On Friday, January 20, I said my goodbyes to my colleagues and clients at the nonprofit I'd worked at for two and a half years.
Since Tuesday (because we were off on Monday), people had been asking me what my last week felt like, and I would say, "Oh, well, it's very sad." And it was. Or, "Oh, I'm excited." And I was.
On my last day in the office, I knelt on the floor at the end of the hall, and spray-glued feminist signage we'd printed on the office printer to posterboard for the Women's March. Three people watched over my shoulder, asking if I'd share my spray-glue. We might have gotten a little high off the aerosol. A few of us, me included, glued our fingers together. At one point, someone blasted Beyoncé's "Formation."
It was a very good last day in the place that changed my life.
You know how in a screenplay or a novel, there are turning points? They happen when there's a change in situation, which usually causes a character to make a decision that sets certain events in motion. Luke discovers Leia's secret message in R2. Prim's name is called in the Reaping. Hagrid bursts in with lightning and thunder and informs Harry that he's a wizard. Etc.
I wish turning points were always this clear, but I think they aren't always, in real life. At least, mine have a tendency to happen gradually. For example, I could only call what I experienced at this job a turning point... but it happened over the course of several years and involved the crossings of my path with dozens of others'. Not what you'd call a moment of truth.
For two and a half years, I learned more about how a story can change everything than I ever learned in the previous 22. I keep trying to figure out how to describe what I mean by this, but it's very hard for me to think of anything other than another story to illustrate what I mean. Indulge me.
on saturday, january 21, we marched on los angeles city hall.
The day after the Inauguration, over 750,000 of us woke up and took trains, buses, cars, and bikes to the Women's March of Los Angeles—one of the sister marches of the Women's March on Washington D.C. happening around the world. I took the sign I'd spray-glued the day before (which read "A Women's Place is in the Revolution" on one side and "Fight Like a Girl" on the other) and stood in line to get on the Metro Gold Line.
There was a family in front of me. The father was wearing a green camo shirt, a gray beanie, and a neon pink backpack with red hearts, while dragging a folded stroller. Beside him, his daughter carried a sign that read, "Anyone can be anything."
On the Gold Line, I sat next to a woman and two young girls from Palm Desert. The girls were a.) very excited to be riding the subway for the first time, and b.) wearing large signs around their necks that read, "I will NEVER be silent," and "Girl power." At one point, I overheard the woman point out the graffiti we were seeing out the train window and remark to the girls, "People want to leave their own mark on this city. But you have to look closely at what they're trying to say."
I transferred at Union Station, where a man in a nice suit gave me a high five and shouted, "GO WOMEN," to an answering chorus of triumphant shouts. I made my way to Pershing Square where it took a solid twenty minutes just to get up the stairs out of the station, and I emerged into a frozen sea of human bodies. No one could move, it was so crowded. The people who tried squeezed past with a, "So sorry. Great sign!" Women led chants against sexism and the new president and climbed streetlamps to flag down their friends.
We were there for hours.
Seriously, there were so many people that we could barely march. It was more crowded than shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic. You hardly had room to put your sign down for a second to rest your arms. It was loud and peaceful and exhilarating.
Somewhere in the middle of the crowd, by myself—because there was no way I could possibly swim upstream in the crowd to get to the meeting point my friends and I agreed on—it dawned on me that weirdly, I had never felt more safe. People were taking care of each other. Someone handed me a bag of Popchips. Another person turned to me at 9:54am and said, "Moment of silence at 9:59am, pass it on," and so I passed down the moment of silence like a runner's baton. Several hundred thousands of us were all smashed up against each other and there was no place this introvert would rather have been.
two and a half years ago, this is the last place I would have been.
Being who I am, it sometimes feels like words have a weird way of seeking me out. But I come from Christian fundamentalist, politically conservative roots, and feminist was a word I considered the butt of a joke for well over half my life.
It was only when a client I was working with back in 2014 told me what had happened to her—this incredible woman who'd experienced homelessness and violence and felt truly invisible and unwanted, yet was still somehow unbroken—that I began to understand that empowerment is not fighting for her, but with her. It was only when another client asked me in 2015 why I worked there, that I realized I was really there because I believed women are important because they are people, that women's rights are human rights. In 2016, I watched a woman give a testimony that reduced a politician to tears, and it hit me all over again that stories can do the impossible and change you.
This happened over time. It is still happening, as I write. Slowly, the voices got inside my head. Slowly, the stories I heard changed my mind about what it meant to be a feminist.
So on Saturday, I did what 18-year-old me would have scoffed at as "just more politics," and I marched. I marched for all the women I've met who had survived violence, abuse, addiction, or mental illnesses, and had been shamed for asking for help. I marched for the women I know who once slept on the beach with nothing but a worn-out Bible and a yellow highlighter. I marched for the women I've hugged who lost custody of their children and haven't seen them since before they started college.
But I also marched for the time in high school when my teacher joked, "Why would I want a woman to be president? What if she gets her period and decides to nuke us?" And I marched for the time when I was a pre-teen and my girls' softball coach told us to be careful that we weren't "throwing like girls." And I marched for the time at an internship when a supervisor told me that if I wanted to have a good career, I'd better hurry up because soon I'd be having kids and my chance would be gone.
I marched for my mother, who is one of the strongest, most determined women I know. And I marched for her mother, a Chinese immigrant who fled a war and crossed an ocean for the chance at another life.
I marched for all the books I want to write about sisters who burn the world for each other. I marched for all the many times my sisters burned the world for me.
I'll be the first to admit that I have had very little hope over the past year, but I guess you never realize that stepping out with nothing but a prayer and maybe also a spray-glued sign is the only thing to do when you have no hope—until the day comes when you have no hope.
So I marched to acknowledge the close of a very broken and beautiful chapter and the opening of a new one, in the hope that one day, I might look back and know that there was another turning point in there somewhere.