THE BLOG
11/22/2016 11:50 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2017

The Battle For Our Uteri Rages On!

MARTIN BUREAU via Getty Images

"You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." -- Angela Davis

When I was 6 years old, my parents took me to my first public protest. Nearly 20,000 of us encircled the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant near my home, where plutonium and other dangerous chemicals were seeping into our soil and water. I felt the power in coming together with strangers, clasping hands and raising collective voices in opposition to an obvious wrong. Our symbolic action was seen around the world and signaled the beginning of the end for Rocky Flats.

That was also the year that my 6-year-old body was touched inappropriately by a male, hurling my life down a path of shame, self-blame, insecurity and, eventually, a fierce mandate to protect girls by forwarding women's human rights globally.

Throughout my 20s, I was fortunate to work with an international network of activists and philanthropists responding to the needs of women on the ground in conflict zones. Along the way, I was astonished and humbled by the capacity of women to resist violence and transform systems of oppression in effective ways, even during the onslaught of war. From Uganda to Colombia to Afghanistan, I witnessed women employ their intellect, scant resources, creativity and their bodies while standing up to tyranny and shifting the pages of history. These are the women I look to when organizing and mobilizing for change within the U.S.

I grew up in the shadow of our nation's great uprisings, when a quarter of a million people marched on Washington for civil rights and racial justice with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and two years later, when a quarter of a million people marched on Washington to protest America's involvement in the Vietnam War. But I was also unknowingly standing on the invisible shoulders of the original marchers on Washington: the five thousand Suffragettes who bravely met President Woodrow Wilson outside the White House, as he was sworn into office in 1913. He had not championed their cause during his campaign, they still did not have the right to vote, and they marched to send a bold message to the nation that they were not going anywhere until they got it.

I've often wondered what it would take for American women to truly come together over our collective rights, and after last week's crushing defeat, due in large part to white women voters, I'm left dumbfounded. I will admit, I naïvely thought it would be a trouncing in favor of Secretary Clinton. I had a lot of faith in all women and I was let down by the fairest, most advantaged amongst us. I assumed they would vote in their best interests, regardless of what their fathers, husbands or brothers said. I assumed that equal pay and paid family leave were all it was going to take once they were alone with their ballot. When audiotape emerged of Trump bragging about the ways he likes to sexually assault women, I assumed they would be as offended and outraged as I was. My privilege and carefully filtered news feeds became my blinders, and you know what they say about people who make assumptions...

And, to be clear, I let you down, too. By not reaching out more in person, by hiding incendiary Facebook posts rather than engaging in difficult debate, by surrounding myself with like-minded people, I let myself believe we'd come much farther than we have.

But the truth is, many well-known white Suffragettes were outspoken racists, and the Western feminist movement has, at times, depended upon and propagated racist, oppressive systems. And that has contributed to our global movement's failure. So this time, now that we've gone and messed up the entire world, we white women must listen to what women of color are saying first. For they, as Alice Walker reminds us, have been living under an American Dictatorship for four hundred years. And then we dig-in and do our work at home changing minds and hearts. No excuses.

As writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said so eloquently this week, "Every system of oppression has people who are in the group of the oppressed, who have somehow contributed to their own oppression." After all, lest we've forgotten, there were a lot of women throwing stones at the Suffragettes who dared to try and vote.

On Election Day, I was added to the "secret Facebook group" Pantsuit Nation. The group garnered more than 3 million members, hundred's of thousands of them posting pictures in their fiercest pantsuits, voting with their sons and daughters, swelling with pride to finally tick a box for President Of The United States with a woman's name on top. By Thursday, the feed was full of heartache and fear and disbelief. Within hours of the results, members began posting about hate crimes and harassment they were experiencing, both in public and within their family systems. They posted about paralyzing fear for their futures and that of their children. But then came an incredible twist. Each teary, terrified post was met with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments offering solidarity, further connection and invites to safe Thanksgiving dinners. As someone who wrote favorably about Secretary Clinton this year, I can attest that a safe place on the Internet can feel just as soothing to your psyche as a real safe space.

In the days after the upset, we collectively howled our dissent through our keyboards, witnessed each others' overwhelming pain, and then, slowly, we began to organize...to establish offline support systems, to share ways to boycott Trump with our purchasing power, to form a Pantsuit Nation Super PAC, to write Hillary a massive thank you letter...and to call for yet another march on Washington. I haven't seen organizing like that since working in war zones and it carried me through some dark, pessimistic days last week.

So here is my truth: Encircling Rocky Flats taught my 6-year-old heart that large-scale, symbolic protests do create real change. From women organizing on the front lines of war, I understand that sometimes you have to be willing to put your body in the path of oppression and refuse to remain silent, even if you've never seen yourself as an activist before. From the results of this election, I was reminded that as a white, American woman I have a unique responsibility to reach out to, awaken and educate other white American women on the dangers of legislating misogyny and hate. And from Pantsuit Nation, I learned how numerous and organized progressive American women can be...and if too many of us were sleeping last week, we are wide-awake now.

On January 21, 2017, I will join hundreds of thousands -- millions? -- of women (and men and families) for another historic March For Women in Washington, D.C. One hundred and four years after our first women's march, we will greet another openly sexist President, on his first day in office. At stake? Nothing short of control over what happens inside our own bodies and equal protection under the law.

Instead of donning our inauguration heels, we will strap on our marching boots once more and, arm-in-arm, we will chant and sing and mobilize against archaic policies that seek to take away our reproductive agency and undermine our equality. We will meet that multi-headed dragon face on, day one, look directly into its eyes and demand that women's fundamental rights are acknowledged and protected...because one thing is crystal clear, we are NEVER... EVER... going backwards on our long march to equality.

The rising tide of social change doesn't care what happened at the voting booths, nor if the Electoral College betrays our democracy, nor how many women sided with Trump in 2016. We have seen dozens of men come and go from the Oval Office and we are still marching. And though it may feel like a setback to have to keep demanding the very basic right to decide what happens inside our individual uteri -- a fight perhaps as old as civilization itself -- the good news is that we are swimming in very familiar waters. And if you need immediate inspiration, look no further than the women's movement in Poland, who recently took to the streets, shut down a major metropolis and effectively stopped a proposal for a complete ban on all abortion services.

It would take another seven years for the Suffragettes to secure the vote in 1920, another six years for Rocky Flats to be forcibly shut down in 1989, and it may take another eight years to remove the incoming Misogynists from office. But I'm in it for the long haul, and I now know millions of American women are too and that's a starting point we can build upon. And if you still think "change" looks like the white, Christian people moving into the White House, we've got a rude-awakening for you. Because real change is also Brown and Black; it's Undocumented, Indigenous and Queer; it's Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist... and it's coming to their front door.

Oh, and I'm bringing my 6-year-old daughter with me. To show her that sometimes we can and must all come together and use our bodies and our collective voice to stand against an obvious wrong, the same way my parents showed me 34 years ago. And because of Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre, the suffragette who convinced her own father that he was standing on the wrong side of history, leading him to eventually remark, "I deem it one of the greatest honors of my life, that this great event [ratification of the 19th Amendment], so stoutly fought for, for so many years, should have occurred during the period of my administration."

So this is my call to action... and if someone shared it with you then it is also their call to action... and if you choose to share it with others, then it becomes your call to action.

Women from every corner of this imperfect union, along with all the men and children willing and able to stand up for our equal rights, it's time to send the entire world a loud, raging, rainbow-colored message that they can't possibly silence.

See you on the streets!
Kiri Westby
Changemaker/Rulebreaker/Storyteller
www.kiriwestby.com