In immediate response to President Trump’s inauguration, the Women's March descended upon cities around the world in defense of the idealized democratic principle of equality for all individuals. Yelling over the millions of voices united are dissenters who fail to see the purpose in protesting Trump’s executive power.
In their words and inaction, they imply that we live in a post-civil rights era where tribal rights, women’s rights, environmental rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and minority rights can be shelved and potentially regress. They defend their vote as reflecting their stance on one thing and one thing only. The economy. ISIS. The border. Abortion. The right to bear arms. They believe that the anti-Trump side should accept defeat and that rallies and protests are petty, futile, and offensive to the new regime.
And they are entitled to those beliefs.
But racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, classism, Islamophobia—and all pervasive forms of discrimination in our country—were undeniably present this election cycle. The decision, even the sheer ability, to vote based on a singular, partisan issue reflects a wealth of racial, economic, and social privilege that has been normalized for generations. When our politicians and our media mock sanctuary campuses, discussions of white privilege, and activism for the plight of marginalized populations, they disgrace the legacy of the civil rights movement.
In the midst of this political climate, my fellow Americans and I have not just the right, but the responsibility to peacefully protest when we see hard-won civilian rights on the chopping block.
In the 1700s, racialization of Mexicans, Africans, Indians, and Asians created the white identity that enables three-fourths of our nation to reap the benefits of racial hierarchies today. My Italian and Irish ancestors leveraged their light complexions to evade discriminatory practices against immigrants; they avoided the shackles of slavery and indentured servitude by gaining access to the white identity that the English used as a condition for citizenship. The backs of enslaved black and brown individuals served as stepping-stones to the promised land of whiteness, power, and privilege.
Fast forward to 2017 and the legacy of early American racism, slavery, and discrimination still infiltrates our society. It exists in discriminatory labor, criminal justice, and housing practices as well as wealth, achievement, and wage gaps. Systemic discrimination and segregation have not ceased to exist in practice, even if abolished by law.
The intersection of race, gender, class, religion, and culture is inextricably woven into the system of power and oppression in our society. As a woman of low socioeconomic status, I’m at risk of losing my reproductive rights, healthcare, chance at earning an equal wage, financial aid, and more under the Trump administration. My whiteness, however, enables me to access a system of privilege that has been the backbone of our country since its beginning. And it is imperative that I use my relative privilege to be an advocate, voice, and ally for those more oppressed and disenfranchised than I.
Preceding the recent transition of power, the “wait and see” paradigm was invoked by those defending President Trump. In his first week in office, however, the new leader of the free world has passed executive orders on the Dakota Access Pipeline, abortion, immigrants, the Affordable Care Act, refugees, and more. This aggressive and, at times, unconstitutional use of executive power warrants a proactive approach from the American population.
We are fortunate to enjoy the privileges of being U.S. citizens, and as such, we might feel inclined to remain complacent in light of these changes if they do not directly impact us. However, we must not take our freedoms for granted. Rather, we must work to protect and expand our democratic values to all individuals, regardless of race, age, color, creed, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, sexual orientation, or ancestry.
Silence is the ultimate weapon of oppression. Speaking up and giving a voice to the voiceless—be it through marching, letter writing, or petition signing—is the only alternative.