Why I didn’t march this year

Last year, I went to the Pittsburgh version of the Women’s March on Washington after Greyhound failed to provide buses to D.C. (even though I’d bought my ticket a month in advance, and so had many of the other people left stranded in Pittsburgh). I knew there had been drama behind the scenes, where white women were putting black women down and calling them “divisive” for voicing concerns and opinions.

Another group (Black Femme Excellence Co.) held an intersectional march across town, but after being up until 2 a.m. waiting for a bus that never came, having a migraine, and having to rely on sketchy Sunday public transportation, I didn’t have it in me to take multiple buses to East Liberty.* The main Women’s March was just Downtown though, which is only a 10 to 15 minute bus ride from my house. That, I felt capable of doing. So I went, and I marched. I even made a stupid pink pussy hat in a misguided attempt to show solidarity.**

Found on Facebook. Will update if original creator is found. (Yes, it contains erroneous apostrophes. That’s not the point.)

In the moment, it felt important to make a statement. To do something. Anything. And I do believe protests are an important part of resisting right wing extremism. I hope, sincerely, that the statement made by last year’s (and this year’s) Pittsburgh’s Women’s March overshadows the behind-the-scenes bullshit. I hope that statement is ultimately one of inclusion and acceptance and love.

But this year, after the organizers showed more of the same behavior toward women of color, I couldn’t in good conscious be a part of it.

I don’t want to march behind people who tell black women to essentially shut up because they aren’t focusing on “important things.” I don’t want to march behind people who don’t listen when they get called out on their mistakes. I don’t want to march behind people who think it’s okay to exclude trans women and their experiences (and feelings) from the conversation.

Now, I’m not by any means saying that people who went to the march last year or this year think any of those things or have engaged in the same behaviors as the organizers. I wouldn’t have caught the same drama unfolding if not for my sharp network of badass feminist friends. I can even understand knowing all this and still feeling a need to go, to march, to demonstrate. I respect that. But I couldn’t do it, not this time around.

(Don’t get me started on the pink pussy hat some jackass put on a statue of Harriet Tubman in Harlem. Like, seriously?)

On Sunday, instead of marching, I worked on the 2017 VIDA Count, tallying bylines by gender and recording names so that we can send surveys for the Intersectional Count. I gave (a little) money directly to black mothers who needed the help. I cooked good food for myself and my partner. I told my friends I love them.

I will keep calling my senators and congressman. I will keep sending emails and filling out comment forms online. I will keep making art. I will keep resisting.

But I refuse to leave anyone behind while I do it.


*Chronic illness can really complicate activism. There’s an essay there. I’ll suss it out at some point when my head doesn’t hurt.

**There’s another essay about my feelings regarding pink pussy hats. Maybe next week?

 

The Pittsburgh Symphony

Last Friday night, under the threat of snow and ice, D.J. and I drove Downtown to attend the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s The Firebird, along with a flute concerto by Jacques Ibert.

I don’t know music. I know the names of instruments (most of them, most of the time), and I can recognize the names of the most famous classical composers. I could once read the notes floating across rows of parallel straight lines, interpret them in my own crude, slow way. I appreciate how music sounds, and I know when something displeases my ears. But I can’t listen to Mozart and Bach and tell you which is which. It’s been years (decades, really) since I’ve held an instrument, years since I attempted to make sense of those black dots with little flags.

So when we go to the Symphony, I find other ways of understanding.

First, there is the richness of Heinz hall, the crystal light scones sparkling with light. Then the sea of black-clad bodies on the stage warming up with their instruments, their notes discordant and scattered. When the lights dim and the conductor takes the stage, the chaos settles into harmony. The musicians sit, and the uniform blackness of their formal wear resolves into textures and shapes: a violinist in a crushed velvet skirt, another in a long dress with flowing sheer sleeves. Some dresses are a deeper black than others, some hang heavy on the wearer, some light and airy. Even the men’s tuxedos are different cuts and styles, some more traditional, some sharply modern.

The conductor, Juanjo Mena, holds up his baton, and everyone in the hall takes a breath, waiting. The music begins, and suddenly dozens of bodies move together. It’s easy to forget how physical music is when you only listen to recordings. The musicians lean in to their violins and clarinets and trombones, using their breath and their arms and their cores to coax that exact sound, at that exact pitch and tone, from their instruments. Together they weave a dream out of sound, something completely intangible but still distinctly felt in my body.

When flute soloist Lorna McGhee enters the stage, she creates sounds with the flute I did not know were possible. She takes the music high, low, soft, softer still, then rushing and tumbling. Her breath is audible, a powerful inhalation transformed into music that races around the hall, as if the notes are chasing each other. We aren’t close to the stage, but even from a distance I can see the muscles in her arms contract as she moves her fingers up and down the flute. Her body sways, setting her purple grown rippling. It is clear she feels the music deep in her soul, and although I don’t have a language to describe what I hear, she makes me feel it, too.

This is what flying must feel like to birds.

At the end of the concert, when the ordinary shuffle of shoes on carpet overtakes the last lingering musical vibrations, we rise from our seats, renewed. The world is ugly, yes, but it is also beautiful and surprising. I don’t know music, but I know art, and art exists beyond language. That, at least, I understand.

 

Sunset walk in the rain

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 76, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

The city always seems quieter in the rain, except for the cars splashing down the streets. Everything is hushed, subdued, like the rain is pushing it down, dampening it.

Last night we had no choice but to walk in a steady, post-thunderstorm shower. Our dogs needed to go out and we have no yard. Normally on our evening walks my husband, D.J., and I talk about our days, our plans, books we’re reading, New Yorker articles. Last night we walked in a comfortable silence. After a rough week migraine-wise for both of us, being together was enough; we didn’t have to say anything.

I listened to the soft, erratic plat, plat, plat, of heavy rain drops on the hood of my jacket. Through breaks in the clouds I could see the sky, still glowing with the last bits of sunlight, a smokey blue. Reflected light from downtown skyscrapers and street lamps illuminated the low-hanging clouds in a golden yellow. As we entered the park, I caught a glimpse of the sunset in the distance: deep orange and red on the western horizon, beyond the rain.

My 18-month-old German shepherd puppy bounded along the path, pouncing on a stick and carrying it proudly for awhile before abandoning it for another one. My Welsh corgi scampered in a straight line ahead of me, intent on walking, smelling, and marking her territory as much as possible.

Here was beauty — in the rain, the sunset, lights reflected in puddles — and here was love — my husband and dogs beside me. My head hurt, yes, but it didn’t matter. Like the city, the rain made my headache seem quieter, subdued. So I let the rain soak into me, pick up my worries and my fears, and carry them away.