women’s rights

“Parallel Planes: The Ghost of Mothers and Daughters” published in The Rumpus!

Parallel-Planes_1If I hadn’t been able to end my second pregnancy with Baby Wow, my new baby Miles wouldn’t be here with us today.

Abortion is family planning. Abortion is a life-saving procedure. Abortion is often the best choice. And this choice has nothing to do with the government or a court but everything to do with the individuals going through it.

I wanted the baby I lost. But when we learned about her lethal chromosomal disorder, continuing the pregnancy – with all its physical risks and with all the trauma it would have caused to myself, Dave, and Lew – was not the right choice.

Women’s stories have been stolen. Our truths about our bodies have been twisted into something unreal yet believed by so many people. These false narratives then go on to inform public policy and ruin lives. Meanwhile, we are told to be quiet, to hide our pregnancies, to hide our miscarriages and abortions, to even hide our periods.

No matter the reasons behind a person’s choice, it is their choice. My choice was hard, messy, emotional, traumatic, and I am grateful for it.

Thank you to The Rumpus for giving me this opportunity to share my truth.

You can read the essay here, accompanied by beautiful artwork by Clare Nauman.

Join the Fight for Reproductive Justice!

Like many of you, I am enraged and overwhelmed by the recent abortion bans. The politicians who have proposed and passed these bills are certainly not pro-life; if they were, they would instead be passing bills to increase access to prenatal care, to address the horrific fact that women of color in the United States are 2 to 6 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than white women, and to allot more money for social services for new parents, such as paid parental leave, affordable childcare, lactation support, and postpartum doulas.

In fact, these recent bills, with inclusions like limiting birth control options and mandating scientifically impossible surgeries, aren’t even focused on ending abortion. If that were the true motive here, we would instead be seeing legislation that addresses the root cause of abortion: unwanted pregnancy. But addressing this root cause would require acknowledging the fact that pregnancy happens only when a man’s semen is ejaculated into a woman’s body. Women can’t get pregnant from their own orgasms. Women can’t even get pregnant from having intercourse with men. Women can only get pregnant from men ejaculating inside of them. But how dare I suggest the passing of any kind of law that would regulate a penis?

So no, the intention is not to support life nor end abortion. The intention – which is being shouted loudly and clearly and with pride – is to control women, especially women of color, and to overturn Roe v Wade. It feels like a war has been waged on us.

kyhealthjusticeBut now is not the time to give in to anxiety and hopelessness. There are fierce people on the ground across these key states taking huge risks to fight back and do the work. We must support them. Here are some organizations and clinics to consider donating to or volunteering for:

  • NARAL – nationwide but heavily involved in GA, OH, and AL
  • Planned Parenthood – providing essential health services to women at low costs across the country, plus here’s a link to their “Get Involved” page which recommends other great actions to take
  • NYAAF – based in NY but helps women across the US find access to providers
  • National Network of Abortion Funds – nationwide, provides funding for abortions and transportation to offices and clinics
  • Women’s Health West Virginia – one of the few, maybe the only, women’s clinic in WV that provides abortion services
  • KY Health Justice Network – developed by women and people of color, providing support, education and outreach to Kentuckians to build reproductive justice, and includes services geared towards transpeople
  • Arc Southeast – provides support (financial assistance, lodging, travel) to those in need of reproductive care of all types, in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee

Another great way to fight back is to support progressive women running for office in the middle and southern states. You can donate and volunteer for campaigns even from the other side of the world. Here are some names to keep up with as they run for reelection or office for the first time:

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  • Stacey Abrams (GA; pictured) – narrowly (and suspiciously) lost the election for GA governor, she’s amazing and definitely one to follow, the best way to keep up with her right now is on Twitter
  • Kelsey Coots (KY) – ran for KY State Auditor but lost the primary, we are now awaiting her next move
  • Lauren Underwood (IL) – recently elected to US House of Reps, let’s keep her there
  • Amy McGrath (KY) – not running right now but narrowly lost in 2018 and is expected to run for something in 2020 (maybe a McConnell opponent??)
  • Brigid Kelly (OH) – current representative in Ohio’s state house, let’s keep her there

Also stay tuned to Emily’s List, a great organization working to get pro-choice, Democratic women into offices across the country.

While there is plenty of work to do, please remember to take care of yourself. For many of us, this war on women is frightening and triggering. But we have to be in it for the long haul, through the 2020 election and beyond, which means pacing ourselves and practicing self care every step along the way.

If reading the news feels like too much, don’t read it. Instead, if you’re financially able, consider setting up a monthly donation to one of the above organizations so that you can contribute regularly to the fight without stressing yourself out. And if you need to check out for a day, a week, a month, do it. But please, come back ready.

 

Photo Credits:
1. Reproductive Justice, taken from Reflections Journal
2. KY Health Justice Network logo
3. Stacey Abrams, by Audra Melton

The Well Project

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Stop scrolling through Instagram or Twitter or whatever else it is you’re doing right now and look up The Well Project instead. This amazing organization works tirelessly on a very important mission: “to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic through a unique and comprehensive focus on women and girls.” They’ve helped a tremendous amount of people to seek treatment, connect with a supportive community, and become activists to end the stigma and educate others about the realities and possibilities of living with HIV/AIDS. They do this in many ways, through conferences, grassroots activism, and even story-telling via their Girl Like Me blog (we can all get behind the power of story-telling, am I right?). In a time where women and health in general are under attack, The Well Project is spreading positivity and hope, something we all need a little more of, and they currently need our financial support so that they can continue changing lives. I can personally vet for this organization, and I urge you to please donate, even if it’s just $5 or $10; everything helps.

Thank you, and for more information, please see the below email from Executive Director Krista Martel.

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Dear friends and family,

It is that time of year, and I’m writing to let you know that we have recently launched The Well Project’s annual fundraising drive, #Give4Hope! During these tumultuous times, we’ve continued to focus on the power of hope, and the change that it can often lead to. Data show that 76 percent of women living with HIV who participated in a recent survey felt more hopeful about their future after using The Well Project’s resources. That is a remarkable and important statistic, as hope can mean a healthier outlook on living with HIV and better engagement in care and self care. Because we’re witnessing such positive changes in many of the women who use our resources, we are even more determined than ever to reach more women who could use them. 

Just in the past six months alone, we’ve added several new bloggers including a skater/surfer mom of 3 in California who was diagnosed last year, a woman from Kenya who was diagnosed while pregnant, and a school teacher from North Carolina–none of whom ever thought HIV could affect them. I invite you to read some of their stories here: http://www.thewellproject.org/aglm-categories/introductions. The positive side is that by sharing their stories, they help others know that they are not alone, as well as ensure that people realize that HIV does not discriminate, and can happen to anyone.

If you are able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to ensure The Well Project can continue to provide hope to our wide-reaching community, as well as to extend our reach to even more people who may need it. Please click here: https://thewellproject.networkforgood.com/projects/38597-building-hope

Thank you in advance!

Much love,
Krista
www.thewellproject.org

The Moral Obligation of White People

Last week’s project of discussing racism and feminism with women of color proved way more challenging than I expected, and left me grappling with my own racism and white privilege in ways that made me very uncomfortable. This was ultimately a good thing – a tough, emotional, soul-searching kind of good thing – and I made myself stay in this space and examine it. I felt it, thought about it, talked about it, wrote about it, and now that I’ve emerged, I am absolutely positive that more white people need to be doing this.

For those of you just tuning in, a few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the modern feminist movement’s inclusivity problem in the essay Still a Feminist. In an effort to promote a more diverse dialogue and a culture of listening, I posed two questions to women who I thought identified as people of color, then shared their responses in two follow-up posts, Part 1 and Part 2. As I said above, this project ended up being much more difficult than anticipated, but even though there are so many complicated facets to racism, so many emotions, so many questions without answers, I feel that I – we – must continue this dialogue. So here goes.

I’ve hated labels for a long time. In my youth I viewed them solely as words that divided us, but now I see that humans are inherently tribalistic, thus rendering labels unavoidable, and that labels actually bring us together in solidarity as much as they allow us to discriminate and differentiate. After the experience of talking with a few women of color last week, I also now see how important labels are in identifying ourselves to ourselves and to the world around us. I’m reminded of an activity in a college class I took, “Race, Music, and the Spanish-Speaking Caribbean,” when the professor, Raquel Z. Rivera (pictured below), instructed us to make a list of words we used to describe ourselves. I was one of two white people in the class, and we were the only students who didn’t include race or ethnicity on our lists. I wrote female, daughter, sister, friend, student, but I didn’t write white, American, or even Kentuckian. However, the other students, all people of color, included their race or ethnicity as their first or second words. I was fascinated and perplexed by this difference, and I spent a long time thinking about it. Ten years later, I’m still thinking.

When looking at my experiences through the lens of white privilege, I find that I don’t have to explain or defend myself nearly as often as people of color do. Perhaps because of this difference, words commonly used as racial and ethnic identifiers don’t have the same personal connotations for me. I tend to view them from the cerebral space of dictionary definitions as opposed to what they mean on an emotional level. As a writer, I do also consider the cultural and personal meanings of words in general, but this consideration obviously comes from my own white perspective. I’ve always thought of “people of color” as all people who are not white, and the Oxford Dictionary agrees with me, saying that a person of color is “a person who is non white or of European parentage.” I’ve struggled with this term because it can be so widely applied to such a large swath of folk and doesn’t allow for cultural differentiation, but at the same time, it’s better than identifying people with the negative prefix “non.” However, I didn’t realize that other people might see this term as meaning African-American or black, and that Latinos, a group of people I’ve always assumed to be included under the “people of color” umbrella, might struggle with having it applied to them. I also didn’t realize that it doesn’t actually matter if the dictionary agrees with me or not; what matters is listening to people and using the terms they prefer when talking and writing about them.

This idea of who is included and who isn’t is at the heart of why I don’t like labels – they inherently create insiders and outsiders, and I believe we’re at a point in our country where we need to focus on bringing diverse people together and listening to voices that have previously been silenced or quieted as opposed to debating who’s in and who’s out. But through my efforts to ensure that those voices are being heard, I ended up creating a lot of anxiety for my friend Letisia Cruz, a Cuban American who participated in Part 1 of this project, because she doesn’t identify as a “woman of color” and felt that having this label applied to her meant she was usurping other women’s experiences. I looked back through our email exchange and found the origin of our misunderstanding, so in an attempt to make her feel more comfortable, I changed some language in the original post, including replacing one usage of the phrase “woman of color” with “marginalized women.” Her discomfort also sparked an interesting and important thread on Facebook, so at the end of the day, I sat back feeling pretty pleased with myself; I’d created a space for a valuable dialogue, I’d participated in this dialogue, and even though I’d messed up, I’d done my best to fix it.


“Fill in the Blanks” by Shareheads / Creative Commons

Not so fast. The following day I received an email from a different contributor who does identify as “woman of color” but was surprised by my use of the word “marginalized.” She explained, “Certainly, I’m not a member of the white feminist movement by virtue of being a woman of color but… does that make me marginalized? It’s not a word I particularly identify with, but perhaps with elaboration, it could make more sense as a framing for who you engaged in this series. I definitely identify with ‘woman of color’ and engaged the topic from there, but based on all the privileges I carry, I can’t get comfortable with ‘marginalized.'” While reading this response I thought, Dammit, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right! I agreed with her that “marginalized” didn’t completely get at the heart of the project, but at the same time, returning to my trusty friend the dictionary, the actual definition is “to treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral,” and I do feel that women of color across all levels of privilege have been treated as insignificant or peripheral in some capacity by the modern feminist movement.

It was fascinating to me that one woman wasn’t down with “of color” because she was afraid that having a lighter shade of skin meant using that phrase was usurping the experience of a darker-skinned woman, while another wasn’t comfortable with “marginalized” based on a similar line of reasoning, of wanting to respect and not step on the experiences of people who aren’t as privileged as her. I didn’t anticipate these differing interpretations and was flustered by it, but what struck me more was how these women were so caring about understanding their own privilege and not assuming anyone else’s experience, whereas so many white people I know make no effort to understand even the most basic ways in which their privilege affects them and others. I’m baffled and angered by the vast amount of white people who choose to stay disconnected from other people’s experiences, rather than analyzing and reflecting on these different realities.

Which brings me to a confession I’m having trouble writing out. You know how I said that while I was reading the second email, I immediately thought about how I couldn’t get the wording right? Well, that’s true to an extent, but it wasn’t my first thought. My first thought was actually, Why are they being so sensitive? It really doesn’t matter this much. I instantly regretted this thought and got straight to editing the post again, ultimately changing “marginalized” to “women whose voices we need to hear,” a phrase that explained my intentions a lot better than either term I’d used, anyway. But when I reflected on this reaction again later that evening, I was flooded with embarrassment and shame. Not only was I handing out labels as I pleased, without fully considering other people’s perspectives‪‬ (even though I myself don’t even like labels), but I was also feeling like other people should simply accept my labeling? All because the dictionary said so?

Basically, I was yet another white person telling people with darker skin who they are, and then getting annoyed and defensive when they didn’t like it.

“Shame, Street Art by Clive Punk, Windsor” by Urban Pixel / Creative Commons

I spent a good chunk of the weekend feeling like shit over this. I reread everyone’s answers in both Parts 1 and 2 and was even more embarrassed and ashamed over the questions I’d posed; I’d asked about how to make my concept of feminism more inviting to them rather than asking what they or other women in their communities are doing to battle the patriarchy or stand up for women’s rights. But you know what? I’m glad for these bad feelings because ultimately, they changed my way of thinking. White people need to spend a lot more time feeling like shit about racism or else nothing will ever truly change.

So how do we package and sell this to the masses? No one is gonna raise their hand and be like like, Sure, sign me up for an exhausting weekend feeling bad about myself! I have no real answer to this question, but I keep coming back to the idea that it’s a matter of morality. The relationship between white people and people of color in this country is based on that of master and slave. We can’t keep pretending like slavery is some far away story told in a textbook. It is our moral obligation as white people to confront our country’s history of slavery, segregation and racism, and all of the horrible feelings that come along with it. And we have to recognize that this isn’t a one-and-done situation. Last year, when the police murdered Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in the same awful week, I felt such an intense, guttural reaction that I wrote an essay in a single sitting about my white privilege and how I finally understood systemic racism. It received a lot of positive feedback and I thought that I’d done my work, that I had an easy path ahead of me. But now I’m seeing how anti-racism is an ongoing, evolving process that we must stay committed to.

After all of this introspection, I have been left wondering if I spend too much time trying to find the right language and not enough time protesting or marching or going to meetings. These thought loops and discussions feel very cerebral and not quite tangible. But perhaps this analysis of words is a form of revolution in itself; if thought shapes language, then language can also shape thought. Listening to different people’s ideas about language can serve as a window into understanding their way of thinking, which can ultimately (hopefully) result in more empathy. Language isn’t simply a form of communication. It’s a way to identify ourselves, our culture, our traditions and creativity. It’s how we tell the world who we are. It’s our natural form of expression. What might seem like a semantic debate to me may feel to someone else like a debate over who she is and what value our society places on her and her culture. As a writer, perhaps my role is to facilitate these conversations and to model my own process of battling racism. Language gives us power. Not enough women, especially women of color, are being heard, and the whole point of this project was to give them a format to speak. I reached out to my friends and neighbors via email and Facebook, and the people who responded are all women who are already expressing themselves in some capacity. It’s crazy and depressing and utterly enraging to think about all of the people out there who don’t feel empowered enough to even speak up, much less fight to be heard.

“Speak Up” by Sara Deming / Creative Commons

In the end, this project was a good lesson for me in many ways. As a writer, I’m reminded that it’s always better to be clear and to choose my own descriptions rather than looking for the “right terms.” As a white person, I’m developing a clearer understanding of how culture and race affects the way we interpret words, and I’m more deeply committed to listening and trying to understand perspectives that differ from my own, and to tackling my white privilege. And as an activist and educator, I am reaffirmed in my commitment to help other people improve their language skills. Literacy is a right, and if we truly want a more just and equal future, we’ve got to give everyone the power of language.

Many thanks to all of the contributors for being a part of this project and for engaging me in this way, and thank you, my dears, for reading. This has definitely changed the way I view my role in the struggle. I’ve always loved language and believed in its power, but I’ve approached the importance of words from a writer’s perspective more than an activist’s perspective. My mind is spinning, in that tough, emotional, soul-searching kind of good way.

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Further reading material:

What Makes Someone a Person of Color or White in America? by Daniel Rivera, Fusion Magazine

The Term “People of Color” Includes Asian-Americans by Frances Johnson, The Ithacan

The Journey from “Colored” to “Minorities” to “People of Color” by Kee Malesky, NPR

Urgently Visible: Why Black Lives Matter by Jeffrey Renard Allen, The Evergreen Review

Anything by James Baldwin

Still A Feminist?

There’s no shame in craving domestic order, only shame in genderizing its production.”
  ~Sarah Curtis Graziano

From when I was a baby until I was in middle school, dolls and stuffed animals were my favorite toys. I talked to them constantly, brushed their hair and washed their faces, made dresses for them out of leftover scraps from Mom’s and Granny’s sewing projects. When I was eight, Granny hired me for my first job of cleaning her house from top to bottom once a month for $50, and I saved up all of my profits for our biannual trips to the flea market in Louisville where I splurged on Madame Alexander porcelain dolls (the seller told me I was the best bargainer she’d ever met). I displayed all 30+ of these dolls on a shelf in my bedroom, and I’d often lie on my Pepto-Bismol-colored carpet and stare at my collection, admiring how beautiful they all were.

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This passion for taking care of things didn’t stop with inanimate objects. I regularly played with the little kids at church while the girls my age played their own games, I started babysitting when I was 14-years-old, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, I taught in a daycare after college, and I always dreamed of having my own baby one day. While the environment I was raised in may account for some of this, a large portion of it is just something that’s been inside of me ever since I can remember.

I’m gonna get even “girlier” on you now: I also love to cook, and even to clean. Some of my favorite memories are of Mom, Granny and me making big dinners together in the kitchen. I baked my first strawberry pie when I was seven then took it to a church potluck and hid near the dessert table so I could watch people eat it without them knowing I was there. The enjoyment in their faces, their generous second portions, their unsolicited compliments, all filled me with so much pride that I decided I was going to be a baker when I grew up (spoiler alert: I didn’t).

And when I say I like to clean, I mean it – the act of it in addition to its results. This is probably connected to having OCD, but it’s also connected to those sweet memories of long Saturday afternoons cleaning Granny’s house, smelling her shirts as I folded and put them away, rubbing my fingers over her silk pillowcases while I made her bed, dragging dust rags across framed photographs of her in younger times. I remember feeling so satisfied at the end of the day, especially when Granny showered me with compliments (and yes, also when she gave me that $50 bill).

Dolls, cooking, cleaning… Some people might say I was trained to be a perfect little wifey. But you know what? Those people are wrong. I wasn’t trained to take care of a man – I was trained to take care of myself. I was taught how to be independent, to make my own choices and feel good about them. These ideas of independence, freedom, and confidence are at the root of feminism, yet I hear over and over how being domestic means I’m not a real feminist. All of this infighting and nitpicking among modern feminists is killing the entire movement, and, in my perspective, is exactly the opposite of what the movement should be about.  

So yeah, Mom and Granny did all of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. But that doesn’t exempt them from being feminists. While they always wanted me to get married and have kids, they didn’t want me to need this. They never once positioned marriage and motherhood as opposed to my dreams of pursuing my education and being a writer. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to cook with them until I finished my homework, and they often told me to stop washing the dishes so I could go write a story I was blabbering on about.

Guess who else also had to cook and wash the dishes? My older brother. But he was so lazy and annoying about it that, while they still made him regularly contribute to the chores, they didn’t take his food to the potlucks or hire him for the big cleanings. And they equally encouraged him to get married and have kids. They just wanted us to be happy, and while marriage and parenthood isn’t the path to happiness for everyone, it actually is great for me. I love being a mom. I love being a wife. I love it when my husband tells me I’m beautiful, I love watching people eat my food, and I love when my kitchen is neat and orderly and smells like fresh mint. None of these loves of mine have anything to do with whether or not I’m a feminist.

I think a lot of this current backlash against domesticity comes from that idea that second-wave feminism in the U.S. revolved around the renewed, forced domesticity of women post-World War II. But the key word here is “forced” – the deeper-rooted issue was that women didn’t have a choice. They were shoved into a role based on their gender before the war and then again after it, and they were held back from other opportunities as a result of these forced roles. To me, feminism is about equal rights for all people, about all of us having the same opportunities and the same options to make our own choices, not about whether we as individuals are traditional, domestic, radical, or rebellious (or, crazy as it sounds, all of these things simultaneously). Women should have the same freedom as men to forge our own way. Some of us will choose domesticity, some of us won’t. That doesn’t mean that some of us are worse feminists than others. Feminists come in all kinds of shapes, colors, sizes, and forms, and it’s time that the greater movement focused on how to embrace this rather than argue over it.

Mural: Las Milagrosas: Tribute to Women Artists by Franco Folini / Creative Commons

Which brings me to a bigger issue: the modern feminist movement is SO WHITE. Like, racist white. Earlier this week, a friend of mine, Leigh Hecking, tackled this issue though analyzing Hulu’s recent release of The Handmaid’s Tale, and she came to an insightful, eloquent conclusion that sums up my sentiments exactly:

We need to approach feminism from a place of empathy, openness and inclusivity. We need to challenge our own views of what it means to be a woman (women don’t need to have a vagina or breasts, for example). We need to stop viewing other women’s lives as fiction and ours as reality.”

I LOVE the way she phrases this. Honestly, everyone in the world needs to practice more empathy right now, but it feels especially awful to hear women attacking other women over if they’re a good enough feminist or not. The fact that feminism is racist is a real issue, but you know what won’t solve it? White women yelling at other white women over what is and isn’t a feminist. You know what will solve it? Practicing this empathy and openness that Leigh is calling for. Being supportive instead of overly critical. Listening, honestly listening, to each other. And looking at the ways in which we ourselves contribute to this racism.

So on this note, I’m asking some friends of mine who identify as women of color to answer two questions: 1. What does feminism mean to you? and 2. What is your advice to white feminists on how to create a more inclusive movement? I hope you check back next Friday for their answers, and please feel free to offer your own answers, as well – as long as you’re respectful!

“We Can Find the Way” – New Song from The BPRS!

I’m so pissed that our Representatives voted to screw us all over, to take away our access to affordable maternity care, mental health services, prescription drugs and oh so much more, all so that they and their rich friends can get a tax break. These are the people who turned their backs on us – make sure you remember their names in 2018.

Yes, I understand that the AHCA bill has many steps and changes to go through before it takes effect, I get that the Senate is “going to fix it,” but none of this changes the fact that these assholes let it pass through the House. The greed and selfishness is SO SICKENING.

But more and more of us are paying attention now. More and more of us are fed up. And more and more of us are taking action. I actually wrote the words to this new BPRS song during the Obama years and sadly, the angry parts about our capitalist society run amuck are even truer than ever. But you know what? So are the hopeful parts. We’ve got this, ya’ll. Don’t let your anger/sadness/fear negatively affect your day-to-day. Smile at people. Hold doors for them. Tell your friends and family you love them. Remind yourself of all the things you’re grateful for. Spreading love and building community are two powerful ways to resist. Stay strong.

Check out The Brooklyn Players Reading Society’s Bandcamp page to hear more of our music.

solidarity“International Women’s Day, Solidarity” by Giulia Forsythe / Creative Commons

May Day Actions!

maydaybannerMay Day Banner by RNZ / Creative Commons

It’s May Day! Yes, this day is a pagan holiday celebrating the beginning of summer, but more importantly, this is a significant, historic day for workers’ rights and labor unions, going back to 1886 when over 300,000 workers went on strike in an effort to secure the 8-hour work day, something we all currently take for granted.

Now, it’s our turn. Trump, his administration, and many of our Congressmen and women have targeted our most vulnerable people, attacked our unions, threatened our immigrants, in fact have threatened most of us in one way or another (job security, healthcare, education, you name it). Get out there and show them that we will not stand for it. We are the resistance, and this is a perfect opportunity to RESIST.

For New Yorkers, here’s a list of day-long protests, meetings, and other actions.

For teachers, here’s a drop box of resources to use in your classroom.