I’ve been snoozing.
I mean, I’ve been snoozing for a LONG time. In my life, I’ve never marched. Not one time. Not for gay rights, not to protest a war in Iraq, not even because the state I live in is now trembling from earthquakes caused by wastewater injected deep into the earth. I have been sitting on my ass, silently doing nothing.
But there I was on Saturday, January 21, 2017, one day after the inauguration, one week after I had turned 50 and 100 years after women marched on Washington for the right to vote, joining a pink sea of hand-knit pussyhats from across the planet in order to make sure our voices are heard.
I don’t think any of us knew as we walked out our doors that morning that this particular Saturday would make history. I wasn’t even sure if I would be just one among a handful who attended. Still, I could no longer sit silently, doing nothing. I had to do something. I had to show up.
While people had a multitude of personal reasons for marching, it soon became clear that the “take home” message of the day was: “Hear us roar. We will not be ignored. We will not be bullied.” We will no longer sit on the sidelines and nod off for a long winter’s nap.
As for me, one deep-seated reason I marched was because of a bully, like all the bullies we’ve experienced and had to endure. When I was in preschool and kindergarten, I had a bully on my ass. Day after day, Val, all of 5 years old with his tight crew cut, would chase me at recess or after school. If he caught me, he’d pull me to the ground as the teachers looked on. I tried to speak up in my quiet, sniffling, fearful sob.
When I would cry to my mother in the dark hours before bed, she would adamantly advise: “Take a large safety pin, and stick him in the bottom when no one is looking, and he’ll never bother you again.” Simple enough, right? The problem? I was not that kid. Not then anyway. I was hyper-shy, nice to a fault. Jabbing a pin into a kid’s butt was not my style.
One day, parents were lined up in their cars alongside a large, open field, waiting to pick up their little urchins after school. I made a run for it, lickety-split, as fast as I could, toward my mom’s car. But on that particular day, I didn’t outrun the little, bald bully. He grabbed my long, blonde ponytail, yanked it and sent me tumbling to the ground in a scrappy heap. A long row of cars idled as parents watched the incident in plain sight.
That marked the day my mother and Val’s mother could no longer ignore the brutality of a 3-foot-tall, 5-year-old bully. This time, finally, instead of me laying on the ground and no teacher, parent or friend coming to my aid, my mom and Val’s both got out of their cars and came to my rescue.
Later that night as I sat on a barstool in our 1970s avocado-green kitchen, fuzzy wallpaper and all, my mom handed me the phone receiver – the kind with a long, twisted cord. It wasn’t Val. It was his mother, apologizing to me. I didn’t want to talk to her. I was terrified. But I do remember that after that day, Val never touched me again. That was the end of the bullying.
I learned that day, at 5, that bullies don’t back down on their own. Someone has to do something. If the person being bullied is unable to stand up for themselves because they have been cruelly cowered into a corner, then someone else has to stand in their place.
I also learned then, and many times later, that for all their blusterous bravado and nastiness, bullies are at their core cowards. When people stand up to them, they flee. They might boast and Twitter from afar but when you meet them toe-to-toe and head-to-head, they change their tune, make excuses and pretend they meant nothing mean-spirited or offensive.
The day after the inauguration, millions marched. With record crowds in cities across the world, people took to the streets in an effort to be heard.
So to you, President Trump, thank you. Thank you for waking us up from our slumber.
We’re listening to your words. We’re taking stock. We believe people reveal who they are with their words and their actions. We marched because we want you and anyone who thinks like you to understand we won’t stand by silently as you bully us, grab women’s pussies, denigrate people worldwide and continue spewing your hateful words.
And to you, sisters and brothers, I am wide awake. For me, no more sleeping, I am up now, and fighting.
Bullies may not back down, but they can be outnumbered.
Very true, Ali. Let’s hope we outnumber them.