Changing the World, One Word at a Time
by Glenda Russell
What a day! It started with gathering in a Denver-bound van with Out Boulder County staff and supporters, and it ended with a sense of renewed hope and commitment. The Women’s March on Washington—Denver version. Denver’s march was one of over 670 planned marches in the U. S. and in 70 other countries around the globe.
Countless people have been distressed by the recent presidential election. There were many reasons to be worried and fearful and angry. However, many people were unsure of how to move forward. Marching was the answer. Not the whole answer. Not even the biggest part of the answer. Marching. As John Lewis, the amazing civil rights icon and congressman from Georgia, told a large gathering of marchers in Atlanta just before they began to march, “We’re going to pick ‘em up and we’re going to put ‘em down, and we’re going to send a message.” And people all over the world just did that.
The march in Denver was huge, exceeding organizers’ expectations many times over. The air was crackling with excitement. Charged with the need to send so many messages. It was a truly multi-issue march. So many groups had been denigrated and demonized by campaign rhetoric; so many have been fearful of what comes next. It was a women’s march, but there were many, many men and a dazzling number of children of all ages. If the march is a sign of what is to come, we are developing a movement that is guided by principles broad enough to hold the concerns of everyone. Justice, freedom, empowerment, and peace are principles that can support the growth of each individual and group, and these principles can, in turn, be enriched by this enormous and varied collection of individuals and groups.
The signs reflected the breadth of what these principles can support—groups like women, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, refugees, LGBTQI people, old people, Jews, Muslims, people living with HIV/AIDS, and so many others. And causes like reproductive freedom, an end to rape culture, Black Lives Matter, trans rights, affordable health care, environmentalism, education for the public—not just for the privileged. That barely touches the list.
In the three-plus hours from the start to the finish of the parade, we all knew that we had one another’s backs. We lived it in that span of time. People were laughing and smiling even as they chanted about the most important, most serious issues in their lives. The worried had found one another. They were not alone. There really is a burgeoning movement. It was only the beginning of the work, and it was a grand beginning.
The most frequent single word on signs was one that one would never have been seen in public not that long ago: pussy. Even more numerous were the pink pussyhats worn by so many participants of all genders, signifying their embrace of a new understanding of “pussy.” Once a word not to be uttered in public, except in anger. Once a “locker-room” (Where have we heard that?) word that conveyed misogyny and domination. Once a word to shame a woman into her “place.” Suddenly, “pussy” was everywhere. It didn’t start with this campaign season. Pussy Riot and other young feminists have been liberating the word for some time now.
But something huge happened with pussy after the tape of a candidate who spoke of groping women’s “pussies” with impunity. Women all over the country began to reclaim the word. It was no longer a sign of denigration and shame. It was no longer a tool to be used against women, but instead a proud symbol of who women are. And, judging from their signs, marchers had many versions of pussies: pussies with teeth, pussies that grabbed back, proud pussies, fierce pussies, pussies galore (to give an old phrase a make-over).
Marches are only the beginning. But they are not without impact. This march instilled hope and a sense of empowerment. It bristled with promise and commitment. Its visibly inclusive nature suggested the potential for broad coalitions and alliances, the likes of which this country (or “cuntry,” as one sign suggested) has never seen.
This march—and especially with all the other marches that took place yesterday—carried a message. To the new administration, the message is clear: We are watching. We are not silent. We will not accept as normal a cabinet that is almost entirely white, almost entirely rich, and almost entirely male. We will be there every step of the way. We will call you repeatedly. We will tell you what we think. We will organize. We will march and march again. We will not stop. We will not be complicit with any form of oppression. We will instead follow the wisdom of Congressman Lewis and “stand up, speak up, get in the way, get in trouble—good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Our march also carries a message to all who marched with us: We do have your backs. We will learn to be better allies, and we will learn to spend privilege well. We will support one another and figure out how to work through the biases that are part of our heritage in this country at this time. We will keep working personally and politically. We will do it as if our lives depend on it, because they do.
We know we can change the world. We just changed how millions of people understand “pussy!” We will heed the words of John Lewis in his speech to the Atlanta marchers, “I’ve come here to say to you, don’t let anybody, anybody turn you around. And never, never, ever give up; never lose hope.”