Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

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