One year ago today, I gave my son a soaring lecture while wearing a white pantsuit. He didn’t want to come with me to cast my vote. He whined and hid under the covers. What he got in return was an epic lecture. According to the official Facebook record it went something like this:
I just had a pull out all the stops with Souper Boy to explain to him why he had to suck it up and come with me to the polls today. Here were the highlights:
– Your grandmother risked her life, my life, and your uncle’s life to come to this country for a better life. It is our country now and it is our duty to stand up for our beliefs and values and vote.
– You came out of my belly–heck everyone came out of a woman’s belly. So you will come with me to support me, your mother, as well as your sister and all the other women in the world because without us you would not exist.
– I am wearing a pantsuit because just a couple of decades ago women were not allowed to wear pants in Congress. And I am wearing white because it was the color that the women who fought for our right to vote wore.
– You will honor me, your grandmothers, and other women by standing in line and watching me vote.
– There will be times in your life when you need to stand up for your values and beliefs even when it is inconvenient, this is one of those times.
– Suck it up.
(Add many exclamation points.)
Little did I know that those 24 hours would be so gut-wrenching, devastating, and traumatic. The results of that election knocked the wind out me. The next morning, with deep sadness and uncharacteristic tears, I sat on my son’s bed to tell him that we lost. I give you the Facebook history once again:
I’ve been holding it together okay. Sad, angry, disappointed, but stiff upper lip and all. But then I told Souper Boy and I lost it. I didn’t want to tell him how people voted out of fear and resentment. But I forced myself to be honest with him that some people voted out of hatred–racism, misogyny, etc. This is his world too, and he needs to know that sometimes, good doesn’t win. I also stressed that just because you lose doesn’t mean that you give up on your beliefs and values. You get up and fight for what is right even if it just got a lot harder. His response: Where are we moving to?
Something else happened during those 24 hours–something even more important. During the highs and very low, lows, I found myself, I found my voice. Enough of this shit (apparently my new voice likes to curse a lot). After more than 40 years on this earth, persevering through hardships and finding myself in an unexpectedly comfortable life, I owe it to all those who came before me and those who will follow me to speak up. My voice–this voice of a Vietnamese American woman born of war and sacrifice–not only matters, it’s important. So, I don’t shut up anymore. I don’t wait for someone to say the same thing I was thinking. I don’t aim for perfection before I speak. I don’t stand for f-cking mansplaining or any other kind of condescension or prejudice. I call it like I see it. Above all, I need my children to see the path that I forge so that one day they can widen it.
I know that today, the one year anniversary of our heartache, will be a tough one. I know I will want to stay in bed and cry. But I won’t. You see, over the past 12 months I have found ways to be heard. Mrs. Next Doors and I started a Facebook page to support the Resistance in our town (over 1000 members joined in 5 days). I have joined the board of a Harvard pro-bono alumni service organization. For once I am not hesitant to mention Harvard to lay claim to the privileges of this institution to further social change. I have joined a venture philanthropy group, putting my money where my mouth is. I have also taken on advisory and advocacy roles at Souper Girl’s elementary school, helping to shape the conversation about education, diversity, and the power of community in our progressive Massachusetts town. I have ideas. I have opinions. I have a voice. And damn it, I will be heard.
Many of you have had the same reaction. We have rallied ourselves, friends, families, and communities. We have started Facebook groups. We have supported progressive candidates. We have made enormous donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU and Planned Parenthood. We have worn pantsuits. We have marched. We have resisted. And we have tired. Resistance is thankless and it is exhausting. My efforts have ebbed and flowed, but I know that deep down I am still itching for a fight. The only recourse we have is to fight–not just resist, but fight for something.
So here is my proposal. Rather than treating this anniversary as a dark moment in our lives, let’s think of it as our awakening. For on this day 12 months ago, we saw the light and it was withheld from us. We saw the shining city on the hill but couldn’t break down the final wall (or ceiling). We know what the future looks like and it begins with us. We know what we are fighting for–women’s rights, health care for all, immigrant/refugee rights, civil rights, LGTBQ rights, education, the list goes on. They poked the wrong woman. I am here and I will roar. Roar with me.