By Bryna R. Campbell
On Saturday, I was at Portland’s Woman’s March. You can read more about that experience over at Smart Women Write (along with my colleagues’ experiences and perspectives from two other regional rallies around the country). There will come a time in which I also hope also talk more about the reasons that I march, and about how my feminism ties to my rural background. But that’s the kind of writing that needs more time for reflection. Instead in this post I want to focus on some of my broader thoughts on event – particularly as they relate to the themes of rural identity and communities that we often talk about here, and the relation between urban and rural/small town.
So without further adieu, here are a five takeaways.
1. As the media has highlighted, it’s remarkable that there were marches all over the world. It’s also remarkable that marches or rallies occurred in every region of the U.S., in big cities and smaller to mid-sized towns.
By now you’ve probably heard about the crowds at marches in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, and Los Angeles (and wow, LA, you deserve even more attention with 750,000 attendees, really truly!). But have you heard about the marches in smaller cities and towns like Springfield, Missouri (population 160,000), Morgantown, North Carolina (population 16,000), or tiny Longville, Minnesota (population 200)? There were also marches in Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska – part of the country place liberals often call “Palin country.” There were marches in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Jackson, Mississippi, and Witchita and Topeka, Kansas. Here’s a nice feature on other smallest towns like Carbondale, Colorado, and Twisp, Washington. Des Moines, Iowa, had approximately 26,000 marchers, which eclipsed the size of St. Louis, Missouri’s 20,000. My home state of Oregon included marches in smaller towns like Tillamook, Joseph, Coos Bay, and Bandon.
And that doesn’t even account for the virtual marchers – those like my mom, who lives in the middle of the country, far from a participating city, and who has health conditions that make it difficult to walk; or all the rebellious kids out there who have views different from their parents and aren’t allowed to march.
The point here is that even though this event began as a March on Washington, and even though the biggest turnout happened in bigger cities, we should be mindful that this was hardly a coastal or big city phenomenon.
2. When Obama said there is no red America or blue America he was right.
Do you remember the context of that speech, back in 2004, before the Democratic party at their convention that selected John Kerry as their candidate? It was in response to the conventional wisdom at the time that argued rural and urban Americans were living on different ideological planets. Here’s a key quote from that original speech that often sticks with me because of its enduring resonance:
“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.”
Just a couple months ago Obama reiterated the main points of that speech in a series of interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates, where he again highlighted points of similarity between himself and the more rural constituents he represented in Illinois as a senator.
The narrative of two separate Americas has been popping up a lot recently (by news organizations and on social media) as way to explain the rise of Trump. Now obviously, more rural people voted for Trump than for Clinton, and more urban people voted the opposite.
But the vastness of the Woman’s March on Saturday demonstrates on spectacular, bodily terms, that the notion of an impenetrable red sea of Trumpism is overly simplistic. Peppering those regions are people who don’t agree with what Trump’s narcissism, his bullying, and the values his policies represent. In the Rust Belt. In the South. In Palin Country. In Cheney land.
3. The divisive narratives of two distant Americas is not only simplistic; its impeding on social progress.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the rural midwest. Maybe it’s because I talk regularly to parents who live there and who did not vote for Trump. Maybe its because I also attended college at a small town where the full spectrum of political views was present. Or maybe its because I’m the kind of person who tends to be skeptical of any kind of over simplification – but even before this march I’d grown a bit tired of the talk of two Americas, and the related debates about who or who was not living in some kind of “bubble.” In a post we wrote in December, I noted that such a narrative ignores the flow between these two regions for various reasons, and the attendant complexities the divisive narrative misses.
But the construct of two Americas also downplays the diversity of views and social justice activisms within these regions. So let’s take the example of the little town of Longville, Minnesota that I mentioned. That marches started with one determined former librarian who was able to marshall 66 people together. That’s 66 people in a town of 200. That’s HUGE!
I’m not trying to say that there aren’t divisions. And I’m not trying to say that no one in rural parts of this country are ignorant. But ignorance is everywhere. So is tenacity. So is kindness, and thoughtfulness, and bravery too. I, for one, am hella impressed with the various versions of that librarian who came out to the march in those smaller towns, using their bodies to say “look at us, we are here!”
There’s another danger with the simplistic logic of two Americas. It’s far too easy to exploit for selfish ends. I don’t think I have to go into much detail as to how this happens, but when you listen to Trump’s speeches, note how he summons images of places (inner cities, bombed out factories) to define his terms.
4. The volume of marchers and breadth of locations indicates a coalition of individuals with a wide ranging set of concerns.
There’s been a lot of attention in the media – both before and after the march – to the ways the women’s marches around this country engage with what is known as “intersectionality.” This is a term that is used to attend to the intersection of identities that can make priorities and concerns differ, and thus make the bigger questions about social justice quite complex. These discussions are important and good, tough as they might be. They require listening and humility. They are the messy gorgeous work that happens in democracies. And they are some of the most visible signs of how complex the issues around gender equality are.
It is also worth our time to consider how the concerns around equality differ between those living in large cities and small towns – particularly those who live in towns in red states. Many, but not all, of the locations where marches occurred were in college towns, where concerns particular to teenagers, professors, and young people likely take priority (these include, but are not limited to, issues of campus sexual assault). But then again, in some smaller towns, marchers may have come out of compassion for others. Or simply to respond to a president who has regularly diminished and objectified women, saying, “I matter as a human being.”
I am hesitant to bring up one of the most controversial aspects of the Women’s march – abortion, and whether or not there’s space in the movement for both sides of the issue around choice – partly because I don’t want to misrepresent either side of the divide. But this is another tension within the broader coalition that must be acknowledged. This essay at Vox by Emily Crockett does a good job of laying out the tensions, including some of the different views within the pro-life movement itself. But to side step these tensions for a minute, I am hopeful. I am encouraged by the very fact that people on both sides of this contentious issue share concern about other issues related to gender equality is also important as well. And that’s not nothing.
5. There’s lots of good in this world.
I don’t have much to say on this topic. I just wanted to say it, because I feel like it needs to be said over and over again. Because that’s not nothing either. Not even close.