By Libby Rego
I had a bad feeling about this. I remember early in 2016 talking to my mother, a woman who marched for civil rights in the 60s, when he got the Republican nomination. “Oh Libby, don’t worry, he’s a joke. There’s no way he will win.” I told her I disagreed. That I had a bad feeling that his rhetoric would mobilize the hidden racism and misogyny that we all pretend is no longer around. But she thought I was being overly concerned and said not to worry.
On November 8th, I had a bad feeling the minute I got home. I was relieved that my boyfriend was home sick from work that night because I did not want to be alone when the results came in. I had never felt that kind of foreboding before when watching any of the election results—even when George Bush Jr. won a second term and I was hugely disappointed. This was different. I called my mom. I didn’t say I told you so, there was no pride in my prediction.
I got to work the next day, and saw that a majority of my students were sullen, scared, and confused. For some reason that energized me. I gave them all a positive pep talk. Told them that if they were upset, that was understandable, but that as young adults, it was their job to stand up and hold the incoming administration accountable and that they had to get involved to make sure if things weren’t done properly, then they would have to get to work. I actually felt hopeful when I saw many of them relax and slow smiles come to their faces while they nodded.
That night, I saw the news. I read the reports from my friends who experienced or witnessed harassment from the winner’s supporters. I saw the swastikas emblazoned on several buildings. I saw the picture of a young man in West Hollywood who was attacked and called a slur by those who triumphantly cited the new President-Elect as their inspiration. And I saw, to my horror, how many of these hateful encounters happened in southern California, my home, a supposed bastion of progressive ideals.
Shit, I had been right. The lights had been turned on and the roaches of racism, sexism and bigotry we thought had been exterminated were scurrying about, no longer worried about being stepped on.
I was never one for protests. Direct protesting was always something I felt was best left for others. For decades, I practiced what I called the “Jiminy Cricket” version of protesting. Being that soft voice in the ears of those who knew they could trust me. Being an example that could be respected and listened to one on one. Making sure to be a voice of reason online and in person to those who had been my students and family and friends. I believed in a more personal approach—but that has changed.
Before winter vacation, I decided to do a short lesson with my students about the electoral college, voting rights, the history of protesting in America, and even student rights. They read articles, watched documentaries and even had class discussions about politics and rights—in literature class.
I decided to march. And when I saw that it took place the weekend we would have my boyfriend’s daughter, I decided that I would do so in Los Angeles so that she, too, could participate if she chose to do so. When I told her about the march and why it was happening, she was not only willing but excited to participate.
Saturday, we all dragged ourselves out of bed and took the train to downtown. As we walked toward Pershing Square, I was surprised at how many people were there. We were only able to make it about a block to the square before we realized there were too many people, so we started our march early.
It is hard to express what we experienced. The beautiful signs we saw, the chants we heard, the drumming and the physical closeness. We stopped and listened to the first half dozen speakers and then continued through the streets of downtown and observed other protesters. I was happy to see so many men and children, so many differing issues being expressed on signs and clothing. This wasn’t just about women, or even Trump. It was about the resistance of potential policies that will effect millions of Americans and people of the world. It was about speaking in one clear voice, that regardless of election results, regardless of the narrative of a nation divided, this group of what turned out to be a quarter of a million Californians, were united in the fight for maintaining rights and a continuation of moving forward.
I did not just march for me. I am a woman of privilege, a woman with choices others don’t have with my work-funded health insurance and my straight White cis identity. But I am not alone in this world, and my personal struggles are not the only struggles faced. I marched for the undocumented, for the Muslim, for the LGBTQ, for the poor, for the marginalized, for my family, for my students, and for my friends. I will no longer be a soft voice, I will be part of a collective shout for justice, for equality and for the Constitution of the United States to be accessible to all. And I am not alone.