I decided not to strike on International Women’s Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and as part of that the Women’s March organized A Day Without A Woman. They asked women to stay home from work (paid and unpaid), not spend any money, and wear red in solidarity. Many cities organized protests, and plenty of people were arrested on unclear charges.

But, as many people pointed out, a lot of women cannot afford to miss a day from work. They’ll lose their jobs if they don’t show up, or maybe they just can’t afford to miss work for financial reasons.

photo of a protest sign that says This Pussy Grabs Back

I do get paid time off, but generally I need to save my sick days for when I inevitably wake up with a searing migraine or need to make a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. That’s not why I decided to go to work yesterday, though it was certainly a factor (even though I legitimately had a migraine that made me a useless blob all evening).

The real reason is that I work at a public library. The majority of staff at my library is female. If we all striked, they would be forced to close. But this wouldn’t hurt the men (and women) in power making harmful decisions. They have computers and internet access and can afford to buy books in whatever format they choose.

The library closing would only hurt the people who are already vulnerable, who are affected by those harmful decisions. It would hurt the kids who come in after school, and the people desperately looking for work, and the elderly women who come in to find a book to read, who maybe can only get out of the house once or twice a week when they have help.

So I went to work, even with the migraine, and I helped those people do what they needed to do. I wore a red bandana and didn’t spend any money (not that I have much money to spend these days). I did, however, scope out some awesome women-run shops on Etsy that I’d like to drop some money on in the near future (I’m pretty sure I need this cute dratini in my life, and also this crocheted corgi).

I’m not necessarily criticizing the idea behind the strike. If all women decided not to show up for work for a day, the world would basically grind to a halt. That would make a big, visible impact, but not all the consequences would be good ones. I felt that it was important for me to show up and do the work I do every day to help the people in my community who need it most. They can’t afford to take a day off, and they can’t afford for the library to take a day off.

Marching for equality in 2017

This weekend, I’m heading to the Women’s March on Washington. I could have chosen to attend a march in my home city of Pittsburgh, but as soon as the march was announced, I knew I wanted to be in Washington.

logo for the Women's March on Washington

Logo copyright the Women’s March on Washington.

My budget is tight right now, and attending the march will definitely put a strain on finances. But I can go, so I feel I must go. Not only for myself, but for those who can’t go—because they can’t afford the bus ticket, because they can’t get childcare, because they can’t get off work.

The March has not been without some squabbling over intersectionality, but to paraphrase Roxanne Gay, I’d rather have an imperfect feminist protest of our incoming Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief than none at all. I march knowing full well that I am preceded by men and women who had to deal with—and who still deal with—more hate and prejudice than I likely ever will, even considering the incoming administration. I have a lot to learn, and I hope to do those men and women honor on Saturday.

After the election, I fell into a pretty deep depression. I thought about self-harm for the first time in nearly a decade. How can we go on, I thought? How can I go on in this world that clearly doesn’t value or respect me?

I picked fights with people when I should have known better, had an extraordinarily hard time getting any words out of my brain and onto the page, and only managed to avoid hurting myself by relying heavily on my support network and using every single coping mechanism I’ve ever learned.

To be clear, I wasn’t depressed because the candidate I voted for didn’t win the election and I’m some spoiled whiny brat millennial or whatever. I’ve lost and failed and lost some more, and I will again (probably before the day is over). I was depressed because I went to sleep in a wold where a woman had a chance of becoming president for the first time in US history, and woke up in a world that had reinforced the existence of that glass ceiling and—implicitly or explicitly—condoned sexual assault, or at best refused to stand up against it.

Unfortunately for the world’s misogynists, my bout of depression has condensed itself wholly into anger and outrage. I will march on Saturday and every day from this one until the day I march straight into my grave if that’s what it takes to end oppression and violence against women.

Whether you are able to make it to D.C. or not, I invite you to march with me.

 

To my white friends and family

You are all good people. You love your family and your friends. You love your country. You work hard and you deserve all the good things you have, and then some.

I understand that when someone—anyone—accuses America as a whole or white people in general of being racist, you feel offended and defensive. You feel like you’re being singled out and attacked for the actions of others.

That’s not you, you think, and for the most part, you’re right. Maybe you have some biases and prejudices (I know I do), but you give everyone a chance. You recognize that every human being on this planet is a person with rights just the same as yours, even if you don’t always agree with that individual’s actions or lifestyle.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a country and culture that has systematically been oppressing and killing people of color since Europeans began settling this continent. We killed off entire tribes of American Indians. We kidnapped Africans and enslaved them and tortured them and worked them literally to death. After slavery ended we moved to share cropping, which kept black people poor and destitute. Then came Jim Crow, in which state governments denied thousands upon thousands of blacks the right to vote. We had the Ku Klux Klan and endless lynchings.

Supposedly the Civil Rights movement stopped all that. But look around you. We never moved past Jim Crow, we just changed the rules. Now we lock up black people (and the mentally ill) in record numbers. We shunt them into housing projects, away from the “nice” neighborhoods. We call them lazy and violent.

And yes, when I say “we” I mean you, and I mean me. No, we did not participate in slavery. No, we were never members of the KKK. No, we’ve never lynched anyone. But we vote. We speak. We stand by while our black brothers and sisters are drowning in poverty that’s a direct result of the way our society has always treated them as less-than, other.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a bad person, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. You are not a bad person. You are a good, strong person and I love you. Guilt isn’t going to make anything better.

Instead, I challenge you to look at history and understand how we’ve come to this point. Recognize the pain and violence that white people have inflicted on black people since before the United States was a country.

We don’t demonize all white teenagers because of the few who have killed dozens of people in school shootings. We don’t demonize doctors because of the few who’ve negligently let people die.

Recognize these things, and then look at your fellow countrymen with empathy and compassion in your heart. Declaring that black lives matter is not an implication that your life matters less. It is, instead, a declaration that black lives matter as much your life matters. We’re all humans. We’re all Americans.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. We—you, and me—we can listen to what black Americans have to say. And even if we don’t agree, we can acknowledge their point of view and feelings as valid. As valuable.

We can listen, and we can learn, and then we can act, together, to make this a better place for all of us.