As children, we learn by example. When I was a very young , I saw my mom as a teacher, an athlete, a wife, a friend. A person passionate about playing music, painting, drawing, and doing ceramics. As I grew older, I saw a change in her. I learned more about her, some good, most not, yet she was still my example.
I grew to see a woman who had chronic pain because she had polio as a child. She had spent six months in a full body cast when she was 12, as an attempt to prevent her spine from getting any more crooked than it already had, but it didn’t really help. It did, however, give someone close to the family an opportunity to molest her because she couldn’t run away, and she was so afraid to tell anyone that she kept it a secret for most of her life. The disability polio caused gave her so much physical pain as she aged that eventually she gave up on tennis, volleyball, and basically any physical activity she loved. I saw a woman who then tried to focus her creativity into helping others with disabilities by working in a public school district where she made games to teach disabled kids motor skills, problem solving skills, and confidence. Eventually, she stopped doing that as well because she allowed the man she married to make her feel bad about herself, both physically and emotionally, and as a result, she lost her confidence. Instead of doing things she loved to do, she turned to alcohol to numb her pain.
By the time I was a teenager, my father had decided my mom needed to get a job to help support the family. Since my mom had now lost her desire to do anything creative, she applied for and was accepted to have a job as a bank teller. Just a week into it, her back hurt too much from standing all day, so she asked her boss if she could sit on a stool. I remember my mom coming home day after day, crying because of her pain and upset that her boss not only refused to let her use a stool, but constantly made fun of her for needing one. The other employees made her feel bad for thinking she should be given “special treatment.” Her boss eventually gave her a stool to use only when there were no customers in the bank (which wasn’t very often) and after a few months, she gave up and quit. My dad only added to her pain and grief by how he treated her at home, and so she chose alcohol to deal with it and a few years later, she died as a result of the excessive use.
As was my example, I, too, chose not to say anything when a person close to our family molested me. I, too, allowed a man (my father) to hit me until one day when I was 15, as he was hitting me with a belt and yelling that I *WILL* respect him, finally stopping when I told him respect was earned, and that I will be talking to his pastor (Yep, church-goer, wife abuser and child abuser) about this. I had stood up for myself, and the abuse at his hand ended. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure out emotional abuse was also a thing and went on to date (and marry and then divorce) a man who called me a shit head and an idiot, punched (and shattered) his car windshield once when he got mad at me, and moved me as far away from any family/friend support I had so I would only have him to rely on. During those six years of allowing this to happen, I had also been too afraid to stand up to employers who had sexually harassed me, and I didn’t stand up for myself or others when any sort of other harassment or discrimination happened to me or anyone around me.
The example set by my mom had started out strong: do what you love, teach, learn, inspire, be a friend. Along the way, the examples (although awful at times) were still teaching moments. I knew I needed to get away from the abusive man I married, and so I did. I knew I needed to find healthcare (over 18 so not on parent insurance anymore) so I went to Planned Parenthood for the basics, eventually signing up for government funded health insurance in my early 20s to cover myself and my kids, and I put myself through school with the help of government financial assistance. During those years, I saw people of all races and religious backgrounds needing the exact same help I needed, and so I helped them whenever I could. We all needed help from our government to survive because for one reason or another, that’s where we were in life. I got my education and career, which helped me build my confidence. I married a man who loved me and my children, and so we built a life together, able to afford health insurance, own a home, and plan for our retirement. The basic things most people in life should be able to achieve if that’s their goal, and if given the chance. But now it’s looking more and more like those chances aren’t going to be given.
This past November, America chose to elect a man to be our president who has no experience in politics. What he does have is a long history of physically and emotionally abusing women and of openly mocking a person with a disability. He bullies, threatens, and insults anyone who doesn’t go along with his actions. He spent 5 of the last 8 years trying to de-legitamize our current president by saying he wasn’t born here because of the color of his skin and his middle name, and he has generalized people of other races/religions (who aren’t white and Christian) as either being terrorists, rapists or criminals. And on top of it all, he either laughs it off when confronted about any of this or flat out denies any of these things ever happened, despite the evidence to prove otherwise. Even though I didn’t vote for him, I have accepted that he will be our next president. Acceptance of the position a person is in does not automatically equate support and respect, though. It was a tough lesson for me years ago, but I figured it out. It isn’t easy for a lot of people who have endured their own life experiences to just support and respect a man who has done nothing to earn it. As a leader, he should be an example of unity, honesty, kindness and respect, and yet he has shown none of that.
As many prepare to face the horrific choices this president (and those he’s appointing to work with him) is already making in regards to health care access and coverage, and overall basic common human decency and equality, I will be gathering this Saturday in Los Angeles, along with hundreds of thousands of others across our nation, for a peaceful march. No, I am not protesting the man who won the election. What’s done is done. What I am doing is supporting the rights of everyone to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. I am supporting the right to choose what’s best for ourselves, not the rights the government has now decided they want for people by taking away what’s already been fought so hard to be given. I will walk for myself, and for my mom, alongside others as the example I wish I’d had my whole childhood: one who doesn’t accept bullying, assault, or discrimination regardless of race, religion, sex, financial status, or disability. One who just wants the right to be treated as an equal, to be treated as a fellow human, because the example that will be inaugurated this Friday is not the example future generations need.