What I learned from the Women’s March

by Michele Hershberger – Guest Writer

The biggest take-away from the Women’s March in DC happened after the March in DC.

Michele Hershberger (right) walked alongside her sister-in-law Lorie Hershberger and several other Mennonites during the Women’s March in Washington D.C. Jan. 21.

It’s not that I didn’t learn anything during the march. I received so much. I walked with people I don’t normally rub shoulders with. I heard the pain in voices of women who lost their black and brown sons because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I listened to the fear from those in Flint Michigan, as they wondered if clean water in their community would ever be a greater priority than corporate dollars.  I listened to women who were pro-choice, and I told them I was pro-life.  We disagreed, but we did agree that poverty was the number one correlate of abortions and that if one is going to be pro-life, then one has to care about what happens after the baby is born. I told them I was different from most pro-lifers. I was there for their stories, stories of how they didn’t want to have an abortion, stories of how angry they were at people like me, stories about how frustrating it is to be stereotyped.

I could say that I was changed by all of these things, because I was, but the biggest change came in the BWI airport as I waited for my plane to go back home.

My heart and head were full, as I meandered my way to Gate A6. Arriving there, I saw a fairly large group of high-schoolers, 40 some. I grinned. A former youth pastor myself, these were my people: playing Rook, giggling at some YouTube on their smartphones, eating junk food. I could tell they were a Christian group by their T-shirts. I settled in.

Two girls sat on either side of me. They noticed my T-shirt, one of those “I was there” shirts that I bought at the March. They hesitated, then one of them said, “We went to the inauguration.”

My brain started twirling. At North Baltimore Mennonite where I went to church that morning, David Grieser challenged us to not be judgmental toward others, as Jesus commanded us in Matthew 7. But still it was hard not to stereotype: the kids were white, middle-class, gung-ho for telling people how to get to heaven, full of solutions for how to save the world. Did they understand their own white privilege? None of this was spoken, of course.

“How did you think the march went?” The 16-year-old asked.

And we started to talk. I told them about hearing Trayvon Martin’s mother talk about her son’s death and how Sophie Cruz, only a child herself, challenged us to love everyone. I told them about the thoughtful conversations I had with people different from me. The two girls talked about how pleasant everyone was at the inauguration and yet how uneasy they felt when some of the Democrats were booed.

And then I told them I too was uneasy with some of the chants against President Trump. “It’s a mess,” I said. They gave me a confused look, so I explained how I didn’t agree with everything I heard and saw at the March. And even more, I was uneasy when the truth was spoken, but not in love. I quickly countered with all the times it was a march of love, when Van Jones spoke of working for the justice of those who voted for Trump, and loving them just as much as we love the people we agree with. I told them about the many signs that spoke of justice for all people and the times when people apologized for accidentally bumping into me as we stood shoulder to shoulder on the street.

“It truly was a revolution of love…except for the couple of times when it wasn’t. It was messy,” I said.

“Yeah,” said the 17-year-old. “That’s how we experienced the march too.”

I did a double-take. “You went to the inauguration and the women’s march?”

“Our youth pastor said we had to take it all in. We had to listen to every side.”

I felt my cheeks turn red.

It’s hard to be faithful without being judgmental.

Everything good and wonderful about the women’s march crystallized in that moment. I went to stand for justice and speak out against stereotypes and I just got slapped with one of my own.

It’s a complicated mess.

At the best moments of the march and in the conversation with my high-school friends, I learned this.

I have to love everybody. Everybody.

And loving everybody means hearing their stories with an open heart, willing to be challenged, open to admit I might be wrong. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with what everyone believes, but I have to hear them as people. I have to hear the hurt and the complexity underneath the stories.  Sometimes I need to speak words that others don’t want to hear, but I must always, always do it in love and sometimes I need to keep my mouth shut.

I can’t wait until there’s a perfect march, where I agree with everything that’s being said.

I can’t reduce the rhetoric to simple platitudes, even as I clamor for the other side to stop their reductionism.

I must love everybody. I must enter into the mess.

Here’s what I learned at the March and at Gate A6. The best I can do right now, the best thing the church can do right now, is to step into the complexities—and form real relationships.

I spoke on the phone with someone today and we heard each other and were reconciled. She was brave enough to call and challenge me and we are both better off for it. That is being the church. The role of the church is not to land precisely on one side or the other, but to be the mirror for the rest of the world. The mirror is not there to say we’re superior or to make people feel bad; the mirror is there to demonstrate how to talk and listen in love. We must cross the dividing lines and be with each other; we must love across the two sides, to help people see another way.

Love means being faithful without being judgmental.

Love means admitting it when you’re wrong.

Love means daring to tick some people off even in the midst of trying your hardest to form real relationships.

“I need to confess something to you,” I said to my two young friends. “I didn’t even think about the possibility of you two going to the March. I figured—well you know. Please forgive me.”

For the second time, the girls hesitated. “It’s messy,” the seventeen-year-old said.

Yes, my friends, it is.

Editor’s Note: Opinion shared in the Horizon does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of our publication or of Hesston College.

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