2017: An Education in Sadness, Joy, and Privilege

Photo of me by  Carly Romeo & Co.  in Mwnt, Wales

Photo of me by Carly Romeo & Co. in Mwnt, Wales

Today begins a new year, and while I want to start the year off with hopeful resolutions and aspirations, I have to admit that I am just not there yet. 2017 kicked my ass and kicked it HARD. This year tested me mentally, physically, financially, and politically. And despite all my challenges, I at least can find solace in knowing that I am not alone.

The Sadness

It was on November 4, 2016 that I left by comfortable corporate six-figure office job to start the adventure of working on Catalyst full-time. Prior to that, I didn't talk about politics or Catalyst very publicly. My former employer supported by side hustle, but I was still encouraged to keep my political views off of social media. Suddenly, I was free to speak my mind. It was liberating, but it was also terrifying. After so many years of censoring myself and caring about the image that I projected, I didn't know exactly who this new person was.

The end of 2016 was a spiral of depression for me. I spent my whole savings in just four days on vet bills after my cat suffered sudden kidney failure only to still lose my beloved cat, I left my job security, and the election put the whole world into a spiral. I have seen my husband, Cameron, cry a total of three times during our relationship. Once was on our wedding day, and the other two were in November 2016. We held on with a fierce hope that 2017 would bring the relief we needed, that our community needed. We were instead met with deep disappointment.

While the Women's March was an experience I will never forget, it was definitely an operation in white feminism. While the organizers did an amazing job of crafting a diverse lineup of speakers and performers, there was a disconnect between the speakers and the protesters. While the conversation on stage (of what I could hear) was focused and diverse, the dynamic of the crowd was disjointed. There were squeals of excitement for Scarlett Johansson, but as Angela Davis was ushered through the crowd and I had the joy of being face to face with her, I was the only one who squealed (sorry Angela...if you remember that crazy screaming lady in the crowd...that was me). Those around me asked "Wait who is that? Is she a speaker?" To see us all brought together in this mass was magical, but it also amplified the issues that divide us...the lack of understanding by the majority of white women about the issues truly affecting women of color.

Next came the proposed muslim ban. I am so thankful for our judicial system and that this ban has been repeatedly shot down...but we should never have had to get to this point. We should never have elected a man into office who would suggest such legislation...but, we did. And that says something about America that as a white woman I didn't want to admit until this year. We are a nation built on fear and racism. Plain and simple. 

In the sea of constant political scandal, I had to face my own personal struggles. At the end of February, a friend of mine was murdered by her husband, and then he took his own life. It was a total shock, and one that I am still in denial about. I had known them both for years, but I didn't see them super regularly. Part of me is still waiting for her to turn the corner and walk right up to me after being away on a long vacation. This was my first time coming face to face with this type of domestic violence. I sobbed for weeks, and I suddenly began to fear and analyze all the men in my life, wondering if I should be looking for warning signs amongst my friends.  

A few months passed, and just as my little town of Charlottesville, Virginia began to heal from this epic lost, our resident Nazi white nationalist, Jason Kessler, brought a new horror in the form of the Unite the Right rally. Much of our town bonded together to protest the rally and to stand up for equality and social justice. We watched each other's backs and shared water, ear plugs, and other supplies. As beautiful as the solidarity was, it did little to minimize the fear of being shot by the dozens of armed militia men, the burning of tear gas that blew into my eyes and lungs, the shock at witnessing racial slurs hurled at my neighbors, and the many who shouted and signaled "Heil Hitler." The hate that I naively thought was gone in this country was staring me in the face. And then the day culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer, and the injury of dozens more, including the beating of DeAndre Harris, and any hope for good to overcome on this day was swiftly dashed. 

Since that day, Richard Spencer has returned to hold another torchlit rally. Jason Kessler has announced his plan host an anniversary rally next August. A mass shooting threat against our schools forced all the schools to go on lockdown. I walk by the memorial to Heather Heyer every day on my way to work, and I even suffer through the occasional rubber necker during my job at a retail boutique just 20 feet from where the attack took place, who commonly ask "Oh my god! So where did it happen?!"

Some things have returned to "normal," but the whole experience has redefined what normal means, and it has opened my eyes to the threat that has existed in our country all along. 

The Joy

Given all of this, it might seem impossible to find the joy of the events of this year, but the miraculous thing about humans is that we keep on living. We face hardships, we know the world is dark, and yet we keep getting up each morning to try to make it a better place and bring some light..

I have met so many amazing humans this year who have helped me sustain my faith in humanity, and the majority of these humans have come into my life through Catalyst.

Given everything that has happened this year, Catalyst is my silver lining.

Brittney Taylor and Tomayia Colvin have taught me what it means to truly be an advocate for women of color, and they have helped to build the Catalyst vendor community in amazing ways. Rebecca Anger has taught me and our community how to be a better advocates for people with disabilities. Cassandra Zetta has taught me to be a better advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Jaime Patterson and Jamie Carle have taught me so much about intersectionality, and have empowered me to feel more at home in my own body. Amber Marlow has not only helped Liz and I keep Catalyst afloat, but she is largely responsible for introducing me to all of these amazing humans and for that I am so thankful for her and her friendship.

Running Catalyst has been hard, and the opposite of everything I have done before, but it has brought me an intense joy, and I know that joy will continue to grow in 2018. Given everything that has happened this year, Catalyst is my silver lining.

The Privilege

When I first started working on Catalyst, I was a pretty sheltered white feminist. I didn't understand the depth of the issues in our country. I didn't want to know. 

I have never felt so privileged as when I nervously worried about cops arresting me or tear gassing me during protests in Charlottesville. I had never had to fear the police before...because I am white. My white privilege, which I had acknowledged in the abstract, was suddenly hitting me straight in the face. This year I have had to face the reality of my white privilege and the systemic racism that I have played a part in all my life. 

My hope for 2018 is that more white women ditch their defensiveness and actually speak up for social justice, and don't leave all the heavy lifting to the women of color in our country.

Finally, what optimism that I have going into 2018 is because I was able to finally find a therapist in the last few months that would accept my health insurance. First off, I am one of the privileged few who has health insurance through my spouse and don't suffer the pains of being an entrepreneur who needs to decide between having health insurance and paying my rent or feeding my family. Our generation is in severe need of reliable health coverage...not simply for physical needs, but for our mental needs. Our government is failing us. We all could use some therapy, honestly, and our most marginalized communities desperately need this care, and yet wait lists for available therapists are long, and the costs for sessions without insurance are high.

So many of us have been fighting the good fight in 2017, but so many have stayed silent. My hope for 2018 is that more white women ditch their defensiveness and actually speak up for social justice, and don't leave all the heavy lifting to the women of color in our country.

Regardless, I am moving forward with optimism, and with the love and strength I have found in this community. Thank you all for everything you do.