I’d never been to a protest before. I didn’t attend the Women’s March because I let the fear of going alone and the rain push me away. I expected to be nervous, to feel anxiety and anticipation build in my stomach on the way. I imagined myself lost among all of the people, caught in some sort of mass crowd and drowned in its passion. I met this past Saturday with shock, fear, dismay, and, most of all, anger; President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely suspending the Syrian refugee program had swiftly been put into effect. Suddenly, my fears of demonstrating waned in comparison to my will to fight. On Sunday, I saw a body of people gather for one purpose, a purpose spurred on by the sentiments that boiled beneath their skin. The group temporarily assuaged my anger and allowed hope to ebb away at the confusion. I watched—and I helped—a voice rise above Atlanta, shouting for the freedoms we thought America stood for.
The first time you join a movement and become part of a body demanding change, you realize the beauty of our right to do so. For me, I realized the time I’ve wasted. In the past, I allowed others to speak my mind for me and in place of me. I allowed others to go and be heard, knowing that my opinions would be shared, my sentiments felt, but I would be in the comfort of my home, working on my understanding of the situation behind the scenes. I read, listened, and researched, but I let others shout for me. Their voices were not softer because of my absence, but mine—my own voice—was reduced to nothing. My voice became thoughts read silently and interpreted internally, kept locked away unless I felt secure enough to speak.
On Sunday, that ended. I learned the power of my actual, physical voice, rather than the one I internalize and reproduce on the keyboard or with a pen. This weekend, I witnessed what it means to have a group of voices united. Outside of the south terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson, I saw people of all ages, skin colors, and religions, and all of one mind. Beauty and peace wove through each person. Individuals caught their neighbor’s eye and smiled rather than turning away. People took pictures of strangers’ signs only to have them hold their box tops and poster boards higher and prouder. And everyone cheered unprompted because we all knew why we were there and who we were there for.
When I walked through the congregation for the first time, I was surprised. I saw old white men, moms that looked like mine, and even toddlers throughout the crowd. I realized that these events do more than sending a message; they give hope to those who unite and demonstrate that not one of us is alone. Our rights enable us to speak, and when we don’t, we cut the ground out from under us. We do a disservice to the foundations that we stand on daily, the foundations that purposefully chose freedom as an institutional principle, the foundations that still have so much to repay to those we tore through in order to build in the first place, the foundations that enable us to have opinions. When we don’t speak, those foundations crack, and we fall, likely dragging the people we never talked to along with us.
This past week and weekend, we’ve seen a slew of actions and orders taken against the things that America fought so hard to gain. By being silent, we allow our country to move backward, sinking back into the customary division that our predecessors protested against in their own time. Keep in mind, by being silent towards those who disagree with you, you still deny them the chance to hear you, to be affected by you, even if the conversation only turns you or them towards anger. By talking with people instead of at them, you might just be able to find those individuals who log your conversation somewhere in their subconscious. After enough of those moments, those memories form an outlook, which informs an opinion. When you’re talking to someone about their struggles, there is a big difference between telling someone “I understand” and “I’m listening,” and there is a chasm between saying “I’m with you” and simply thinking it. No matter who you are, no matter where you are from, and even no matter what you have to say, your voice does matter. Despite the hatred and lack of understanding that seems to be pouring from what is supposed to be The People’s House, I believe that these conversations can still take place, but more importantly, that without them, we are destined to fail.
Obamacare, aid to international organizations that discuss abortion options for women, a ban on immigration from certain countries—everything Trump promised is coming to fruition. The silence that rings the loudest is from those who said they didn’t believe he would actually carry through on the bigoted promises, that they just believed he would improve the economy and keep jobs in the U.S. If he promised the latter and meant it, then he intends to keep his promises on the former too.
I value the two-party system; I see both its merits and its detriments, but right now, it feels as though the two entities meant to express dissenting opinions have become two incongruous approaches to our reality, trying to create and live in two entirely different countries. As a nation, we’ve stalled, and I think we’ve known it for years. President Obama preached change, as did President Trump. The two types of change were inherently different, but at their core, the people’s wish for transformation continues to show.
I came across a quote from Leo Tolstoy the other day, where he said: “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing [them]self.” I know that this article will not reach all corners of the country, maybe not even all corners of Georgia or Atlanta, where I am writing this from. I also know that out of all the voices speaking out right now, mine is not the most powerful, nor the one that the majority of people will/should be listening to. And that is more than okay with me because by writing this, by attending the protest on Sunday, I changed myself. I abandoned my comforts because things have gone too far. I used my voice because I know that if I were a citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, or Somalia, I’d want someone—everyone—to forget about what makes them comfortable so that I could re-enter the U.S. after making it my home, so that I could see my family living in my homeland again, or so that I could be welcomed to a place of peace and love after leaving one of violence and hate.
One of the most beautiful parts of everything I saw on Sunday happened right as we walked up to the terminal. It was getting close to 4:00, and
the handful of police officers around were carrying barriers towards the protestors. I automatically assumed that the barriers were to block the people from stepping into the street and obstructing traffic, but instead, they let us pass and the protesters poured out from the thin median on which they had been standing. The officers weren’t blocking the protesters to allow traffic to flow normally; they were blocking traffic for the sake of the protesters. This is what they are supposed to do—it was not some random act of kindness—but I assumed they would not want us there. Instead, they made it easier for us to do what we came for. I was, again, shocked by my own surprise, and filled the streets with the rest. I stood with my friends and with neighbors old and new, and chanted to be heard. Not for myself, not to be noticed, but to simply say what I believe, and to do so in the company of those who felt the same. We were 7,000 strong in Atlanta, but across the world our numbers turn to 7 billion. After seeing the group of people I saw Sunday, I know that’s the most important thing for all of us to remember. We have the beautiful ability here to say what we think, and it was given to us for a reason. I implore you to not ignore it.