Reflections by Sarah C. Rutherford
Photos by Hannah Betts
On January 21, 2017 millions of women from around the world came together to have their voices be heard. While many criticized the effort for the lack of singular universal message, I saw this multiplicity of truths as the messy, complex and quintessential struggle of our time. We need not erase women’s specific realities to land on a few concise generalizations, but instead listen intently to one another, while standing up most fervently for those on the front lines.
I had the honor of attending the Women’s March on Washington with an incredible group of women, whose experiences will be told through their own words in the paragraphs to come. It was with these women that I was able to dissect some of our collective and individual experiences, which overlapped and varied based on our own lived experiences, both at the march and beyond.
Prior to attending, during and after with the slew of post march online criticism, I let these varying waves of experience carry me, ebbing and flowing, dragging me along a rocky shoreline and back out to sea. I eventually made my way back to solid land, bruised, wet and exhausted, but finally able to land on my own truth. It was a truth laced with the truths of others; realizing fully that while some of these truths conflicted, none were any less true.
I landed on my truth when I saw this photo of my mother and I. Walking beside her at the march filled me with a complicated array of emotions, but pride remained central. This beautiful woman instilled in me such strength and at 69 years old continues to push her own boundaries toward growth. She is a woman who worked within the system to make her own mark on the world and on our family. She fought with tenacity for the life I was afforded and I will be forever grateful. When Gloria Steinem spoke on stage, a woman I greatly admire and whose words are still relevant, I felt tears well up. I held my mother tightly, thinking of the blood, sweat and tears of women who fought so hard for us to continue the fight today. I felt a wave of gratitude for the things that had changed since my mothers youth coupled with exhaustive sadness that we still had so much more to fight for on this path to equality.
I also acknowledge the truths of others surrounding this march. I acknowledge the anger of black women who question why white women haven’t stood with them during years of fighting against systemic oppression and violence. I acknowledge the truth that reproductive organ related imagery held up to signify womanhood dismisses our transgender sisters. I acknowledge the truth that these marches were not met with violence because of the protections attached to whiteness.
Ultimately, I believe in showing up even if what you are showing up to is imperfect because the choice to ignore is a privilege. I believe in learning from individual and collective mistakes and listening intently to the truths of others. It is also in this moment of time, that I rely not on my own realizations, but through navigating women’s wisdoms already in place as our roadmap; their voices have carried throughout history to inform us today.
“The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”
(1981) Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”
“This is What Democracy Looks Like”
Reflections by Georgina Rutherford
Photos by: Hannah Betts
Perhaps one of the most incredible things about this whole journey is that I am 69 years old and have never demonstrated or spoken out against anyone or anything in authority before. I was raised during a time when women were the teachers while men were the administrators, women were the nurses while men were the doctors, and women were the secretaries while men were the presidents of companies. Although I have certainly lived through many human tragedies in my youth, I never worked outside the system to react to them. I had just turned 15 years old as a junior in high school when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and was a senior in college when Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated in 1968. It was a time of unified grieving and what felt to me like a unity of spirit as a nation.
I have recently retired from 34 years of a rewarding teaching career. I have taught in 17 different school districts across the country in grades K-8. One of the most enlightening, yet challenging, years I had was in Jacksonville, FL in the mid-seventies when the schools had just become accredited and racial tensions were high. It was a time when women teachers applying for jobs in the “bible belt” were asked if they used birth control. I was assigned to a very poor school where students had often spent their school year drawing rather than learning and were labeled “slow”. The school was shamefully overcrowded, did not have blackboards, an intercom or air-conditioning. It was also a time for me to face the fact that I had been raised in a very protected place, both controlled and loved by my family who were determined to give me a more privileged life than they had. For the first time I began to understand why people were angry. I finally felt that I could try to do something to affect the way things were, even if in only a small way for a small group of children. I began to speak up and use my power as an advocate for those who were not able.
So why did I march? I marched to support my daughter. I marched to join with the thousands of other women who want their voices to be heard as they seek equal pay for equal work. I marched to support Planned Parenthood so that all women including my daughter can afford healthcare. I marched to support immigrant rights. I marched to support First Amendment rights for all.
I look to the future with hope and optimism. I realize how hard I have worked in my life to find my voice and then have the courage to share it. We are stepping up and joining our voices to be heard. Democracy is a relationship that requires continuous work, not only to keep what freedoms we have, but also to grow the freedoms we are guaranteed under the Constitution. Democracy can be peaceful and it can be turbulent, but throughout the journey I will focus on the chant heard over and over again during the Women’s March… “This is what democracy looks like!”