Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
I am white, Christian-born, English-speaking, and straight. I was educated in well-funded schools, I no longer need access to birth control, and I have clean water to drink. I do not live in fear of being a victim of domestic violence in my home or gang violence on my streets. My job doesn’t depend on the success or failure of an industry or whether production is taken overseas. I am healthy and have health insurance through an employer.
I have nothing to complain about.
So, why did I, along with my daughter, son, husband and mother, gather with thousands of other Vermonters in front of the Capitol in Montpelier last Saturday? Why did I raise my voice along with the 3,000,000 (or more) women, men and children across all seven continents who also raised theirs?
Because the majority of our fellow human beings do have complaints — legitimate complaints. And many are also living in fear — for their health, their freedoms, their safety, their very lives.
Last Saturday, despite the unseasonably warm January day, I pulled on my thickest socks and warmest boots, and donning a pink hat (and I never wear pink, ever) jumped in a friend’s van bound for Montpelier. With my teenage daughter and mother on board as well, we made up a foursome of first-timers; Marching Maidens, if you will. We were nervous, but excited, to add our voices to the mix.
The fog was intensely thick over Killington, but by the time we merged onto the interstate in Bethel, it had cleared to reveal a steely sky. Recognizing some locals from the “Rutland Welcomes” stickers on their cars, and sister marchers from their pink hats, we waved and smiled, knowing that so many rolling down the highway that day were of one mind and destination. The knowledge that so many thousands around the world were doing the same, made it even more meaningful.
About a mile from Exit 8, the traffic slowed and was soon a long, crawling line of red lights. But we were fortunate to be early enough to get off the highway before, as Seven Days put it, it became a parking lot. Cheers of the marchers gathered at the high school greeted us as we slowly rolled into town.
After finding a parking spot — not an easy task — we walked towards the Capitol and found a perch on a snow-covered wall, on the outskirts of the crowd already gathered ahead of the scheduled march time. As powerful voices sang from the podium, a tide of humanity flowed down State Street from the high school.
Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, friends and even dogs came along; some singing, some drumming, some chanting, some quietly waving their signs, all radiating goodwill and hopeful energy. Eventually a sea of pink hats and colorful protest signs had spilled over and beyond the Capitol’s green. “Like a garden of flowers,” said the first speaker, Madeleine Kunin.
Poignant, hard-hitting poetry from spoken-word artists, “Muslim Girls Making Change,” brought tears and cheers, and as each speaker, including Ebony Nyoni, the founder and director of Black Lives Matter VT; and Meagan Gallagher, president of Vermont Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called for compassionate action, more shouts of agreement erupted.
Then suddenly, upon the announcement of a surprise guest, a roar, like a wave, went through the crowd as they realized who was approaching the podium. The sea of signs bobbed wildly as a chant of “Bernie! Bernie!” began. It was a tear-jerking moment, especially when he, Senator Sanders, who wasn’t scheduled to be there, said he had never seen so many people in Montpelier. Ever. Nor had he ever seen the highway backed up like that.
“We are NOT going back!,” he said referring to the rights of minorities, threatened under the new president. The hope and determination in the air was almost palpable.
And THIS is why I joined the women’s march last Saturday. Because I, along with everyone else there that day, believe in the well-being of my fellow human beings and the planet on which we live. I stood there that day to express my support for everyone’s right to quality and affordable health care, to not be discriminated against, to have control over our own bodies, to live in safety, to love and be whoever we are born to be, to be equally educated, and to worship (or not) as we wish.
And I stood there as a mother who is angry and deeply saddened that her children are living in a time when our daughters are still sexually objectified, our sons are still told to “man up,” and sexual assault is still, by some, considered a joke.
Purely due to an accident of birth, I don’t personally have as much to lose from the new administration. But my — and your — children do, as do your female, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Muslim friends; friends of friends of your friends do, people you will never meet do, and Mother Earth does.
This column is called “Circles of Community,” and I believe those circles radiate far beyond our families, our friends, our town, our state. We are a huge and diverse nation, part of an even bigger, diverse world. We all have our own stories, we all deserve to be seen as individuals, and to be seen and heard with compassion. And we all have the right to live — in safety and in health.
That is why I marched.