The work isn’t shiny, it isn’t pretty. The work will not always generate headlines or be a quotable 140 characters that engages your followers. It will not be on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. But the work is real, it is necessary, and the time is now.
The work is on the ground, it is rooted in the grass at our feet and in the collective power of women who are not new to the marginalization caused by systematic sexism, racism, and class discrimination: Black women who have been fighting for reproductive justice in the South for decades but who still do not have health insurance themselves; undocumented women who advocate for all women’s access to public supports but who are not eligible for assistance in their own states; Native women who have sacrificed their bodies to protect sacred ground.
These women may not have come to Washington, DC in January either by circumstance or choice, but they are the ones who we need to follow, support, and amplify as we march, walk, and run into a new era for women and their communities. These women - these heroes - are whom we should be investing our time, money, and energy towards.
The challenge of the next four years is not just how we respond to our new president and administration but how we show that we totally and unequivocally trust these women to lead this fight.
This requires each of us to commit to stepping out of our own comfort zones, to commit to being just a little uncomfortable in how we think, live, and open the doors for others. It is as simple as asking ourselves: “Where are we willing to go?”
Will we simply go to our own backyards, to places of safety and security among our friends, our existing allies, or will we go where we are needed the most? Will we go to the fields of North Dakota, to the streets of Flint? Will we join and invest in our sisters and brothers who are struggling beneath the weight of historic oppression, those who have few allies and are in the most need of hope?
The Freedom Riders of the 1960s hailed from more than a dozen different states, but they went to the sites of conflict and changed our country forever. They disrupted the status quo. It is simply not enough in this moment for those of us who live in comfortably progressive states to be satisfied with policy wins in our communities (and to be sure, there are many to be had in the coming years). We must extend ourselves beyond the confines of confirmation bias.
We have been losing the fight for equality on the state and local levels for a long time.
As we take a step forward in some (traditionally “blue”) states, we take two steps backward in others. More and more states are introducing - and passing - legislation not only undermining women’s access to abortion but criminalizing it. Conservative political forces now hold 33 state gubernatorial offices. That is enough, if united with their legislatures, to propose amendments to our country’s Constitution.
In spite of this - indeed, perhaps because of this - there is reason to hope. Ballot measures to raise the minimum wage won in every state that they were on the ballot in 2016. So let us not back down from pushing for proactive policies in the states with the most obstinate legislatures.
In fact, let’s double down on what we know works. Let us go to the states with the most hostile environments for women and demand it. The people deserve the opportunity to vote for change; we know best what our communities need.
Committing to being uncomfortable also means understanding that this movement is for everyone, for those who marched and those who did not march, for those who stood with you and against you, for those who voted with you and those who did not. The ideals and values of equality do not exclude those whose vision and beliefs are different from ours. We must fight for us all.
As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said “It took 72 years to establish women’s rights by law, and every one was a struggle against ignorant opposition.” We cannot back now, nor can we allow progress to backslide. We will not go back.
Teresa Younger is President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women