Stand Up, Fight Back

Within less than a week, I participated in my first two protests.
On Saturday, January 21, 2017, my roommate, Michelle, and I marched in the New York City Women’s March, with a couple of our friends and another couple hundred thousand people. We went at 4pm, when unregistered marchers were supposed to show up, and even though it was near the end of the march time, we were part of a huge and steady stream of people. 
It felt like the entirety of the city had shown up to make their dissent known.
I had toyed with the idea of going for a few weeks before mentioning it to Michelle. I knew about it because I had read about it in the various news sites I follow, and I remember my attention was caught by the pink “pussy hats” that had somehow become a symbol of the march. I had wanted to make kitty-ear hats for myself and my sister for Christmas but hadn’t had the time, and this seemed like an appropriate time to at least make my own.
I also knew that, as someone who has many feelings about the election and American politics in general, and as someone who is scared and worried and frustrated about the current administration and their agendas, it felt like the right time to start getting out there and showing up. 
So I mentioned it to Michelle. I had two skeins of pink yarn in my yarn stash, so I gave her one and we made ourselves hats. We asked our friends if they had been planning on going, which they were, so we made plans to meet up near the march and march together. Saturday morning, we made signs.

Michelle (center), Rachel (right), and I with our signs! I made Rachel’s and my sign and Michelle made hers.

I think deciding to go was the right choice for us.

I have never had so many strangers come up to talk to me in my life. The city can often be lonely – hundreds of people walk by you without a second glance, too wrapped up in their own businesses and situations to notice you. That day was different. On the train, people noticed our signs and chatted with us – a group of women got on, nodded at us, asking, “You’re going too?” and promptly sat down with us. While waiting for our friends, my roommate found her sign twin. At the march, people around us took notice of our signs and complimented them, and we did the same. We talked to parents who brought their children, and they were happy to answer our questions. 
In a strange way, it was a comfortable environment for socializing. We knew we all had a common interest – standing up for our rights as women, as people of color, as marginalized communities. I think knowing that broke our personal barriers. 
Seeing the children at the march – and the courageous parents who decided to bring them, despite the stress and logistics of doing so – was incredibly reassuring. Our friend Sean commented while we marched, “People keep worrying about how our boys will grow up in a Trump administration. At the very least, we know we have a lot of really fierce women in our future.” 
Based on how many parents I saw with their little boys as well, I think we’ll have a lot of fierce men in the future too. The newest generation – boys, girls, and all – will be fierce and ready to fight for our rights. Knowing that gives me hope. 

I know the march had some controversy around it. People thought it wasn’t inclusive enough. It was started by two white women – although the D.C. March, at least, had a pretty colorful and inclusive organizing board, which I thought was pretty awesome – and there was criticism about the exclusivity of white feminism. 
My experience is that I saw thousands of people of different colors and different genders marching together. While I found some signs objectionable – a woman’s identity isn’t based on their genitalia or the existence of ovaries and uteruses in their body, for example – I saw it as a direct critique on Trump’s rhetoric, which unfortunately did reduce people to their genitalia. 
Well, not people. Just people who biologically have the proper body parts for getting pregnant. 
And while I think there is a problem – although unsurprising – with white feminists only showing up when their rights are threatened but not for others, there’s something incredibly satisfying of hearing and chanting along with thousands of people – including white feminists – that Black Lives Matter. 
I found that our experience was what we made of it. I enjoyed seeing the solidarity of what seemed like my entire city, standing up for everyone’s rights. I thought the chants were inclusive: “My body, my choice / Her body, her choice”, “Tell me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like”, “We will not go away, welcome to your first day”, and more. We could pick and choose what we wanted to support and what we didn’t – I remember a couple people tried to start some chants that were more divisive, and when no one participated, they died out quickly. 
We were out there for three hours. We made our voices heard. Not just us – the entire world made their voices heard, standing and marching with us for solidarity. For a first protest, the largest demonstration in U.S. history was a pretty cool one to start with. 
The entire experience was, unfortunately, bracketed by classic examples of patriarchal dominance. The first was when we got on the train to go to the march – a man saw our signs and wanted pictures of them, which we obliged. He then tried to mansplain to us about why protest doesn’t work (it does), then about tax breaks and how all business owners try to evade taxes (ethical ones don’t), then LGBTQA+ rights and how gay marriage wasn’t legal in all the states (it is). Another man overheard the very one-sided conversation and interjected in our favor, which was interesting to watch – although the mansplainer’s views were the same as ours, so it was quite bizarre. 
Luckily, the weirdness of the mansplaining was quickly laughed off after he left, and mostly forgotten in the excitement of the march. 
Our excitement and euphoria of having participated in our first march was then quickly brought back down somewhat when we were leaving. While Michelle, Sean, and I walked through Grand Central Terminal’s subway station, a man sitting on the ground yelled after us, “I’ll grab your pussies!” after seeing our signs.
While sobering, things like that happen every day. Historic marches don’t. It was still a good day.
And it ended in a meaningful and personal high note. I was able to call both of my parents when we got home – first my sister and my mom, and then my dad – and told them that I had gone and participated in the march. Instead of criticizing it or telling me it could’ve been dangerous, both of my parents supported what I had done, which was honestly not what I had been expecting. So if you’re reading this – thanks, mom and dad. 
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I participated in two protests this past week. 
The second happened on Wednesday, January 25th. It was an emergency rally organized by CAIR in response to Trump’s signing of an immigration ban through an executive order. Michelle let me know about it in the morning through our group Facebook chat with two of our friends, and when I saw the Facebook event, one thousand people had already said they were going.
By around 3 in the afternoon, 5.7 thousand had committed. I think at the end of the night, the Facebook page had said more than eight thousand had gone.
Since we were unprepared on such a short notice, I went to the drugstore to buy candles for all four of us and stole matches from work. We showed up at 6. We listened to the speakers and showed solidarity with thousands of people. 

It was emotional for me. While the ban does not pertain to me, the day before, Trump signed an executive order about pulling out of TPP and renegotiating NAFTA. My visa is through NAFTA. I’ve been anxious about my immigration status since Trump got elected, and while nothing substantial has happened yet, the order signing heightened the anxiety. 
As a racially Chinese Canadian citizen, I’m one of the last people Trump is targeting with his breaches of power. I can’t imagine how the people the rally was for are feeling. I wanted to show solidarity to those people by showing up to the rally, and in return, I felt like people were standing up for me as well.
While protests might not make a difference on a government level – after all, Trump is still in power – I don’t think the main goal right now is switching out the people in power. I think it’s about showing dissent, about showing solidarity, and about mobilizing people. Both protests have gotten me thinking more about how I can personally make a difference, and I know that’s the case for hundreds – if not thousands – of people. I’ve been feeling particularly powerless these past few months – as a noncitizen, I can’t vote, so the senators and representatives in government – much less the president – don’t represent me. It doesn’t feel meaningful to make calls to people who don’t represent me, and I can’t participate in public office. 
But I’m a taxpayer and a resident. My money is helping to line the pockets of government officials. I’ve lived in the U.S. longer than I have any other country. I consider President Obama my president. I certainly have more feelings and opinions on U.S. politics than any other country’s. 

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I’ll be damned if I don’t get out there and figure out a way to let my voice be heard too. 

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