By Connie E, editorial columnist
I was not born a feminist. It’s not something that naturally resonates with me. In fact, it has taken me some time to reconcile my own beliefs with this concept that is now the buzzword for political activism and correctness.
As someone from China, a country where freedom of expression isn’t allowed and political opinions are silenced, I’m both curious and fortunate to be living in America in this day and age, when both the domestic and global political landscapes are undergoing some historic transformations. The question that I’m asked most frequently is “What do you think of President Xi or the politics back home?” To be honest, I wish I could give an assertive and eloquent answer like most of my peers who grew up in America. Much different from those with Chinese upbringing, they are encouraged to speak up and voice their opinions from a very young age.
That wasn’t the case for me. Living through this election cycle has been quite an education. It was my first time witnessing people around me showing unity and grit in the face of disillusion and political division. Back home, most young people are indifferent or uninformed about politics, but here, people cried and protested when the election result came out. To them, their nation’s future is something that’s deeply personal.
My reflection might seem silly to some, as the ability to exercise the freedom of speech is granted to every American citizen. Since voting, rallying and marching are all novel to me, you might ask, what was it like to join 500,000 other women and men marching in Washington?
I have to say it was one of the most solemn, surreal and empowering experiences of my life. Unlike anti-Trump rallies, where foreigners often feel like voiceless outsiders and spectators, the Women’s March united people. Women and men from different cultures and backgrounds across six continents joined this movement to make a statement.
As I put one foot in front of the other, marching steadfast, I found my chants weren’t the loudest, and my placard wasn’t raised as high as I could possibly raise it. Why? I don’t blame the environment in which I grew up in, one that discourages youth from developing their own political opinions because they don’t matter. I’m simply trying to find my own voice and stance in this era filled with seemingly binary worldviews and statements. As a political science major, I learn from textbooks that predominantly favor the liberal, democratic world order, and I read news produced by Western media.
It’s hard when two worlds clash. There is always a fine line between becoming so Westernized that democracy seems to be the only pathway to prosperity in my thinking and staying objective about merits of all political systems as a Chinese citizen. It’s not about patriotism, but about the willingness to find that balance. I’m thankful for the experience of marching alongside hundreds of thousands of women. Every march is a political awakening moment for me, dusting off my silent yet opinionated mind.
There are two other questions I kept asking myself during the march. One, is it futile—what changes are we actually making? It could be true that this march may not reverse Trump’s opinions about women or the fate of Planned Parenthood, but what is certain is that people left with the confidence and hope that there are millions of like-minded individuals out there in the same struggle. It is an incredibly uplifting feeling to know that we’re not fighting the battle alone.
Two, where do we go from here? Do we resort back to social media activism and consider political engagement as pressing the “send” button? For me, this march has planted a seed of political activism and a sense of responsibility as a citizen of not just my country, but of this world.
All the marchers have now headed back to their own realities, back to a world where we’re not surrounded by pink-hatted ladies who share the same belief. I hope the women, men and children who attended the march will remember the feeling of empowerment and light the candle of hope for others along the way.