Seventeen years ago, I was a teenager carrying a sign over my head that said We Will Not Go Back at an event for the National Organization of Women. I was marching with my parents, my sister, my aunt, with hundreds of others here in Los Angeles, in what I then saw as something symbolic.
At seventeen, I could confidently say that neither religion or government had any rights to my uterus. At 34, I’m marching again. Only this time, the symbolism is gone. My rights, and the rights of my future children, aren’t so certain anymore.
The War on Women wasn’t a fight I expected to see in my lifetime. For many years, I believed it was something for the history books. In the last decade, I watched from the safety of Los Angeles as women in other parts of the country had to drive distances to get birth control because pharmacists could deny dispensing it on moral grounds.
I watched as states defunded Planned Parenthood, denying women who would otherwise not be able to afford it, access to proper healthcare (Planed Parenthood does much more than their name suggests).
I watched in the last year as legislation passed that would make rape victims in several states go through invasive ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy.
I watched as Topeka, Kansas, trimmed their budget by decriminalizing domestic violence.
This last week, the normally bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act came through the Senate 68-31. The 31 who did not vote in favor of it were all Republican men. At this time, over 400 bills that will further the rights of women are under consideration at the federal and state levels.
I can’t just watch anymore. Last Saturday, in 54 cities around the United States, thousands of women, men and children gathered to say that this war would not be won without a fight. Enough is enough. And these gatherings, these grassroots campaigns by UniteWomen.org, endorsed by dozens of women’s rights organizations and human rights organizations, were coordinated through social media. Together we’d stand up against the War on Women. #WOW. A hashtag was born.
I learned about #WOWCALI on twitter, through a family friend who is a founder of A is For, an organization working to make contraceptives accessible to all women. The A is a scarlet one, which I wore, my mother wore, my aunts and friends wore, as we marched through Downtown Los Angeles to the beat of the Zamba band that led the way.
Events like the L.A. one were coordinated via Facebook and twitter. Donations were made through Paypal to help cover the costs of city permits and security and cleanup. It was people coming together because they weren’t going to just watch anymore. People helping people.
The L.A. rally was MC’ed by the Upright Citizen Brigade's J.C. Coccoli (who co-wrote the Funny or Die Unite Women video starring Susan Sarandon, which FYI, it’s not safe for work).
Speakers included Democratic Congressional candidate Jerry Tetalman (running against Darrel Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee hearings on contraception where no women were allowed), L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, NOW’s Zoe Nicholson, actress and comedians Sarah Silverman and Mo Gaffney, HelloGiggles co-founder Molly McLeer, and a surprise visit from Zach Galifianakis.
Tetelman remarked on the power of social media in this all, “We have to assert our power. We've seen this recently in the Susan G. Komen incident... what happened was within three days, because of the internet, because of political activism, women were outraged, and they changed their policy. We are living in a time where each one of as individuals can assert our power more than ever before. We have the power of the internet. We have the power of our voice.”
Saturday was political, it was personal, and it was press-less. No mainstream media covered these events. At all.
Silverman told us that of all the things she’s ever tweeted, nothing brought her as much negative reaction as tweeting about this event. If Sarah Silverman speaking about women’s rights is what's shocking people, what is going on, America?
The New York #WOW march began in front of the former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building. When I first heard that’s where their rally was to be, I got goosebumps.
Last year, when I wrote about the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire and spoke to Daphne Pinkerson, who directed the HBO documentary, we discussed how history repeats itself.
We don’t need tragedies to teach us what we should be doing better. Because we already know better. As Mo Gaffney said at the L.A. march, “I have wondered a lot why we have to put up with so much and I think I have the answer. Fear. We are powerful and they fear us. But instead of utilizing our power, instead of valuing everything about what it means to be a woman, they marginalize it, minimize it, criticize it and fear it... We have to let them know that we know. We know what they’re doing and we are NOT allowing it. That’s why this rally and march and other rally and marches have to happen.”
These events must happen so that more tragedies don’t have to. We have to come together and prevent them. Come together and see that this goes beyond partisan issues.
If you live in Topeka and you are beaten to near death by your husband it will not be a crime - no matter your politics or religion. It will not be a crime because you are a woman.
As Silverman reminded us, “People are conquered when they let themselves be divided. In a very unsaid, intangible way, women are encouraged to stand apart from each other. We're almost rewarded for it. The worst thing that could happen to people that don't want us to be strong is that we stick together and become a force.”
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