I’m not a good ally, but I’m working on it. I try to go to vigils, demonstrations, and peaceful protests as I am able. My skin color, sexual preferences, socioeconomic status (all of the things that contribute to my privileged existence) would allow me to sit out of any of these events and not be personally affected by the outcome. So sometimes I opt out if it’s not convenient to go. But I am called to be with those who are marginalized (I believe this is what Jesus did) and to stand with those who are very affected by political discissions. I have colleges who are BIPOC and LGBTQQ+ and from faith traditions that have been the targets of attacks. I am called to stand with them.
The women’s march seems to encompass all of the people I care deeply about. The policies feminists advocate for are good for women and men and everybody. Feminism is intersectional.
There were other Women’s March events happening closer to me, but I decided to go to Washington DC (with my husband) because I thought that would be the March getting the most press coverage and adding to the number of people gathered there would be important. And, total honesty, it was nice to get away for a weekend even if everything in DC was closed or restricted or under construction, so there wasn’t any site seeing or museum visiting. Mask and social distancing were enforced and complied with everywhere we went so I felt safe in DC (the rest stop a little less so but luckily, we weren’t there long). There were a few moments while we gathered to hear the speakers and just as the march was starting to move when we couldn’t be as physically distant as I would have liked but overall, we felt safe. Once we were moving, we were able to distance well.
My husband and I arrived a little early to the gathering so we were able to get a spot near a half wall where we could sit and still be able to see the screens (unfortunately we couldn’t see the speakers themselves but we weren’t willing to move closer for fear of being in a much denser crowd). The gathering time was an opportunity to people watch and snap pictures of cool signs. A woman took my picture and when I looked directly at her she asked if I was a UCC pastor. And she loved my shirt. I told her it was a young clergy women’s shirt and that there were indeed UCC pastors in that organization but that I was Presbyterian. She seemed very pleased and thanked me and moved along to take more pictures. What struck me about the encounter is that she had an idea of what kind of pastor would be at this march (maybe it was her denomination), so three cheers for UCC pastors! I didn’t notice anyone else in a collar or with any other obvious religious garments or signs, and I was looking for them. Mostly because I wanted to prove to myself it wasn’t unusual for clergy to attend events like this and because I couldn’t come up with an obvious faith-based slogan for my sign that I thought other people would respond positively to. If you have ideas, put them in the comments or send me an email.
I saw lots of great signs that day! You can find those pictures on my Instagram or Facebook @periodpastor. Some of my favorites: “This is what a feminist looks like” and “I’m with her” both of those signs had multiple arrows. “Sisters not Cis-ters”, “Trust black women”, “women’s rights are human rights”, “Make Racism Deplorable again”, “Pussy Power” (made me laugh out loud because it was styled like a super-hero sign), there were tons of RBG quotes, “resisting bitch face” and “feminism is my second favorite F word”. And there was a critique of religious people in the sign “Religion is preference, sexual orientation is not” which I agree with, and I long for the world to see that there are religious groups that are affirming. I hate for people to give up on faith completely or for religious institutions to cause so much pain. It’s icky and it breaks this pastor’s heart.
The pre-march speakers were good. I really loved the Native American Woman’s words and prayers. She opened the time with the talking about the native people who lived in DC and what they believed about the land and water. I wish I had recorded her words or at least her name, when I tried to google it now, I can’t find any information about the speakers, one article said there weren’t speakers… I’ll look again later and hope to find it. If you find it, please comment or email me. Anyway, I remember her words being beautiful and inspiring. She talked about mother earth being spiritual mother to all of us in contrast to a masculine god (of colonizers) and how native peoples have a matriarchal structure and take care of one another in ways that patriarchal structures discourage. I had holy envy. Referring to God with female pronouns makes sense to me (there are biblical examples of attributes associated with God that we would consider feminine), but sometimes that lands me in trouble with those who are more used to using exclusively masculine pronouns for God. Really, I think it would be possible to use they/them or other nonbinary pronouns for God too, but that might be pushing things a little too far for my current ministry setting. And, alternating between male and female pronouns feels authentic to me, for now anyway. I really think it would change how we view God, organize our church, and relate to each other, if we could envision a female deity instead of an old white man. I believe the church is transitioning, and her dead name is patriarchy. It’s time for church reform (we literally do it every 500 or so years) and I’m hopeful that this reform will have feminist ideals. Anyway, the march gave me a lot of time to think and reflect, even though those thoughts and reflections were interrupted and changed by what was going on around me.
During one of the other speeches, I heard a group of voices near me chanting “put on your mask”. I looked and saw an old white man with his bandana below his nose holding a sign with all of the reasons he is voting for Trump. When he finally gave into the crowds demands and put the mask on over his nose, a few older women got close enough to him to hold their signs in front and behind his so that it couldn’t be read. I have no idea what his list entailed. He moved, they moved, and finally one woman figured out how to move so that he would have to step away from those of us gathered and she moved him out of my site. She came back a little while later and told her friend he left. I don’t think his intention was dialogue, but I’m so curious about what he expected to happen. I’m also curious about why a crowd of people needed to remove the one person who disagreed with them. And I’m curious about my own relief when I heard he was gone. What happened wasn’t exactly rational, and I definitely had an emotional response to his presence and then absence. Is a march really a place to dialogue with opponents or to gather with likeminded supporters? Is there space for both?
Later, as we marched other opposing signs appeared on the sidewalks, and people shouted back and forth. One group were Trump supporters, but I couldn’t hear them over the “F Trump” I was hearing. One pro-life group was relatively large and had a loudspeaker. Some of the dead baby signs had things written on them like “this could be Hilary” or “this could be Kamala”, and I wasn’t sure why exactly they thought that was going to win the hearts and minds of the marchers. One woman with a loudspeaker was saying things like “abortion hurts women” and “abortion controls women”. I assume the women hurt were the unborn but I’m not sure what she meant about the controlling women thing. My husband and I kept moving but a lot of other marchers stopped. We found out later on the local news that there was some reasonable dialogue there about how the pro-life group wanted to be included in the march since they were women. It still surprises me that opinions on abortion can divide groups of people that otherwise have common goals. But these are divisive times and maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
The march fizzled at the end, because so many people had stopped. We arrived at the end where the chairs were set up (6 feet apart) for people to sit and text for the next two hours and post on social media. But we were tired and hungry and there were food trucks… so we ate on the lawn and talked about what we saw and if we even knew anyone that had not yet registered to vote. I am hopeful that more people will vote this year. But I am still nervous about the outcome of the election and what will happen as the mail in ballots are counted slowly. We probably won’t know who won on election night. And people will be upset and in the streets. Since the march I have met with other clergy who are concerned as well and we’ve been talking about what we can do to keep people calm in this anxiety inducing time. And what does it mean to stand up for justice… what will it look like to be good allies in the aftermath of this election.