A week after the Women’s March on Washington, I self-published a piece that was largely critical of the event.
I’d attended with reservations, noting at its inception that the March was leaving women of color out of the narrative as well as the organizing hierarchy. That changed as the event grew and Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour assumed leadership roles on the March’s national committee, but I retained a healthy dose of skepticism. Unfortunately, my own experience at the March met my low expectations.
Admittedly, it was a staggering thing to witness the sheer mass of humanity roiling over the National Mall. There were certainly moments I felt buoyed by the anonymous camaraderie of the women surrounding me. But under the joy and the anger that brought half a million women to Trump’s new doorstep, there were problems.
Women of color reported micro-aggressions aplenty. Native women spoke of how fellow march attendees snapped photos of their ceremonial garb while refusing to take pamphlets about indigenous rights. Trans women found themselves in a sea of pink hats equating genitalia with womanhood. Intersectional feminism found itself floundering under the weight of 500,000 women’s differences. And I received hate mail for pointing it out. It’s not the first time an anonymous commenter has tried to put me in my place, and it certainly won’t be the last.
While working for a previous employer, I hosted an event that required security because someone threatened to kill me. And while death threats aren’t the norm for most writers, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment from readers. What surprised me, however, was not that I received hate mail, but rather who sent it. Self-identified liberals were absolutely furious with me. One reader implied that by criticizing the March, I’d aligned myself with Trump’s agenda.
Another told me there was a “special place in feminist hell” for me after undermining such an important event. Others called me names I simply can’t print here. Last week, following the death blow dealt to the American Health Care Act, I posted an offhand status about how the obsessive gloating being done by Democratic leaders conveniently ignored the fact that we’re in this mess to begin with because they failed to do their job. It felt horrifyingly detached for elected officials to be mocking Paul Ryan on Twitter while some schools are seeing meteoric rises in truancy because immigrant children are afraid they’ll be deported. The criticism poured in.
People messaged me privately to lambast me for raining on the Affordable Care Act’s victory parade. A casual acquaintance went so far as to tell me she was tired of reading my gloom-and-doom take on the politics and then blocked my account. (I’d like to point out I also posted a photo of my dog in honor of National Puppy Day, so I resent the implication that I’m doing nothing more than making snarky commentary about the current political climate. I make time for baby animals, too.)
It’s these moments that give me pause. Not because I’m offended by the criticism, but because they remind me that change does not come easily or with kind words. My solidarity cannot be assumed, it must be earned.
Over the course of the next few years, liberal communities will find plenty to disagree about —debate is healthy.
But if you find yourself being scolded for your tone, or for voicing an unpopular opinion, remind yourself that personal criticisms may mean you’re doing the work many others don’t have the heart to do. I wish you the best of luck in offending your compatriots.