My mother has a story she sometimes tells about herself as a teenager in the early 1970s: She was hanging out with some friends in a parking lot when a group of boys came over to say hello. One of them, the captain of the high school wrestling team, looked at my mother’s sister, and, for reasons known only to himself, hissed out an angry “Ssslut!” and dumped his soda on the hood of my mother’s car. Words were exchanged. The team captain shoved my mother against her car. So, my mother made a fist, pulled back, and punched him in the face so hard he fell over. She had never hit somebody before and never has since. But she does beam with a certain embarrassed pride when she describes his enormous black eye the next day at school.
My mother raised me to be a feminist: She taught me to be kind, to work hard and to know that the right side of any fight is always against the bully and with the vulnerable. She taught me, should the need arise, to never pull my punches.
On January 21st, I will march in Washington, D.C., with what’s expected to be more than 200,000 women and allies — and one of the largest inaugural protests in our nation’s history. We will march in solidarity with the vulnerable because we know, as my mother knows, that the right side of any fight is always against the bully and with targets of his cruelty.
I will march because American women contain multitudes, and the next four years will be hardest for those of us who belong to communities that have been singled out for threats and abuse. Together in our nation’s capital, we will march with and for immigrants, Muslims, our queer and transgender kin, the disabled and people of color.
I will march for reproductive justice because the choice of when and how and where to have children is one of the most important determinants of women’s social and economic liberation.
I will march because all parents should have the right to raise their children in communities with clean water, good schools and decent health care, and because no parent should have to live in fear that state sanctioned violence will take their children away too soon.
I will march for women’s rights because our right to a full share of human dignity, safe from sexual assault and in control of our own bodies, has been threatened by every element of the incoming administration up to and including President-elect Donald Trump.
Do I think that one march will change the course of history — or current legislative priorities? No. The Women’s March is huge and glamorous and exciting. It is an opportunity to tell our grandchildren, “I was there.” But it doesn’t take the place of the local, everyday organizing efforts we will need to protect our communities and build real change.
Nonetheless, I am a social scientist as well as a feminist, and the science tells me that the first step into a new identity is always the hardest. In Washington, D.C., over 200,000 men and women will take their first steps together across the threshold from bystander to activist. They will do so surrounded by veteran activists, new idealists, musicians, artists, clergy, students, and organizers from across the country. For the duration of that march, we will build a space of catharsis, joy, hope, rage, and commitment, and we will transform one another into the forceful change our nation needs.
I remember watching Pete Seeger at the inauguration of President Obama. That crowd sang with all their hearts that, “this land was made for you and me.” I watched them cry, and I cried, too. When I think about Jan. 21, 2017, I think of other voices. I think of 200,000 shaking voices spread out across our country, across wheat fields and dust waves and fog banks, and I think of those 200,000 scared but determined voices coming together in one place to remind ourselves of what my mother taught me: to be kind and hard working, to know what side we’re on and to never pull our punches.
And I think of those voices going home again to their towns big and small across our country, teaching their song to more people who will do the same in turn. I have faith in what we will do together.
Nobody living can ever turn us back. This land was made for you and me.
Rebecca Fielding-Miller, Ph.D., is a clubmember and postdoctoral fellow, Center on Gender Equity and Health Division of Global Public Health, University of California, San Diego