I am a woman of color. An immigrant. A mother of two young children. A new activist. I am many other things, but what is common among all of my identities is that they are not cloaks that I can easily cast off. Each identity is intricately woven into the fabric that is me. Wherever I go, I take my whole self with me and this context is critical to understanding what I am about to share.
Recently, my husband, our friend, our 2-year-old son, and 4-year-old daughter attended a local rally in support of the Affordable Care Act. It was the latest in our efforts to be activists. Prior to the election and the weeks and months since it, my husband and I moved out of the shadows and started to find our political voice. Since the election, we are using our bodies to bring visibility to the important human rights crises affecting so many. It was especially important that we bring our children with us to this rally.
We are a biracial family, and since I am the person of color in my family, I am especially sensitive to diversity. As I looked around at the rally, I realized that I was one of very few people of color there. Still, I felt united with the people there as we listened to our Member of Congress and to the speakers, as we assembled to advocate for achieving our human rights to health care.
About two hours into the rally, my children, who had remarkably sat quietly and even paid attention to the speakers, finally got up and started to play. Though there were not very loud in their child like chatter, I was already up and trying to avoid them disturbing anyone. No one seemed to mind, except for one woman. She sharply and rudely told me, “Can you keep those kids quiet? We can’t hear the speakers. Could you move them over there or something?”
To this point, I was so captured in the spirit of unity in these types of spaces that it was easy to believe that they were inclusive. In this moment, I was reminded that unity and inclusivity are not synonymous. My family packed up our children and left earlier than we’d planned.
Since then, I must have replayed that moment in my head a hundred times. I think about what I should have said to that woman. What I know is that I can no longer be silenced. Where before I would have retreated to the shadows, the climate of this political environment compels me to stand my ground. I can no longer afford to not claim a space and lend my voice to this movement.
If only she knew that my son was born with a heart defect. If only she knew that he had open heart surgery in June before he was two and in the Fall accompanied our young family as we went canvassing for Hillary Clinton. If she only knew that the only time my children have been away from me was when I felt morally compelled to join the Women’s March in Washington. If she only knew my daughter chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” as we marched to Mar-a-Lago. If she only knew that my children tolerated their mother doing unpaid political work after work while working full time. If she only knew my children are the first and only grandchildren of a 59 year old woman bravely fighting stage IV lung cancer.
I know some would agree with that woman. To those people, I ask you to understand that child care is often unavailable and/or unaffordable for low income women, people of color, and many whom we desperately need to join our political movement. This space was as much mine and my children’s as it was that woman’s.
We often talk about privilege in this movement. I do not know that woman, and she did not know me. But in that time and space, she was in a place of privilege. We are a young family with two young children in a place we needed to be. She also needed to be there, but she had the privilege of also being able to easily move away from my children to a spot that would allow her to hear better. She also had the privilege of choosing to be tolerant and inclusive.
Our movement can never be successful until we bring people of color, immigrants, people across the socio – economic spectrum, and every marginalized group into the fold. We must be inclusive and representative of the people we claim to represent. The voices of people of color, of immigrants, and the less visible in our society must be elevated. We must demonstrate these characteristics by recognizing and respecting each other’s whole identities. Our work will never be finished until we have equal rights, equitable access to resources, and dignity for everyone. This all starts with creating the kinds of spaces where anyone is welcome.
This was an important and effective event – so important that we chose to share one of our precious 1000 Saturdays of childhood with our children to attend. I hope the organizers of all future events in this movement would somehow try to incorporate this attitude of tolerance and inclusivity into otherwise powerful and effective occasions.
(Photo Credit: BBC)