After a few days agonizing over what words I would inscribe on the sign I would wear to the Women’s March on Chicago, I chose two: No Hate. I did so for a very personal reason. I realized I was being “played” and needed to push back. I was learning to hate.
In the weeks following the election, I found myself increasingly directing anger at my fellow Americans—namely, those who had given the incoming president their vote. Thinking about “why I march” allowed me to recognize what a mistake that was, and turning to some of the most important women leaders of our time confirmed my suspicion. These women faced challenges greater than my present one and succeeded because they refused to be derailed by hatred.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the hero of democracy in Burma/Myanmar, spent 15 years under house arrest—captive of a cruel military junta. After the first five, she told an interviewer, “I have never learned to hate them. If I had, I would have been truly at their mercy.” Of course: Those generals wanted her to hate them, just as the master salesmen in this incoming administration, wizards at divide and conquer, want me to hate my fellow citizens. I refuse to do so.
If Aung San Suu Kyi could resist, so can I.
Sister Helen Prejean, best known for Dead Man Walking, her eyewitness account of the death penalty, tells a similar story. She refuses to be considered the hero of her book. She names instead Lloyd LeBlanc, the father of a murder victim, who exerted a courageous struggle not to be overcome by the feelings of bitterness and revenge that would well up within him as he thought of the murders. He, too, serves as a model.
If he could do that, I can do this.
Wangari Maathai provides a similar model. Imprisoned numerous times during her fight against degradation of the environment in Kenya, she emerged determined to gather her fellow citizens into concerted action—the planting of trees—by the millions. As she accepted the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize she spoke words remarkably apt for this moment.“In the course of history,” she said In her acceptance speech, “there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”
To these words, too, I say: If she could do that, I can do this.
I cherish the values on which America was founded—decency, reason and compassion. If I allow myself to be eaten by hatred in this moment of foment, I will be unable to defend them. These women and many more give me the courage to reach out to those who support the divisive ideas of Donald Trump and be ready to help pick them up when the hatred he stoked begins to eat them and the promises he made fail to materialize. I pledge to do so without prejudice and with kind action.
In spring 2017, when the excitement of the inauguration and the Women’s March has subsided, I will stand behind my senators as they guide the choice of the appointments to the Supreme Court and federal courts. I will speak out against pullbacks on environmental protections and press my state representatives to ensure coverage for medical care, including Medicaid funding for mental illness. I will increase my volunteer hours at the local women’s shelter where funds will probably be cut. I will help raise funds for organizations that do work I believe in. I will remain informed to different viewpoints. I will listen with an open mind to fellow citizens who bring a different perspective and be willing to change my view if they prove me wrong.
It will not be easy.
Reverend Desmond Tutu, an expert in working with societies fractured by calculated internal strife, points out the central pitfall. “Bygones will not be bygones just because you say it is so,” he has said. “They will come back to haunt you.”
There is no appetite for truth-telling and apology at the moment. The incoming administration seems inclined to leave the debris at the side of the road, claiming America has always been divided. It is in itself a hateful stance, but I will not be suckered into hatred. There is too much work to be done.