Marching against a platform of hate

Joining the Women's March on Washington in Kingston

Michelle Allan at the protest.

At 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, I gingerly crawled out of bed, trying not to wake my sleeping boyfriend as I went about getting ready for the Women’s March on Washington. As I laced up my boots and taped up my protest sign, he groggily rolled over and asked, “It’s so early, and it’s not like a small group of mildly upset Canadians will stop Trump. Are you still going to that?”

I replied that I was, but when he asked me why, I had nothing. The words snagged on their way out of my throat, and none of them seemed quite right anyway. All I could come up with was, “What’s the point of having opinions if you aren’t going to put your money where your mouth is?”

On my way to Skeleton Park, I thought about what he’d said. Was I actually contributing to any sort of positive change, or was it all merely a self-congratulatory exercise in futility?

Even though it was wet, muddy and foggy, Skeleton Park was a sea of knitted pink hats and protest signs. I was surprised at not only the sheer number of people there, but also how many of them I recognized. I saw more classmates, colleagues, professors and friends of mine than I could’ve ever expected.  

We marched peacefully from the park through downtown towards City Hall. We were greeted with nothing but smiles, waves and enthusiastic honks from passing cars. The parade collected itself in the square among drummers and activists setting up for the speakers. 

Seeing all these people gathered together in Springer Market Square to stand up against intolerance made my heart swell in my chest.

As an openly-bisexual woman and survivor of sexual assault in the time of Trump, it’s easy to feel like the whole world is against you. If I feel this sense of impending doom, I can only imagine how much heavier it weighs on other marginalized people, refugees, the differently-abled, people of colour, trans people, Indigenous people and any other marginalized groups of people targeted by the Alt-right.

Knowing that so many people in my community were willing to show up and publicly announce their commitment to making our world a more equitable place made me feel enormous hope for the future.

However, it’s important to be critical of even well-meaning movements, and many speakers at the march raised important questions.

Beth Newell, a Lakota activist with the Idle No More group, had some poignant remarks about the absence of white women from previous anti-oppression movements. “When I looked at this crowd, I was heartbroken,” she said. “We’ve been protesting here in this city against racism, and genocide, and poverty, and capitalism, and the death of Indigenous women and children and men for years, and I’ve not seen you.”

“I’ve not seen you until Trump made a comment about pussy, if that’s what draws you together and makes you ask for our solidarity, I ask you: is that not racism? Is it not racism that you didn’t give us your solidarity when we were dying? You didn’t give us your solidarity when our people were being hurt, and our land was being stolen, when pipelines were going through it. You didn’t give us your solidarity when there were racist parties down at Queen’s, you didn’t join the protests to ask Queen’s to stop racism. You didn’t give us solidarity, but you ask for it now.”

Somewhere between hearing stories of protests in the 60s from groups of older women, sharing coffee with new friends and vehemently chanting condemnations of the injustices both in our community and abroad, I started to piece together an answer to the question I couldn’t answer this morning.

After I heard Evelyna Ekoko-Kay — an ArtSci ’17 student who’s well known for her dedication to social justice issues — speak, I could definitively say I knew why I was marching. The crowd fell silent as they were captivated with her ardent speech: “I’m not here for Trump. Oppression didn’t start with Trump and neither did resistance. There has been no moment in history in which injustice has not been met with opposition; there has been no time at which oppression has gone uncontested.”

I’m not afraid of a short-fingered vulgarian with shaky policies and the skin of a hotdog. I’m afraid of the white nationalists and their likeminded followers that will have their oppressive ideologies validated by him.

I didn’t march because I’m naïve enough to believe a man who bullied his way to one of the most powerful leadership positions in the world will be stopped by a peaceful group of women in a different country. I marched because I refuse to allow a platform for hate to exist in my community. 

Even though many consider Kingston and specifically Queen’s fairly progressive, prejudice persistently lurks. It’s the theme of our parties, spray-painted on the walls of our buildings, written into our syllabi and circulated on our social media. We can’t allow intolerance to become socially acceptable.

I marched because I believe that we, both as a community and as a species, are inherently good and are capable of doing better, of being better and of rebelling against hate with great force. In the words of Ekoko-Kay, “I’m not here today for Trump. I’m here for you. I’m here for us. I’m here for the hope of what we can achieve together. And I hope you are here for me too.”

For a minute that morning, I was tempted to crawl back into a warm bed, but for some reason I didn’t. Revolution is never comfortable, and progress won’t come without sacrifice, so I stepped out into the cool mist and, in my own tiny way, tried to change the world. 

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