When my daughter was baptized, she wore a dress made for my mother by my mother’s mother. As I held my tiny baby girl in that dress, with my mother at my side, I could feel my grandmother and great-grandmother standing beside me. Today, I felt their presence again. This time I also felt the invisible presence of my mother as well.
I spent some time today with a group of amazing women and men from around the globe. We listened to the stories of our sisters. Stories of violence and fear, stories that we needed to honor before we could begin to witness to the nightmare of violence that afflicts women daily. After hearing these stories, we went out and, in an unprecedented moment, stood with our arms linked to witness against gender based violence. Unprecedented because the United Nations is not generally willing to allow any type of demonstration across the street from its gates. And, unprecedented because this particular group of brothers and sisters may never physically stand together again, but we will always be standing together in our hearts.
As I stood with my brothers and sisters, I felt our mothers, and so many other women, who went before us as well. It was a moment of unity across time. We are united by many things, not the least is our hope for a better future for the women to follow us. My prayer is that hope will carry us forward, and will accelerate our work. There is a sense here that we have spent a lot of time and energy talking, strategizing, and negotiating. It is time for action! Yesterday the UN was closed due to weather, so we were forced to stop. It felt a little ironic that as we were poised for action and advocacy, we came to a halt. Ironic and symbolic of the pace for change on these important issues. We have worked for gender equality for many generations. Yet, while some progress has been made, it isn’t nearly enough. Women still earn an average of 23% less than men worldwide, and at the current rate of change it will be 70 years before the gap is closed. Women die daily from violence aimed at them because they are women, and because they advocate for change.
My goal is not to increase stress or panic, but rather to speak to hope. Hope is the message that my faith gives me. Hope for forward movement, and hope for increasing the pace of change. Panic tends to freeze us, stress can cause mistakes which can divide us.
Hope, on the other hand, brings people together. It helps us find unity and discover intersectionality. We find that we are more alike than different. Hope allows us to focus on how change can lead to a better future. Hope helps us find ways to work together. And hope helps us stay focused on the matter at hand. I find my hope in the, almost universal, sense that it is time for action. We need to maintain that sense for action and our hope; we must not allow ourselves to be distracted.
The women and men I was with today were there to find a way to make a difference. To work for meaningful change. They were reaching deep within themselves to find ways to focus our efforts, activate our intentions, and turn our words to actions. We need to make sure that the linking of our arms, our hearts, and our faith becomes more than just a moment frozen in time. There is danger to speaking without action. Eventually, our opponents figure out that we are just words, floating in the wind. Our potential allies see us as lacking convictions, just another uttered promise that has the substance of the mist on a field, the harsh sunlight of reality will just burn it off.
How do we take this beyond just a moment in time? What do we do next? Find your allies, talk to the women around you. Invite civil discourse. Learn all you can about the issues. Take the risk, and listen to the opposing view. Find out what makes your opponents tick. Talk to your representatives, flood their offices with letters, drown their computers with emails, and lock up their phone lines with calls. Go to council meetings, board meetings, rallies. Don’t travel in groups of like minded people, mix it up with the opposition. When attending meetings, spread out through the room. When you like what you hear, make sure that everyone in the room knows. Prep before attending meetings. Know the issue, know your position, and know the objections to your position. Ask the uncomfortable questions. And don’t stand down. And, every step you take, identify your allies. Figure out who agrees with you, but won’t take action. Figure out who agrees with you and will get to work, and help them find a way to help.
Don’t be afraid of your opposition. There will be plenty of opponents. Remember that not all of them have done their homework, not all of them know what you know. By having a civil conversation, discussing the facts, you may win some new allies. Respectfully hearing opposing views will help you more clearly articulate the issues. Use what you learn from the conversation to better inform your opinions. Use that knowledge to articulate your beliefs more clearly. And, if you find some truth in what they say, acknowledge it. As we come closer together, as we share conversation, we are closer to finding solutions if we are willing to be vulnerable. Our deepest held and most closely guarded truths can withstand the light, unless they are wrong. And then the light helps us find the path forward. If you find that you are getting uncomfortable with the conversation, disengage. But make sure that you aren’t becoming uncomfortable because you are afraid that your truth is wrong. If you suspect that your discomfort comes from having a deeply held belief uprooted, keep going. Uproot it. Remember that the truth can only set you free.
Pray, pray for action, pray for reconciliation, pray for the victims of violence, pray for the perpetrators. And pray for strength. It takes strength to act. It takes strength to take our faith into the world.
Remember your mothers, and your mothers’ mothers, and your mothers’ mothers’ mothers. Remember that this fight in which we engage is the same fight that they had. This is a fight that has existed for centuries. And, very likely, it will continue for some time to come. We are called to endeavor to move forward to the best of our abilities. To carry their banner forward through time. I don’t say this to kill hope, but to give hope. If we approach this as an end game, we are easily discouraged. Knowing we are continuing the noble fight of the women before us, gives us hope. We’ll see steps forward and steps backward. The hope comes from the relationships we build, the lives we touch, the hope we instill in the eyes of others. And relationships are what our lives are about, connecting with one another in meaningful ways. Inequity and hatred breaks relationships. And, that is why we advocate. To end the tyranny of inequity, to end hatred, and to build equality, to build relationships. And when we have linked our arms, taken our stand, and walked our paths, at the end there is love.
I stood for women whose voices need to be amplified. I stood for the girls of Chibok. I stood for victims of domestic violence. I stood for victims of rape. For the gay, the queer, the poor, the disabled, the indigenous, the marginalized who risk invisibility. I stood for my mother, for her mother, and for all the mothers who came before her. I stood for my daughter. I stood for the future. I stood for God. I stood for the truth.
I stood for my daughter.