The Women’s March on Washington, D.C., was an occasion for people to be creative and even humorous with their signs. Quite a few made me laugh — “Ugh, Where Do I Even Start?,” “We’ve Made a Yuge Mistake,” and “I Shouldn’t Have to Write Pussy on a Poster” were among my favorites at Tucson’s sister march. But there was one that not only made me laugh, it also resonated with me: “So Bad, Even Introverts Are Here.” Someone tweeted it from the march in New York City, and last I checked it had 94,000 “likes,” meaning I’m not the only one who could relate.
There has been some criticism leveled at people for whom the Women’s March was their first public protest. Things were already bad enough for us to be rallying in the streets, they say, so what took you so long? While I understand that line of thought, I get a little prickly at the suggestion that attendance at a march or rally is the only way to “do” activism. Yes, the Women’s March in Tucson was my first protest, but it was not my first activism.
I’m glad I expanded the boundaries of my comfort zone and allowed myself to be publicly counted.
As a teenager, I was happiest with volunteer activities that kept me far from the limelight, like stuffing envelopes for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Crowds, chants, spectacles — not my thing. I didn’t want to be interviewed by the local news, and I didn’t want my photo in a newspaper. I tried my hand at going door to door, but it filled me with so much anxiety that I never did it again. My activism, such as it was, waned as I buckled down on my studies in university, and it wasn’t until after I moved to Arizona that I started seeking out more opportunities — and explicitly looking for behind-the-scenes work where my introversion and dislike of crowds and cameras wouldn’t hold me back.
While there was plenty of work for people who didn’t mind making cold calls or canvassing neighborhoods, I found adequate demand for my skills — writing, data entry, and even the occasional stuffing of envelopes. I’m glad there are folks who can throw themselves on the front lines, changing hearts and minds on a one-on-one, face-to-face level. I’m glad there are folks who go to marches and wave signs, adding their bodies to the throngs of other people standing against injustice. We need those people. But I always felt perfectly content behind the scenes, contributing in my own quiet way.
Yet on January 21, I found myself in Armory Park in Tucson, joining thousands of Women’s March protesters. And on March 7, I made the split-second decision to show up after work at a spur-of-the-moment protest at Rep. Martha McSally’s office, waving signs to passing cars on Broadway Boulevard.
So what changed?
Well, as the protester in New York City wrote on a piece of poster board: It’s so bad, even the introverts are here. I was part of the majority of voters who cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in November, but as a resident of Arizona, my vote counted for nothing in the Electoral College. I was angry that there were millions of us whose votes were essentially not counted, and somehow, it became very important to me to put myself out there in a very public way, to contribute to a headcount — 15,000 here in Tucson — regardless of how much anxiety crowds and the idea of ending up in photographs gave me. If my vote wouldn’t count in the electoral vote, my body would certainly count in the crowd estimates. Numbers still matter, and a big crowd is going to be taken more seriously than a tiny one. Introverts could make up a third to a half of the population; I wonder how crowd sizes might swell if we could do a better job representing ourselves at these events.
I am happy to report to my fellow introverts that it really wasn’t that bad. I’m still not a fan of crowds, but the people at the Women’s March were all very nice, with nothing but smiles for one another. There was an atmosphere of support and solidarity that I’m not always going to get writing for this blog on my home computer, and contrary to my expectations, the event recharged me, rather than leaving me drained.
So I was curious to see how I’d fare at something like a street-side protest on Broadway, but also wary that I was deliberately opening myself up to abuse from passersby. I wouldn’t have a huge crowd to blend into — I’d be right there, on the side of one of Tucson’s busiest roads, brandishing signs at commuters during the peak of rush hour traffic.
Again, it really wasn’t all that bad. My fellow protesters — 72 of us in total — were all very nice, with smiles and jokes for one another. My fear of abuse proved anticlimactic — one guy flipped us off, and there were two “thumbs down” directed at us from a passing truck (we think it was the same person). That was it. The rest of it was honks and gleeful cheers of support, people giving us the thumbs up or clapping their hands. Paramedics, people in work trucks, and folks of all ages, ethnicities, and across the gender spectrum were signalling their solidarity. I was uplifted to know we were surrounded by that much support in our community.
While I’ll always prefer to keep the bulk of my activism behind the scenes, and while I’ll continue to avoid cameras like the plague, I’m glad I expanded the boundaries of my comfort zone and allowed myself to be publicly counted. We are in an era in which we need to make our collective voices as loud as possible, and our bodies as fully visible as we’re able. No matter our temperaments, we’re all in this together.