First published in The National, 23 Jan 2017
I SAW a sign yesterday that said “feminism – back by popular demand”, and I laughed. There was much needed laughter yesterday at the Edinburgh Women’s march. He actually did it: POTUS the gropey, reality TV star and angry tweeter is the elected leader of the free world. So it goes.
When I looked down Regent Street, I saw a singing sea of pink, pointy ears. Men and women in pussy hats knitted especially for the occasion. People of all ages had come together to argue for the inalienable rights of women. On my way to the march, I had two conversations with men who told me there was no reason to go, and that Trump really isn’t that bad. I suppose that rather depends on what you mean by bad. Bad followed by a full-stop has the tendency to reduce an idea to a primary school connotations. Does he breathe fire, and snack on infants between meals? No. To really get beyond the caricaturing that comes from just ‘bad’, you have to expand the definition. Bad for who? Bad for what? Bad because of? When you add a few words you make the discussion a lot more productive and interesting.
Of course, I didn’t say this in the taxi. I gave a watered down version of the 1,600 words I’d written to say to the crowd. I was all the while aware of how the wrong combination of verbs, nouns and adjectives could make for an unpleasant journey. There’s nothing worse than being locked in for a rant in moving traffic that you have to pay for – forgetting to deploy the social filter has inspired that scenario one too many times. An expensive lesson in the need for backseat diplomacy.
The fact that I was going to the women’s march was enough to provoke a line of enquiry I’ve heard many times over. Hark! Another virtue-signalling SJW snowflake! Why bother?
The fact that a woman in a western country, with a house and a job, access to healthcare and all the perks of a functioning democracy would want to make a banner and go stand in a street still mystifies some. I did my best to explain it to my taxi driver (which I find to be a great opportunity to try and distill an opinion to its base elements for quick delivery) and I’ll attempt to do the same here. I couldn’t have known, but an hour or so later I’d hear a woman say the very thing I was grasping for during that journey. “I don’t know how to begin to explain to you that you should care about other people.”
So. Why do we march? The short answer is because we still have to. In fact, I could give you lots of short answers. Roe v Wade. The defunding of Planned Parenthood. The repeal of Obamacare. North Carolina’s HB 2 bathroom bill. Racist policing and the mass incarceration of black men. The potential threat to marriage equality. Any one of these short answers is worthy of making noise about. But short answers rarely satisfy curiosity or carry the gravity needed to convince the enquirer, so I’ll expand that somewhat.
I’ll get this out of the way first: it wasn’t just about Trump. We didn’t march in our hundreds of thousands around the world just because we dislike him. Of course we dislike him, but again, that idea is too simple. Trump was the catalyst, but it’s not an objection to solely the man, but what he signifies. Dishonesty. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Ableism. Homophobia. You could keep going with the isms ad infinitum. Ideologies that hurt a lot of people who aren’t like Trump. Ideas that are called different things in the Trump playbook and offered to fed-up people as a solution to their malaise. Ideas that won’t be fenced in by America’s borders. He’s a disease vector for a social sickness that makes you believe some people are better than others. I hear it’s going around right now. Seemingly healthy states are particularly vulnerable.
So we gather in our multitudes with our homemade signs and our protest songs to remind one another and other people that these things still exist and some people in the world right now are making these things worse. We gather to acknowledge that there are people living through this stuff and we know it’s difficult. We gather to show that we’ll do what we can to inoculate our own country from these things. We gather to show we recognise that when things get better for some they often get worse for others.
“But it’s not our problem. Scotland has enough problems of its own.” It sure does. But we’ve not elected a capricious demagogue who bends the truth faster than Uri Geller bends spoons. We’ve not elected a leader whose words and actions have reinvigorated a racism and misogyny we hoped would be confined to the history books. Empathy and compassion aren’t finite resources. Nothing is made worse with the application of those two things. In short: we’re not going to be poorer for giving a shit about other people.
At the end of the rally, a gentleman in his 80s took the microphone. He spoke of war and how he watched the world fight off Hitler and Stalin, and that he knows we can do it again.
He perfectly captured my feelings when he said we march because we still have work to do, will march until there’s nothing left to march about, that we march for our own redundancy. If I have to proffer a pithy explanation of why, this is a pretty decent one.