My year as an activist: Encouragement from a novice in Minnesota
This story originally appeared on StarTribune.com.
It has been one year — 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes — since I decided to suck it up, stop being a “social-media activist” and do something about the shock and rage I was feeling in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.
It took an entire day of tears and feeling distraught before I acted. At the time, I had no idea what the full spectrum of that action would look like. But I made a few keystrokes in a virtual community, clicked enter and volunteered myself as one of three lead coordinators for the Women’s March on Washington-Minnesota March.
We met a week or so later: roughly 45 women, most of whom had not previously known one another, in a library conference room in Eagan. We shared our stories of what had brought us there. We shared our tears, our anger and our determination.
We set a goal to gather 5,000 people at the State Capitol on Jan. 21 in the dead middle of a Minnesota winter.
We knew the task seemed impossible. We knew that there were a lot of obstacles. We also believed that when you gather a bunch of fierce women in a room, there’s nothing they can’t do.
So, we planned. We raised funds. We gathered permits, entertainment, speakers. A website was built overnight. Our logistics team created a small city on the Capitol grounds.
On the day of the event, we were there early — so early it was still dark. We secretly hoped that 50,000 to 70,000 people would show up.
And as the sun rose that day and the temperature warmed, so rose a spirit of hope.
We watched cars backing up on exit ramps, floods of people filing out of bus and light-rail stops, and buses arriving from greater Minnesota.
One hundred thousand people came together that day to stand against hate and unite for a better America: people who were first-time rally attendees, and people who had been doing this work their entire life and showed up to support us, even when we probably didn’t deserve their support.
It was just the beginning.
What we learned quickly after was that although the rally had felt successful, we’d missed the mark in so many areas. Our march was diverse, but it wasn’t inclusive. Our march allowed many to feel safe — but not all. We learned that we needed to eat our humble pie and get to listening and connecting with our communities and the leaders who had been in this movement for much longer than we had.
That’s the goal we set. Meet with individuals and groups — hear what they are working on, ask what they want us to do (or not do), find our supporting role so that we can raise up the leadership that deserves it. Support the dismantling of systemic racism and a criminal-justice system that is inherently flawed, support survivors and start believing women, show up and speak up to declare Black Lives Matter, help refugees and immigrants, defend reproductive rights, and send aid to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. It is high time we start listening to stories of the oppression and injustice that occur daily, and to be looking for people of color and indigenous leaders who are knee-deep in the work and do what we can to back them.
With that in mind, you can see why it’s hard for me to explain what Women’s March Minnesota “does now.” We aren’t planning an anniversary Women’s March. We don’t need another Women’s March. We need people to open their ears and eyes to what is going on in Minnesota and nationally. I hope you’ll join us. We plan to continue to do what we can to show up and amplify voices that might not have been heard by this newly activated group before (people like me one year ago). We do a biweekly rundown of all the events we know about where people should show up and boost the work that activists in the area are doing; check it out at www.WomensMarchMN.com.
Last Wednesday, I woke up to thread upon thread of celebratory posts on social media. It was amazing! The historic election victories that were accomplished across the country are a rallying cry. Locally, electing Melvin Carter as St. Paul mayor and Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham to the Minneapolis City Council feel like huge victories. They give hope that this is the beginning of something revolutionary and that it only continues when we keep supporting the proper leaders. So don’t stop. Show up. Speak up. Celebrate today, but continue to be angry at injustice and let that anger drive you to keep fighting — today, tomorrow and every day.
Bethany Bradley is on the steering committee of Women’s March Minnesota.