The heightened level of concern in my dads voice brought me back to my youth where I was once again on trial with my grade school principal as my judge. “I saw your daughters poster…Do you think that kind of language is appropriate?” he said. Asserting my own authority as a parent I shot back, “Dad, it’s not for us to judge. She’s growing into her own woman. We’ve gotta take a backseat to the events unfolding before our eyes”.
Earlier that day, my 17 year old daughter and I attended the Women’s March in New York City with a small group of her friends. It was January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the
USA, Donald J. Trump, and here we were joining with millions around the world, and 400,000 in NYC not only to protest the new president, but to send a message about the power of women and girls. Malaak had been awake much of the night, painting protest posters in anticipation of the march. “Shrimpy”, as I affectionately call her, is a bright minded, highly verbal and charismatic high school senior with tremendous curiosity about the world, a love for her community and a firm belief in justice and fairness.
We boarded a train from the suburbs into New York City to attend. But there was one problem — three women, and only two protest signs. A feeling of disappointment swept over the girls, there being “no way” they would attend the march without each having their own poster. We took a short walk from the train station and headed east towards the United Nations and Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza where the protest was to begin. Before we arrived we spotted a Kinko’s copy center. Inside we searched for supplies to create a makeshift poster. We found poster board, a sharpie and than reached a decision that my style of drawing bubble letters was the preferred. I was given the responsibility of sign calligrapher. “Okay what should it say?” I asked Malaak. Without flinching she said, “Ummm…write…This Pu**y Grabs Back”. My non judgmental innocent bystander status quickly evaporated and now I am in full on dad mode. “You want me to write what?” I said slightly accusatory. Again without hesitation, she repeats herself, “Come on dad, just write it”. As indifferent as I was, I did as asked. Three posters, three young women. Now it’s time to march.
The streets on the east side of midtown Manhattan were packed like sardines with protesters. A majority of adult women, with a healthy amount of men. Although mostly white, there was a distinct multi ethnic presence; black, latino and asian. We took plenty of crowd photos along the way even finding a young woman who had created a sign identical to the one I drew for Malaak. This was a moment that had to be memorialized with a selfie and than uploaded to Instagram. As we continued to march I was reminded of how it was that we came to protest the 45th President the day after he was elected.
Thinking back to the night of November 8th, the finale of an intense period of debate in the U.S. where Americans were working to fulfill a national and civic duty of deciding who the next group of elected officials would be including the next POTUS. National elections of this sort have increasingly become an exercise in disunity and incivility where passion and conviction turn into vitriol and zealotry. It was only a few weeks before where we all learned the definition of a “hot mic” — an audio/video had surfaced of Donald Trump which caught the country and world by surprise. “I did try and f**k her, she was married, I moved on her like a b*tch. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case…I am automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait. Grab them by the pu**y and when you’re a star they let you do it.” Here were the words of the future leader of the free world. Words of embarrassment and pure disgrace. Towards the end of the election it became clear that in a neck and neck race the candidate with the more bombastic style would win. Americans thirst isn’t so much for bigotry as much as it is a thirst for sensational. Entertainment and shock value. In your face journalism. Reality TV. Donald Trump’s heart and soul lives at an intersection where all of these influences collide. After checking into CNN for election results my suspicion that Donald Trump would win the election became a glaring reality.
The morning after the election, I woke up to a very alarming text from my daughter. It read,
“Daddy I am honestly uncomfortable with going to school tomorrow. Some of the things I saw people saying on social media from my school made me feel a little uncomfortable…I’m pretty tough and most of the time don’t care what people say but I honestly can’t predict what’s gonna happen tomorrow knowing that kids in my school are crazy and I just don’t feel ok with it.”
She’s never been one to overstate or exaggerate, so I knew her concerns were to be taken seriously. Her mom and I spoke immediately and both agreed we needed to act on behalf of our kid. Calls to several school administrators, a face to face meeting with both the Principal and Vice Principal all who were sympathetic to the situation and heavily monitoring school behavior. We decided the result should be a day home from school to reflect and process.
She and I sat in the living room eating ginger cookies and thinking through the implications of this election. We both agreed that this election was a clear repudiation of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama primarily on the basis of gender and race. Women and people of color shared a feeling of anxiousness, given the sexist and racist things Trump said during the campaign, given his threats against the women who accused him of sexual assault, given how he has painted Mexicans as criminals, given that he was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, given so, so many things. People carried very real fears rooted in policies Trump has promised to enact in office — including a ban on Muslim immigrants and the deportation of millions of immigrants.
“The worst thing that could happen is that because of fear, dreams are interrupted, families leave, students reach a stress level where it’s destructive to their education,” I said to Malaak. We both agreed that if we began to cower it would be a very, very sad victory of fear over hope.
Months after the voting took place, and having had time to process, it was finally time for action, finally a time as a nation and world to repudiate the racist and sexist bigotry of the man Donald Trump. When the march was over and we arrived home we learned that family had seen the protest pictures in social media and word had spread about her poster. Dad’s question, “Do you think that kind of language is appropriate?”
So the answer is yes, I do think that kind of language is appropriate and important. It’s important because President Trump made it important. It was important for my daughter to realize the old saying, “knocked down once, get up twice”. If someone tries to defame you, taking it sitting down isn’t the answer. Although “love trumps hate” love and hate might exchange a few nasty words along the way. Prior to President Trump’s crass and indecent rant, the “P” word was right up there next to the “N” word in terms of disgraceful things to say. Just like the “N” word it took people with conviction to use the “P” word and to dismiss it of its power to offend. Using it was a way of throwing it back in President Trump’s face and showing him who was the bigger, and that there is no hiding behind his words.
We’ve promised ourselves to stay active and engaged, holding this administration accountable along the way, protesting where necessary. We intend to make our voices heard at the next march, posters in hand.