By: Karen Kao
Activism is one path to empowerment, female or otherwise. It’s easy to do these days. All you need is a computer to sign an on-line petition or like a post on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. To share these thoughts for however many seconds they may occupy your mind.
Activism these days does not involve any body parts other than a thumb or a finger. So it was very old school of me to attend the Women’s March in Amsterdam on January 21, 2017.
It was a beautiful day: sunny, cold and clear. There were loads of people on the Museumplein soaking up our wintry sun. So many that it was hard to find the demonstrators. Then I saw a handful of pink pussy hats, weaving their way to the meeting site, the IAmsterdam statue in front of the Rijksmuseum. But where was everyone else? I heard no shouting or sloganeering or even music. No storm troopers lurked in the background. Yet, we had been advised to write our emergency contact information: on our skin and in indelible ink.
I ignored that little safety tip but it did almost stop me from going. And because of the dithering, I arrived too late to learn any of the day’s chants. So, it was my own fault that I couldn’t understand what the crowd was chanting though my friends, who had arrived on time, couldn’t either.
“Can you make out what they’re saying?” My friend asked.
“Not at all,” I answered.
“Blessed are the cheesemakers,” my friend laughed.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Matthew 5:9 tells us: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
The Monty Python version of the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t quite sound the same. In Life of Brian, a crowd gathers around Jesus of Nazareth to hear him preach. Problem is, Jesus has no sound system to back him up and his followers soon become confused. Those who catch one or two words are triumphant. They’re convinced that they (and only they) heard the truth and outraged when challenged.
So what did he say?
I think it was, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”!
What’s so special about the cheesemakers?
It all makes perfect sense in Holland, cheesemaking capital of the world. But I did have to wonder, as we marched and shouted, whether I was being brainwashed. Whatever I heard, I parroted. Was I even getting the message right?
THE HILL AT MUSEUMPLEIN
The official WomensMarchAMS program included a photo opportunity. This was as much for the press (international and national) as much for all of us to take selfies. It was an excellent time to see all the banners, many of which were pretty funny. Like this one, my favorite:
Viva la Vulva
There were serious banners of course and angry ones too. But the majority of the messages was constructive and the mood gay. And as the hill filled up with more and more activists, I have to tell you: I felt proud. 3000 people got off of their couches that sunny afternoon to demonstrate for human rights and equal treatment. 3000 people stood up to be counted.
Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feelgood spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.
Well, that was a downer. I had felt good demonstrating and I wanted to retain that glow for as long as possible. But Micah had a point. Walking a few hundred meters across a grassy square in Amsterdam is not going to protect the rights that I believe in or effect the kind of change I think is needed. I am not by nature a rabble rouser. Nor am I rich or powerful, strong or subversive. What then can I do?
Silence is acceptance.
I saw that banner everywhere at WomensMarchAMS, in various languages, but obviously with one cogent point. To remain silent, to stay at home on election day, to become – voluntarily or not – part of the Silent Majority: that’s accepting the new order as ok.
So if I were following the rules of good blogging, this is where the call for action comes. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t know your circumstances, your political climate or the risk activism might pose for you. If we all do what we can when we can, then that should be enough. Keeping an open mind is worth a lot.
In the meantime, I’ll make noise. I’ll be loud. I’ll reach out to as many people as I can to convey my message and hopefully engage in a dialogue too.
What do you think?
Karen Kao is a former M&A lawyer turned writer. Her debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, will appear in April 2017. You can follow her at her blog http://www.inkstonepress.com
Sources: Photo: Image source Facebook Anna Hiemstra; Poster Viva la Vulva designed by Lisa Galesloot
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