Activism is good for the soul. I want to change the world, like anyone else, but for me activism is also extremely therapeutic. It reminds me that there are other people who see injustices in the world and believe in their bones that things don’t have to be this way. That’s especially true of big activist events like the Women’s March.
It’s kind of a beautiful thing, to be surrounded by smiling faces and to snap a hundred pictures of the explosion in creativity that surrounds us: all the catchy and colorful signs, the carefully crafted costumes, the music, the chanting, and the chalk art on the streets. Yet in the midst of this exhilarating experience of solidarity, opposition and hostility can sometimes come from unexpected places and from unexpected people.
One such aggressive incident took place after the march, when I was helping to staff our DSA table. (DSA = Democratic Socialists of America) There were tables to promote various worthy causes and activist organizations.
A pleasant and friendly-looking woman appeared at the table and asked me if she could take a picture of my shirt. I was sporting a smart-looking socialism shirt designed by our local DSA chapter. The design on the shirt was a twist on a very familiar logo, of Santa Cruz Skateboards. If you come to visit me in Santa Cruz, you’ll see this logo everywhere, particularly on t-shirts and hoodies:
Instead of saying “SANTA CRUZ,” the shirt I was wearing said “SOCIA LIZM.” As per this pic that I just took, of my actual shirt:
I didn’t think twice about letting the woman take my picture. Everybody at the Women’s March is taking a ton of photos, so I smiled really big and proudly displayed my shirt; but after snapping the pic, the woman’s expression turned aggressive.
“That’s a copyright infringement,” she said.
I kind of nodded my head, still smiling and not really fully comprehending that she had turned hostile.
As if to bring home the point, she assured me that she would use that picture to bust me, to bust us all for the egregious violation.
Confused, I turned to my comrade, Larry, who happened to be on my left and who was also helping to staff the DSA table. He told the woman that DSA had gone through the proper channels to obtain permission for the shirt, but the woman was completely unconvinced and immediately walked away.
As I watched her leave, I felt kind of like an idiot because I realized I was still smiling in what now seemed like a goofy, stupid grin. My eyes found my comrade again.
“Don’t worry about it,” Larry said.
I wasn’t necessarily worried about it, but I was confused. It was the hostility had me perplexed. In the midst of a Women’s March of solidarity that brings together diverse activists all promoting causes that we believe in — to make the world less violent, less sexist, less racist, and less impoverished — the hostility was difficult to process.
An hour or so later, I saw the woman again. To further deepen my confusion, I saw that she was helping to staff a table, herself, this one for the Santa Cruz County Democrat Party.
But that wasn’t the only hostility I encountered surrounding the Women’s March, and it wasn’t even the most aggressive. The night before I was chatting with a friend of mine who, much to my surprise, began to rant about how much she despised Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It started out with me asking her if she wanted to go to the Women’s March. We’d gone together, to a previous year’s march, but this year she said she wasn’t feeling it. She said it felt pointless, but I didn’t get a chance to really follow up and ask her why because she wasn’t interested in discussing it.
Somehow her sense of futility morphed into an extended rant against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC for short). She said that AOC was simply a media hog, relishing all of her new attention, basking in the limelight. She said that AOC was nothing less than a leftist version of Trump. There was no difference.
“I just want things to be normal,” she said, in exasperation, but she continued to carry on with the rant against AOC, ramping it up to the point where she started calling AOC “stupid,” describing AOC in a way that made her out to be an empty-headed demogogue with an insatiable hunger for media attention.
She hadn’t shown the least bit of interest in what I thought, so I tried to just ride it out. We’re all given to rants, now and again, so most of the time it’s best to just give people space to vent — but eventually the tirade got under my skin, and I suggested that perhaps intelligence and being able to turn a phrase in a zinger of a Tweet are not mutually exclusive. That only pissed her off more, and the conversation came to a swift conclusion.
Everything she said about AOC read like a script from an alt-right website. It seemed like the kind of thing that would carry a #MAGA hashtag, but my friend is not a MAGA maniac, nor is she a Trump supporter, in any way, shape, or form.
So where was that hostility coming from?
I can’t say. I’ll have to think on it a bit more and contemplate, but I may never really have a handle on it, because a lot of these outbursts are just stuff that we deal with, individually.
Speaking only for myself, I often don’t really fully comprehend where my own feelings of anger come from, so I can’t say where it comes from in other people. What I can say, though, is that all of this has reinforced my appreciation for solidarity. When I contrast the solidarity I feel at a Women’s March with the normal way we do life here in America, it’s enlightening.
Human beings know hierarchy. That’s our normal way of life, especially in America, it’s the water we swim in, so to speak. Hierarchies of power are a simple form of social organization — a bit clumsy, but they work, mostly via brute force along with psychological manipulation, of the sort that normalizes the hierarchy in some way: women just aren’t as smart as men, that sort of bullshit. When a culture normalizes inequality and privilege, then it’s only the weird people who question it.
What’s rare and precious and beautiful is when human beings join together in common cause, as equals, to support the causes of justices and equality. That’s solidarity, and it’s a lot more tricky to pull it off, but when solidarity happens, it creates a power that can easily crush hierarchies, the kinds based on patriarchy, racism, and economic inequality. Solidarity finds its strength in numbers: all for one and one for all. Without solidarity, we fall back into hierarchies of domination and control and gross inequality.
This was the third Women’s March, and the turnout was strong, again, with activists once again filling up the streets of downtown Santa Cruz on a beautiful sunny day that gave me a premature case of spring fever. The loudspeakers were blasting Pretty Woman, and we even had an appearance from the future Donald Trump, who I must say was treated very unfairly by one of the activists: