Recently, I have enlisted in the war on women. Without any experience or credibility as an activist of any kind, I attended a rally whose message was that we need to band together to battle laws that are being passed almost weekly which chip away at the rights women fought for, and thought they had won, 40 years ago.
The rally was held to “unite (us) against the war on women,” organized by a grass-roots movement which had sprung from nothing, according to the web site describing the genesis of the rally, out of a conversation between two friends upset about the current political trend against women’s rights. In true 21st-century populist fashion, their idea bloomed and spread on the Internet, and within a few weeks, a date had been chosen and rallies nationwide were being planned.
The featured guests at the rally I attended spoke with a deep passion about what their attachment was to this war, and as I listened to their speeches, I became aware of something. Here I was, learning of Lesley McKinley’s struggles as a pregnant woman and mother, crying as Panayiota Bertzikis recounted the tragedy of sexual assault, and cheering the fierce oratory of Sen. Linda Lopez (to whom I shamelessly and proudly gave a big hug when she was finished), but I was not learning and crying and cheering alone. There was a sense of communal reception, a momentary unity of experience and purpose that was, after all, the ultimate goal of the rally.
In the next 48 hours, I reached out to people in that community. We had never met before, but in a few days, the collective emotional experience we had shared that Saturday morning brought us together to wage war. I realized very quickly, however, that our enemy was not the “war on women.” It was not even the conservatives who are waging that war.
It was inequality.
Rhetorically, some like to portray America as the greatest single confederation of people that ever did the Lord God Almighty yank whole from his ass and set down on Earth. This is a nation blessed by that benevolent, omnipotent Creator, designed intelligently as a shining City on a Hill, a living, teeming billboard for sunshine, democracy, and Adam Smith.
Historically, though, we are a country overburdened with inequality. It surrounds us, engulfs us. Ambassadors of some of that inequality have been spilling into the streets since last fall to try to occupy their communities and demand equality. Nonetheless, it still pervades. Inequality of opportunity, inequality of means, inequality of representation, inequality of tolerance, inequality of education, inequality of inclusion; it is all there and more, ready to be seen if we but choose to wipe away the scales of apathy from our eyes.
That inequality is our only real enemy. It metastasizes exponentially, and it will only be held in check if we band together with such a cohesiveness of purpose that the sheer force of our determination arrests it in its tracks. But as I have become involved in activism against inequality, it has rapidly become clear that there are two serious threats to the evolution of true social justice.
The idea that any one cause or victim is somehow more unequal or more oppressed (in a weighted sense) than any other victim is one that divides people just as strongly as injustice should be bringing them together. Likewise, there is an attitude says, “I’m fighting this fight better and smarter than they are; my plan, my purpose deserve more attention than theirs. They’re doing it all wrong!!” If there is an equality to be found in this struggle, it is that these two phenomena equally have the power to keep us from victory.
We must endeavor to remind ourselves constantly that when one person is cut by ignorance, the blood which is shed belongs to us all. The denial of the right of marriage based on sexual preference is neither a “better” nor “worse” crime than is the attempt to deny healthcare based on gender, or profile and harass a person based on their appearance, or steal the life savings of fellow human being through predatory lending. Each of these injustices is an offense against us all, and if we cannot remember that, we risk being responsible for even more inequality. When we are called upon by a brother or sister in despair to come to their aid, we must not say, “I don’t have the time;” what we must say is, “My time is yours.”
The most important equality we share is that of our inequality.
The temptation to want to lend primacy to our individual struggle, or our group’s struggle, also hampers our efforts to prevail.
In just a short time, I have come to witness firsthand situations where a dispute, although it may have started out as a simple, honest disagreement about a philosophy or strategy, has exploded into a completely separate war from the real conflict, and suddenly, an expansive amount of time and effort is being expended in a war between people instead of a war by them. Warnings are issued, spies are sought, and energy is wasted in an effort that spreads the fight horizontally instead of vertically. We throw the fight because, suddenly, we have made another enemy where once we had a friend, and when we take even a moment to believe our cause superior, we have virtually surrendered.
The war against us will never be won without a singleness of purpose, and we do not truly deserve the end we seek until we recognize that we can have no enemy except the one who wishes to deny us our equality.