What the Women's March Taught Me
Jan. 25, 2017....
It is the Wednesday after. By now, the signs are finally gone, steps have been taken, and all has been said and done on all sides. Life after the Women’s March for me, though, is anything but back to normal. Unexpectedly, I find myself feeling more unsettled than ever about where I go from here. Perhaps like many of us before the march, I thought I’d feel differently once I’d marched. I thought I’d feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense that I’d done all I can as a caring and concerned citizen and advocate of global humanity. I thought that, once I had made all the efforts to march with the hundreds and thousands of other like-minded individuals who have an uneasiness in our throats and hearts since the 45th president of our country has been elected, I would be ready to go back to my daily routine in the life I had before - a life in which I thought I knew where things stood in my world, despite whatever was going on anywhere else in the world. In that life, I expected - knew, without a doubt, that the leaders in my country would be intelligent, selfless public servants who, despite their political motivations, still have a core sense of concern and caring for ALL citizens of their country and for the world, as well as possess a sincere desire to serve the public’s interests, over and above their own interests.
Now, I know that may seem extremely naive, after all, you might argue, politicians are politicians. I honestly did not think of myself as being very naive. As a first-generation immigrant who ran with her family from war-torn Vietnam, I have traveled extensively to other countries. I studied war and peace conflicts and human rights extensively as part of my Masters of Education degree in Peace Education. I recently lived in PR.China for 5 years, and have first-hand knowledge and experience of what it is like to live in a world where one’s freedom and rights are dictated by a government overrun by politicians whose self interests override the interests of the citizens of the country they supposedly serve.
Looking back now on the last 2 years since I’ve returned home from living as an expat in China, I realize that, like many Americans, I have been resting on my laurels for most of my life as an American citizen. Like most Americans, I have left the job of governing and protecting my rights and freedoms solely up to our elected officials. I did this because I had no reason to doubt them before. After all, I thought, our system of checks and balances has always made it possible for politicians to make relatively good decisions for the good of our country, regardless of their political party affiliations. Even if their policies wasn’t directly going to benefit me personally, I had left the job of protecting my rights to basic freedoms entirely up to them. The right to free speech; the right to be informed by a free press; the freedom to make my own decisions about my own body; the right to safe and clean water, air, and environment, etc… Like most Americans, I have left it ALL up to the politicians. And up until now, I did not see anything wrong with that. But in the after-hours of the historic moments of the Women’s March, what I have come to realize is this: Democracy is a joint experiment.
Believe it or not, a government by the people requires the people to be actively participating; and let’s face it, up until now, voting or the occasional jury duty was the extent of civic participation for most of us in this country. We - I - have sat too long on the sidelines and watched others shape the country I want my children to grow up in. I have been complacent in my duties as a citizen of this country. It is not responsible of any of us to just rest on our laurels and assume that everyone we elect is going to have our back just because they’re in public office. In my voting life time, we have been lucky enough to have had people in office who, despite their political party affiliations and any self-serving interests, have served with as much honor, integrity, and the spirit to serve as we have expected of any leader in a democratic government.
Today, however; we can no longer expect that in the next four years. As we have already seen in the first 3 days of this new era, much has been done to undo the progress made by the best of the public servants to protect some of the basic rights and freedoms we have been afforded in recent years. Executive orders have already been signed to stop U.S. funding to family planning services in overseas; permits for the approval of the Dakota Access pipeline has been expedited; and measures have been taken to roll back the Affordable Care Act.
We can no longer expect things to be handed to us on a silver platter. If we want the right to choose what to do with our bodies, we’re going to have to go out and get it. If we want clean air and the right to…we are going to have to speak up and take actions for what we want in the future we envision for our loved ones. In addition to marching, or writing, or speaking up to show our discontent, we should also do so to show our approval of things done right by our government. The Women’s March and these first few actions of the Trump presidency have helped me to see that I have a role to play in this experiment we call Democracy. Democracy IS HARD, but it requires active participation from All of us, not only of those we have elected to govern on our behalf. We have a lot of work to do in the next 4 years, so let’s all roll up our sleeves and get to it.