Christmas in this house” or “this is the last time I’ll have to paw through the refrigerator looking for mayonnaise that hasn’t expired.”  The lasts dragged me down and added a big asterisk next to any fun that I was having.  How can you truly enjoy yourself if there is something big looming ahead that will be sad and hard and overwhelming?

Instead, this year I spent a lot of time wondering about how to celebrate “effectively”—how to make the most of the season that centers around giving and family.  There is always something big looming ahead.  The something big might be sad and hard and overwhelming.  How can we celebrate when there is such an uncertain future?

I think these are all questions that we need to be asking right now.  I’m counting down until January 20th and mourning the loss of reasonable and sensitive leadership.  There is something big looming ahead, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be happy and easy.  And yet, I still think about celebration in the face of a difficult future.

I have tried to stay positive and optimistic throughout the entire transition of power, but my worldview continues to shake with every new appointment.  To cope, I find myself searching for hopeful articles rather than honest portrayals of the challenges we are facing.  I avoid the news, turn off the radio, and read about celebrity divorces instead of racism or sexism or homophobia.

I am in many ways ashamed of this selfishness.  Because of my life circumstances, I am able to turn it off.  Recently, though, the reality has come knocking.  I might face medical bills of over $800 per month.  I might lose access to safe and reasonably priced abortion.  My friends may lose the ability to marry the person they love.  My former students will lose access to food stamps or housing.

All of these things leave me breathless with anxiety.  And so I bury my head and silently brace myself.  I feel powerless and defeated.

Then enters celebration.

I am not saying that we need to read only hopeful articles and plan parties around systems that are broken. It is not enough to “focus on the positive,” “stay optimistic,” or in any other way deny reality.  I am not even saying that we have to embrace imperfection wholeheartedly, although I do think paying attention to what is working is an important step toward change.

What I do think we need celebrate is our unique capability to contribute to this world.  Within every one of us is an innate ability to change the places around us in a specific way, one that reflects our goodness, our strengths, and our sensibility.

I think that we need to sit down with a pencil and paper and celebrate the steps that we can take to enact change.  I can write articles.  I can drive my car less.  I can pick up the phone.  I can donate money to causes I care about.  These are all within my sphere of influence, and that is a beautiful thing.

In the face of a future that may not seem worth anything, we need to remain empowered and cultivate realistic, well-informed hope.  I am convinced that celebrating with clarity and determination is our best shot at making a difference.

And even within systems that work to oppress us and keep us silent, could we ask for a better gift than the ability to be ourselves in the fight for a better, more just, more bountiful world?