"When a culture is in crisis, genius comes not from the center, but from the edge."
I've been finding Shaw's words terribly relevant lately, and this quote is a pretty good summation of why the Women's March was so important. Not just to me, but to anyone who cares about social justice, and peace, and democracy, and a sustainable future. These things are linked; in the verbiage of evolving feminism, they are intersectional. All of our freedom is bound up together...All of our voices must be heard, all of our votes must count equally. We cannot continue to have some of us go through life less safe, or less valued. We cannot put the profit of a few, or wishfully unscientific thinking, or failed and unjust economics ahead of the health of communities of of ecosystems. We cannot continue on a trajectory of polarization that has divided our populace, and that has paralyzed our government, and led to its current state of imperilment.
Our culture IS in crisis. Education is broken. Government is broken. The environment is broken. Health care is broken. The economy is broken. Justice is broken. Too many of us are broken. We are failing our children and each other. There are two things operating at this time---both potentially hopeful, if we navigate them correctly, but both with a high possibility of discomfort.
The first is a basic observance of systems transformation: systems will change in response to changes in the components and in response to changes from without. When an existing system is in the process of breaking down and/or changing, there is disruption throughout it. If all aspects of the system are cooperative and equally invested, then changes can be navigated in an evolutionary fashion. Disruption is minimized. But if the components of the system are unequally represented, if they are in acute competition with each other for safety or resources or participation, changes will provoke growing disruptions that ramify throughout the struggling system, accelerating the breakdown of it. Disruption is magnified, and change comes in a revolutionary rather than evolutionary fashion, and the formation of a new system is a matter of urgency. In this latter scenario, in which a system that has become unstable due to unequal components is breaking down and changing, it is common for dominant elements to resist the change. In human cultural terms, this is when we see "backlash" phenomena, as those most invested in the failing/failed structures attempt to reassert their vision of the world and to stave off changes that threaten it.
We have been living in a social system that has been unjust for a very long stretch of time and is becoming increasingly unsustainable. As more people have awakened to the inequalities that were embedded in our social structures, changes began to be made toward greater inclusion and access. Gains were made for women, for those living in poverty, for people of color, for disabled access, for LBGTQIA people, and for environmental protection. We began to take steps again as a nation that would help us fully express the promise of our stated principles of democracy, and justice, and refuge. And just as those gains seemed to be consolidating and expanding, we saw backlash begin. It grew ever more virulent and widespread, manipulated and fomented by those who stood to gain or retain power and wealth, until it now threatens to destroy our most cherished institutions and our image of ourselves as decent people. My hope is that we will recognize this backlash for what it is: the death throes of a failed system. If we see this, if we call it out and continue to work toward a more inclusive and just system to replace it, we have a chance to make America greater than it ever has been. Because America, more than anything, is an idea; it is a dream of a place of freedom and equality, which must ever evolve and expand as the people who make it evolve and expand. It is not---and never has been---a static entity. There never has been an American golden age, but rather a complex narrative of good, not so good, occasionally great, and downright ugly. Nations, like the people of which they are made, are complicated. They are stories, viewed differently by the different people living and telling them. To believe otherwise is to build a citadel on shifting sands...
Which brings me to the second thing that is operative in our current situation: if a nation is a narrative, as I believe, it must continually retell its story using all its voices. It must continually revisit its origins and re-examine them from different vantage points. Chapters that have gone missing from its tale must be found and bound back into the narrative. Tendencies toward expurgation of uncomfortable elements must be fought, because excluding the shadow side is toxic. And we have a lot of excluded shadow work to do as Americans. Our story has not been fully inclusive. We have not faced the ugly bits of our history in a meaningful way, and every attempt to roll back gains we have made keeps us from moving forward as a united nation. Every attempt to silence voices whose stories we find uncomfortable, to keep doors closed on the tellers, leaves us like Bluebeard's last wife, wiping blood off the keys to our past and to our future.
If our story is incomplete, we, as a nation, are perpetuating wrong-doing. Until we hear the complete stories of First Nations peoples, and address the injustices they contain, our story remains delusional. Until we hear with full acknowledgement the stories of the Black Americans descended from people brought here as slaves, and own the wrong done, our momentum forward as a nation will be impaired. Until we tally the stories of recent immigrants and refugees along with those of our colonial "founding fathers" (who were also immigrants), and acknowledge their crucial contributions to our nation, our dialogue of immigration is flawed. Our citadel IS built on shifting sands, because it is built on the unrecognized and unaddressed injustices done through the system that created it; a system in which some people were excluded and exploited by others, in layered hierarchies which expanded and contracted over time, but which have reached the end of their ability to argue for continuance. It is time to revisit our origin story, and to build a better foundation for all.
So, in a time of crisis, we need to hear the voices of the edges of our culture. The voices of those in the center have been the only voices, or the loudest ones, all along, and the lack of other strands in the common story have crippled the whole. This is why the Women's March has something crucial to offer to the dialogue that we need to have: diversity with mutual respect and unity of purpose, a recognition that all of our liberation, all of our safety, is linked together. There were all kinds of people in those millions of assembled marchers, many voices, each there to address different aspects of the crisis that we all face. Many were there in support of multiple viewpoints and issues. Many of these perspectives have been ignored or only minimally heard yet in the political and legal realms, but all of them are important. People were present to speak up in support of immigrants, and refugees; in defense of women's rights; for freedom of the press; for education; for peace; for the environment; for functional government; for Black lives; for religious freedom, and against bans that betray it; for true and unimpaired democracy; for the differently abled and for human dignity; for LBGQTIA civil rights; for First Nations peoples' right to be heard; for clean water; for access to health care; for clean and sustainable energy; for science-driven policy; for their children's future; for kindness...In short, there in those huge crowds were people with the perspectives needed to mend what is broken in this nation. They stood together in all their diversity of age, appearance, social status, identification, and privilege level, with their different but intersecting viewpoints---viewpoints that if truly heard, and truly given primacy in political dialogue, and truly represented in all their brilliant and beautiful and mutually enriching diversity, could provide the kind of vision we need to transform our failing system into something new that could navigate the challenges we face today. Government is meant to be the voice of its people, and the people are speaking.
Millions of people around the world participated in Women's Marches and solidarity actions on that day in January. Millions more expressed support for them. This is an extraordinary statement of unity in diversity, seen around the globe. Awakened women and their allies, led by the voices less heard until now, have tremendous potential to craft a safer, kinder, more sustainable world. It is long past time for their voices to be heard. Indeed, it is now urgent.
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