Open Letter following Vice President Pence's visit
On Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, a few dozen of us went downtown to protest VP Pence. Not just his visit to Savannah, but his policies, his war against women, his war against the LGBTQ community, his racism, his destructive evangelism, and his complicity in the demise of our democracy.
Over the past two years and indeed, two hundred years, Savannah has stood up, shown up, and resisted in so many beautiful ways. Our local social media pages are teeming with thoughts and events and information from activists—both seasoned ones and new-to-the-cause ones. I am impressed with our community.
On Saturday, walking through the parade route was irritating: Lots of drunken green-wearing people. Going through the secure zone was an inconvenience. I can only imagine that parking was a hassle.
But here’s the thing: activism is irritating, inconvenient, a hassle. Yet in the times we live, as fascism is rising across Europe and yes, here in our own USA, it is imperative that everybody who is able shows up and does the work. That is what resistance means.
What a gift, a glorious opportunity, that the VP was in Savannah. That means the nation’s eyes were on Savannah.
And that means that we can have a say in national conversation, in how the press represents Pence and his movements.
A few dozen of us were strong, loud, and visible. Pence noticed. The meager crowd in the secure zone noticed. The parade-marchers noticed.
National press did not. Imagine if instead of a few dozen of us, there were a few hundred, five hundred, a thousand? It would have been a very different story.
I was struck by the level of support. We were cheered, high-fived, thumbs-upped, and photographed by an overwhelming majority.
Even a Secret Service person covertly gave us a thumbs up as they were escorting Pence. People broke from the parade to give our group high fives. The rude comments were scattered amidst a majority of support, of unity.
And unity is the key. It’s about intersectionality. To support women’s marches necessarily means you support the LGBTQ community, means supporting Black Lives Matter, supporting immigration reform, supporting environmentalism, supporting health care, supporting education equity: It is to support all of these interconnected issues that together, recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
And so to make our world a better place, to be five feet away from our VP and have his ear, is to actively work on our democracy, in start and in part by shifting the national conversation. National, and indeed, local press, can ignore a few dozen protestors. We can be seen as outliers, as radicals, as ‘those’ people, as other. But they can’t ignore five hundred: then we become ‘We, the People.’
Activism matters. Showing up, if you are at all able, and putting your body in these places of high public focus, matters. Resistance matters.
This is not a time for apathy. We all must work, and this is what ‘work’ looks like. Irritating inconvenience and hassle. Family plans set to the side. Groundswell happens when many, many people show up. It can, at times, be that simple. On Saturday, I was reminded of bell hooks’ ideas on feminism:
"Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels . . . Feminist movement to end sexist oppression actively engages participants in revolutionary struggle. Struggle is rarely safe or pleasurable" (hooks, bell. Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression, pp. 52, 55).
And so activism is a struggle, it is a job, it is work. I disagree with hooks, though, in that I think activism can be pleasurable: We feel empowered and part of something much larger when we work together, show up, and take to the streets together.
Fellow Pence protestors: I may not know your name, but the experience we shared was profound, powerful, and beautiful.
Savannah: We do a lot. We can do more. Please, next time, show up. If you are unable to physically be there, do what you can on other ways. This is the moment when we all have to do the work ourselves, for all of us. Lives are on the line, and right now, being inactive is a luxury we can’t afford.