It’s fair to say I did not respond to Donald Trump’s election with anything resembling grace.
I was too optimistic. Naïve. I had organized a group of international women to meet on election night at a Mexican restaurant in my adopted city of Haarlem, the Netherlands. We were wearing sombreros and passing around a pair of tequila shot sunglasses. It was a protest against his racist hate speech, his absurd dreams of a great wall. It was a joke. But the expectation was we would end the day celebrating our first female president and a rejection of the absurd other choice.
And then it happened.
I sat in a friend’s apartment watching the results come in, sanity and rationality falling like Dominos. “What is happening?” my friend asked. I remained hopeful. And then—so fast—it was over. I fell asleep on her chair. I’d like to think it was my body and brain’s way of putting me out of my misery so I could absorb the shock without having an actual heart attack, but it was probably just the tequila. When I woke a while later, I was looking at my friend’s husband, who’d predicted the Trump win, and I released most of my rage on him.
A friend of mine, the day after the election, responded by making a list of causes she cares about and organizations that address those causes. She has a focused plan for supporting what she believes in—and this is the kind of action we should all be taking. Two months on, I’m in no more comfortable or accepting of the election results and the dismal and dangerous reality of the next four—please let it only be four—years. But I know I cannot continue to leave my optimistic self still writhing under the bed.
I am working on crawling out of my disheartened funk. I’ve been moved and inspired by posts on Pantsuit Nation, the now-infamous Facebook group. Last week I attended a gathering of poets and writers at a Writers Resist event in Amsterdam. And on January 21, I will be joining the Amsterdam chapter of the Women’s March. These initiatives, however small they may seem, are helping me feel less powerless.
Taking place on the day after Trump’s (sad!) inauguration, the Women’s Marches being staged around the world are not so much a Trump protest as a demonstration of an insistence on human rights, gender equality, compassion, and empathy. This movement is making it clear that people around the world are not going to back down and allow someone who holds none of the characteristics or principles usually ascribed to a trustful world leader to abuse the office for his own personal gain or outdated, paranoid racist, misogynistic, narcissistic instincts.
Amsterdam is only one of many cities outside the United States holding a Women’s March, and that’s because it matters who the U.S. president is. It impacts people well beyond the borders of the United States. Women—and men—around the world are taking this personally and are stepping up to be heard.
Erin Comaskey, 38, is an Irish-American living in Amsterdam. She was inspired by her mother and grandmother, whom she says “had a history of going against the grain” and encouraged her to do the same. “I think this is the real reason I march: There is an overwhelming sense of history in women coming together for the common purpose of protection,” Comaskey says. “I feel connected to all other women through this act and see it as an extension of the work that our sister suffragettes and those who fought for civil rights and those who fought for reproductive rights did when their time came. It is our time now. Our responsibility.”
Patricia Stewart, 40, is a Dutch mother whose eight-year-old daughter has high-functioning autism and suspected gender dysphoria and is the reason she will march. “I want to show her that it’s okay to be who she is,” Stewart says, “that it’s okay to be different. I want to show her the power of women, the power of coming together and the power of protesting for what you believe in.”
Marie-Charlotte Pezé, 39, a French woman living in Amsterdam, says she is marching to defend human rights and to represent herself in a time she is not feeling representing by elected officials. “I think the world is in the process of taking the wrong direction in so many different domains,” she says. “Trump is the glaring, garish example of this—the fact that Washington didn’t see it as their duty to stop a man who is threatening its own people with what I consider to be crimes against humanity is unconscionable, and it emphasizes the fact that we are not being represented anymore. It’s vital to go from being offended to defending ourselves and the values we find right.”
It’s been a rough couple of months, and nothing has happened to lessen the feeling of loss and disgusts. Except for those rational voices of men and women who are finding ways—with humor, with numbers, with art, with the strength of community—to push back and be heard.
I’m marching because while I’ve been disappointed by election results in the past, I’ve never been so offended, so discouraged, so unable to accept the result. It doesn’t feel like enough to just be mad or to look away and ride it out until 2020. Passivity is what creates the small cracks that can be exploited by the wrong people, and that has consequences for everyone.
On January 21, millions of us will march around the world. It will feel good. It won’t fix everything, but it will remind us how powerful our actions and voices can be.
And moving forward, we’ll act again and again and again.