Women on the March

Sarah Richards
January 22, 2017

Women on the March

“They tried to bury us…they didn’t know we were seeds.”

“Now you’ve pissed off Grandma.”

“Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights”

“Women’s rights are human rights.”

“Power of love, not love of power.”

So many different messages on the signs at the Southern Illinois Women’s March yesterday—how many of you were there, a part of the message in body and spirit? Those different messages represent attitudes expressed from different social locations – different generations, different life experiences all speaking to the readers of the signs, the hearers of chants.

“Immigrant rights are women’s rights – same struggle, same fight!”

“Black lives matter!”

“We say no to racist fear – Muslims are welcome here!”

“This is what democracy looks like.”

“This is what community looks like!”

These signs and chants call to their readers and hearers to awaken, to think, to act. In these ways, the messages are prophetic, yes, even in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. Biblical scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that the two characterizing themes of those Jewish prophets are judgment and hope. As I read through the many, many messages at the Women’s March, I saw and heard those two themes being expressed over and over. One chant I heard and joined in on contained both: Love, not hate, makes America great!

The mission statement of the Women’s March on Washington begins with a prophetic statement of judgment:

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.[i]

Theologian Brueggemann makes the point that for those prophets of thousands of years ago and for us,

the issues are the same, that the world we have trusted in is vanishing before our eyes and the world that is coming at us feels like a threat to us and we can’t quite see the shape of it. I think that is kind of where the church and the preachers of the church have to live, and people don’t much want to hear either one of those words, that the world is vanishing or that a new world is coming to us, which is why this kind of poetry always leaves us uneasy…”[ii]

The poetry Bruggemann refers to is that of the Biblical prophets, the message of judgment exemplified by Jeremiah:

“I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid waste.”[iii]

This puts me in mind of one of yesterday’s chants: “Stop global warming. Science is real.”

Brueggemann’s prophetic exemplar of hope is Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”[iv]

Did anyone else see the sign yesterday, “I’m not going back to the 1950’s –reproductive rights now! Or hear the chant, “we’re fired up, we’re ready!”

Brueggemann characterizes the Biblical prophets as counter-cultural “because [he says] our consumer culture wants somehow to narcoticize us so that we just settle in on things. …. these poems are like pick axes that are not welcome among us, but we’re going to miss out on the reality of our life if we are narcoticized both about the loss and about the newness. [Receiving the prophets’ message] is very difficult, and I think the difficulty is that all of us, liberals and conservatives, all of us are basically contained in the ideology of consumer capitalism. We want that to be our universe of meaning. And when you get a poetic articulation that moves outside of that, it’s just too anxiety-producing for most of us, so we try to stop that kind of talk.” [v]

The poetry of the Women’s March is obviously very different from Jeremiah and Isaiah, but I would argue that it, too can move us out of that ideology of consumer capitalism. What are the messages that make us uncomfortable, that challenge the way we live our lives? What are the messages that give us hope and inspire us to make changes in our lives, our communities, our society?

CUF member Jess Jobe sent this reflection after marching in Washington DC.:

“I have loved seeing all the photos from the Carbondale march. The bus from Carbondale is on the homestretch. My bones are achy from the bus and the hours at the rally and March, but it was a spirit-lifting day. As we walked from the bus at RFK Stadium towards the Capital, people from the neighborhood’s cheered us on and welcomed us to town. As we walked the 2  1/2 miles back to RFK last night (locals said “don’t take the metro today!”), those same D.C.  residents sent us home with  offers of jolly ranchers, mints, water, soda and “travel safe”. They made us feel at home. America is still our home.”

I now invite Christine Bauer, Candy Davis, Astrid Norman,and Jan Eisenhard to briefly share prophetic messages they experienced at the march.
….
A final reflection from Benieta Powell:
After participating in the Women’s March yesterday I felt a real sense of hope, the first since the election.  The unity was amazing. A huge but diverse group of people all coming together to stand up for just plain simple decency.  I thought there were many really good signs stating equality for all people, not just women, for the environment, for Planned Parenthood, for education,for justice, kindness, caring; everything we believe and try to do here.

After the march, as people were enjoying the activities at the Center, I heard people express the concern that we mustn’t become complacent.  We must keep being active against the negative things being spouted by some of those power.  And I believe that this community here, will be doing just that.

The mission statement of the Women’s March on Washington concludes with a prophetic message of hope, that I and I daresay all of those who marched in Carbondale, Chicago, LA, Boston, London, those who were present in the Disability March and other on-line venues– all around the world felt:

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore….. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

HEAR OUR VOICE[vi]

This is what prophetic community looks like! Whether or not you participated in body or spirit in the Women’s March yesterday, there are many opportunities for us to recognize the power in poetry of prophecy of our times. There are opportunities to delve into the ancient prophecies to inspire us today. May we hear the voices of judgment and hope, may we answer their call in body and spirit.

Amen.

[i] https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/ accessed 1/19/17.

[ii] http://www.onbeing.org/program/walter-brueggemann-on-the-prophetic-imagination/transcript/6088#main_content accessed 1/19/17.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/ accessed 1/19/17.