Charlottesville, VA: A Symptom, Not the Root

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Two and a half months ago, my husband (A) and I were sitting in our car one block from the Historic Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA when we saw a group of people walk across the road and into Emancipation Park.  We could tell it was a protest of some kind.  Grabbing our things, we jumped out of the car and ran to see what was happening.  Little did we know the gravity of events that would occur such a short time later in the exact same spot.

I have so many words, thoughts, and feelings about what happened on Saturday, August 13, 2017.  Anger, sadness, disbelief, and incredulity are a few of them.  I have read countless articles, scrolled through Facebook far too much, and engaged in deep conversation about the events with A.

What makes my blood boil is the inconsistency of people.  Numerous first-hand accounts confirm the counter-protesters fought back in self-defense…yet so many choose to believe the contrary.  They condemn violence “on all sides”, as if what happened was equally evil.  Violence is not equal.  In the case of Charlottesville, videos and individuals’ stories line up—the police stood back.  They did not engage like they would have if a Black Lives Matter protest had turned violent.  People did not die at the hands of police like they might if the groups had been filled with black and brown people.  Yet, some still insist that the counter-protesters were the instigators.  Of course, when the nation’s own president takes 48 hours to denounce the racist groups and their violence by name…it makes a bit more sense why so many refuse to condemn them.

People continue to defend Donald Trump, claiming he is not the reason these violent and racist events are occurring with rising frequency…yet statistics show that in the past two years, since he declared his candidacy for president, that racist crimes and actions have risen (here is a report citing incidents since Trump’s election).  That leads to the many who don’t understand the root of this problem (because it’s not DT).  They claim the decisions to take down Confederate monuments is starting these riots, but that is only a symptom—a side effect—of a centuries long problem called racism and white supremacy.  People are taking a stand and saying these monuments do not belong in our town squares and in front of government buildings, places of honor and recognition.  They need to go in a museum, as a relic of the past mistakes the United States made in allowing white people to lord over black people, as masters and murderers.

I have often asked myself how I would have responded to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany.  Then, I wondered if I would have joined the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Now, I no longer have to wonder: I am part of the movement to the fight against racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, ethnocentrism, and much more.  It is wrong.  There is no place for it if we are going to love each other.

What keeps running through my mind is: if we love others and desire change/equality/etc., we must be willing to sacrifice our preferences, desires, and privileges.  Without sacrifice, our selfishness and pride will prevail, and hatred, violence, and death will continue.  Therefore, if we believe love must win, it means putting ourselves in the shoes of others and thinking about their experiences, their history, and their lives and asking ourselves how ________ will affect them.  It means placing someone else above ourselves…especially when we (white people) are holding the flag of privilege.

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Was the Women’s March Truly for All Women?

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Some time has passed.  Let’s talk about The Women’s March and some connecting issues:

I was stunned by the people who said they could not support the Women’s March because of the pro-choice stance—not because of my views on abortion, but because I had not heard dissent for that issue (except for the feminist pro-life group’s removal from the list of event partners) and had not even considered it as a key component of the peaceful protests taking place on January 21, 2017.  However, since reading the first person’s perspective on the topic, it has been running through my head, touching on arguments for and against and trying to reconcile it all—as well as great frustration that one issue could cause people to throw out an entire cause.

When I first heard about the planned marches, I was excited about women (and others) joining together to protest a president who speaks of women with disdain, openly brags about his affairs, and even jokes about grabbing a woman by her “pussy”—none of which is acceptable for a human being to do, let alone a leader.  Additionally, the protests would draw attention to and advocate against the perpetuation of inequality in the United States towards women, LGBTQIA, and minority races and groups, as well as promoting healthcare access, stopping police violence, improving the justice system and incarceration flaws, and much more.

As I believe in the importance of education prior to establishing an opinion, I read many views from women about the protests, articles, and the official statement of Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles from The Women’s March.  I weighed my own (evolving) views on the issues of anti- and pro- abortion, but still my frustration grew.

On both sides there is rigidity emanating from certain pockets of perspectives: on the left some tout open-mindedness to ideologies until they bump into one on which they disagree and then they bash them.  On the right, some hold so tightly to their views that they sacrifice even possibly changing someone’s perspective because of their dogmatic approach.  Both groups sabotage their own cause.

Truthfully, I understood the frustration certain women felt who support many (if not all other) causes outlined by the Women’s March on Washington with the exception of pro-choice ideologies—feeling shunned by a force that speaks to inclusivity and diversity because they disagreed on one issue, rather than being welcomed despite the subject of disagreement, is disheartening.  However, I disagree with the decision to remove support from the protests based on a difference of opinion on the matter of abortion.

Bridges can never be built if people constantly choose offense.  This is what happens all too frequently—one side does something and the other side chooses to react by boycotting and solidifying their perspective even more (does Target at Christmastime ring a bell?).  This is a dangerous practice because it does not allow people to grow and change over time, nor does it allow people to live in peace and respect even while disagreeing.

Imagine if all those who said, “I can’t support this because of those marching who are pro-choice” or “Pro-life women were excluded from the event” had chosen to go to a protest, post support on social media, or some other outward show DESPITE the decision made by some committee somewhere—what might have happened?  Perhaps those who do actually have it out for pro-life people might have recognized who was choosing the high road.  Maybe conversations could have taken place causing a formerly rigid pro-life supporter to take a more understanding approach to the plight in which some women find themselves, causing them to look to abortion.  The possibilities are endless.

But, instead, women started stating that the millions marching didn’t represent them.  They claimed they are over feminism.  They said they couldn’t support any of it because of one (already legal) issue.

The cause—those marches—was about so much more than whether or not abortion is right.  This cause was to support women and humans everywhere against oppression, inequality, and injustice.  It’s about supporting each other rather than tearing each other down.  The people who claim they are over feminism can pretend everything is “okay” because of the millions of women who have fought for decades for their rights.

Women everywhere are facing the possibility of their affordable and accessible birth control being taken away because of a womanizing president.  Black and brown people are looking at an even more empowered police force and greater potential for violence because of a white, privileged man sitting in the White House. Immigrants are fearing deportation from a country whose Statue of Liberty welcomes “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  There are so many issues that affect the sanctity and preservation of life beyond the uterus.  In fact, consider how all these other causes will impact the lives of the unborn once they enter the world as contributing human beings.

In the wake of a monumental and beautiful outpouring of support around the country and the world, I am thankful for the millions who came out to show their support for the causes listed by the Women’s March on Washington committee.  I’m thrilled that so many were able to participate.  For those who chose to rise above disagreements on certain issues, I applaud you.  For those who felt they couldn’t get behind a cause that included pro-choice ideologies—I encourage you to consider seeking ways you can support this cause in a capacity that doesn’t compromise your beliefs so that greater good can be achieved.

Building bridges takes effort—choosing to love and show understanding for fellow humans is a greater calling than self-righteous indignation—which only builds walls.  And we have enough walls.

Fashion and Aleppo: Let’s Make a Difference

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John Lennon famously wrote “Imagine” during a tumultuous time in the world.  However, based on the essence of what it is to be human, I argue that it is always a tumultuous time in the world—some simply more than others.

The other morning, while scrolling through Instagram, I finally saw celebrities speaking out against the violence in Aleppo, Syria.  However, long before the Anne Hathaways and Kaley Cuocos of Hollywood started speaking out, my newsfeed was filled with sorrow and love for the tragedy and people affected.  For those in the Raleigh, NC area, many were actively working to raise funds and supplies in one day for a family arrived directly from Syria.  The outpouring did not disappoint.

On this particular day, after seeing an image of the rubble in Aleppo, I was greeted with a lovely and artistic image from Dior.  The contrast struck me, and once again I found myself waffling between my love of people and desire to see the world change and my love of the fashion world—especially when clothing and accessories seem so frivolous in the face of children and adults senselessly dying.

For context, let me share what first inspired me to pursue journalism.  I read the April 2011 Vogue story by journalist Marisa Mazria Katz who went to Morocco to teach impoverished youth how to tell their stories, and felt called to do the same—write for the sake of truth and justice.  However, it impressed me that a magazine known for fashion was the carrier of such inspiration.  That was the beginning of my exploration and love of the many fascinating and, at times, controversial articles published by Vogue—a giant in the fashion industry.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed many conversations in which I was able to share why I believe it’s important to not overlook avenues that may seem unorthodox when it comes to impacting humanity—which brings me to that morning.

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Imagine…what the fashion industry could do if it took a real stand against “the lions of injustice”.  These are not separate realms, one being frivolous style and another being heart-wrenching deaths of people unaffected by fashion.  Yes, one certainly outweighs the other, but terror does not discriminate based on the brand sewn into ones clothing.  But, money does play a role in when and how quickly one can attempt to evade the horrors to which so many are currently subjected.  (In fact, many of the country’s wealthiest have fled Syria to surrounding countries, and, according to Bloomberg, could even play a role in rebuilding the nation if peace could be attained.)

Of the five countries that border Syria, four of them have Christian Dior boutiques.  Why is this relevant?  Because it shows that contrary to the way many view the East, the same brands that don the cat walk in Paris are bought and worn there, as well.  Consequently, what happens in these countries impacts the companies that reside and profit within each border.  Therefore, as the adage goes, “money talks.”

If we believe that money does, in fact, talk, imagine what could happen if the multi-billion dollar fashion industry halted all preparations that are currently underway for Spring Fashion Weeks and said nothing would move forward until fighting ceases and peace is attained in the region?

Imagine what could happen if consumers boycotted buying clothes, accessories, beauty products, and more until people start engaging and speaking out against the atrocities happening?  As individuals, we hold far more power than we realize—especially when we come together to work for a cause.  In this case, the lives of humans suffering at the hands of fellow humans.  As stated above: money talks.  The people who have money are connected and influence each other.  If that money flow is stopped because people are upset and want change, something is going to happen.

Syria is not the only country impacted by the war—many others have contributed by providing militarization, supplies, weapons, etc. to both the government and the rebel army.  These countries are wealthy, enjoy the profits of the companies that reside within them, and would hurt economically if the fashion world decided to shut everything down until progress towards peace is made—and if the consumers stopped consuming.

The problem is: it requires sacrifice.  Money will be lost.  It will hurt.  But, isn’t sacrifice necessary to properly fight against the powers that want to oppress and terrorize humanity?  This overview of the civil war by Al Jazeera makes it clear that people protesting against injustice was not tolerated, thus leading to the past five years of fighting.  However, if the rest of world rallied and said, “we will go without until justice is served and peace reinstated”, the shockwaves would go out, corporations would feel the pain, whole cities and countries would know how serious the world is about no longer tolerating such actions.

The question is: are people willing to go without in order to fight for something greater than themselves?  Are they willing to go beyond posting on social media and stop shopping?  Are they willing to give and open up themselves, their communities, and even their homes to help those with less?

I’m asking myself these same questions.  What am I willing to give up to help other people?  I’m reminded of my great-grandparents who took in a young Hungarian refugee family after WWII.  Am I willing and/or able to open my home to strangers?  If I can’t, am I willing to send funds, supplies, or help coordinate assistance to those suffering and in need?  Am I willing to forego buying from entities that refuse to stand up against tyranny and instead profit off places supporting suppression of expression of beliefs and values?

I hope I can say “yes” and act.  I want to challenge myself and you to know what is being supported by the purchases we make and the things we do…beyond the square of Instagram.