Anne-Marie Oomen | Why I’m Going to march in Washington DC
ANNE-MARIE OOMEN, Award-winning Michigan author, writer, poet, Interlochen Arts Academy, Writing Workshops, Poet in Residence, Writer in Residence, Writing Residence
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Why I’m Going to march in Washington DC

On January 21, the day after the inauguration, I will attend the Women’s March in Washington D.C.  to spend the day walking Independence Avenue with people from all over the country. Simultaneously, marches will occur in major cities all over the country.  Why am I going?  I’m compelled for a myriad of reasons I have been asked to voice here.

I will march first because of my beautiful amazing students who range in age from school kids to octogenarians, who are from many walks and ways of life, some of which have been denigrated by the new administration. I will march for their right to be respected for who they are: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer.  I will march for my young transitioning Native American student who is now afraid to speak of his identity.  I will march because I want him to be respected. I’m going because I can and many of them can’t, and I know that for a day my body, my person, may stand in for them, and for their place in our country.  It is the least I can do.

I will march because perhaps by doing so, I will remind someone in this new government that my Muslim, Jewish, and atheist friends are promised the freedom to believe and to practice their beliefs without intimidation.  I hope people in this new administration will remember that my young Muslim friend (still in college) should be able to wear her hijab without fear that someone will yank it off or mock her. I will march because the language of our new president has defiled this and other rights and, encouraged by that disrespect, other people have acted out their hate in violence and vandalism.  Or worse.  I will march because our respectful protest may remind people to respect my friend’s right to wear her headscarf as she walks the halls of her school.

I will march so my young Latino friend, (whose family came to the US from Mexico a generation ago), can walk the halls of his school without someone crying out, “Go back to your country.” This is his country. I will march because more than a hundred years ago my grandfather, Joseph Van Agtmael, a foreigner who could not speak, read or write English, was registered at Ellis Island, and from there made his way to Michigan to work.  And though I know times and circumstances have changed, what has not changed is that immigrants are like me and like Grandpa Joe—they/we want the same things.

I will march because I want our earth to be respected, and I will stand with my Odawa friend who is standing up for his sovereign nation. I cannot know his sorrow or his loss, but I can stand near him and walk this walk with him.

I will march because I believe that as a woman I have the rights to equal opportunity, equal pay, equal process, and equal respect under the law, and I see those rights threatened. The words of this president elect have not affirmed those beliefs, but instead have denigrated my gender and left terrible language seared into the minds of young women, and provided a terrible permission to some young men to adopt that language and behavior. I march to remind people in power that I am among those who vote, over and over, consistently, for women’s rights. In this way, I march for the little girls and boys in my life: for Scarlett, Nina, Martin, Sam, Noah and Johnny Lyn that they may grow up in a world where respect is pervasive.

This is not my first time.  I marched in Washington D.C. on inauguration day, 1973, compelled to protest the corruption of Richard Nixon.  I stood in the rain near the Washington Monument, and my feet were cold. I had forgotten my socks.  I am again, some 44 years later, compelled. I want my presence among many marchers to put this administration on notice that we are watching, we are paying attention, we are awake, we are ready to act for those who may not be in a position to do so, and we vote.  These are my obligations as a citizen of a democracy.  I’ll try to remember my socks this time.

Finally, I will march because my mother would have disapproved (yup!), but only because she would see my act as drawing attention to myself, and in her view women should remain quiet.  For her, this did not mean women were powerless, but that they should operate subversively. She herself was a master of subtle, sometimes devious manipulation. Only when pressed to the wall would my mother voice her objections directly.  I do not go to draw attention to myself, but I will march because I want her subverted voice to be represented in the open. Though I am an idealist, I am not so naive as to think this march will change the course of this administration—though it has the potential to mediate its extremism.  And if our protest enters the thoughts of those who watch, if it gives pause to the hand before it yanks off the hijab, if it catches the voice before it shouts the obscenity to the immigrant, if it launches a real question or discussion about how citizens can enact respect, then I march too for those who pause, who may ask the smallest question and think more deeply because they saw us march.