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After the Marches, the Hard Part: Women Must Strive for Unity

The great roar heard around the world on Jan. 21 was the sound of a political safety valve exploding.

After 74 days of anguish following the election of Donald Trump, women on the liberal end of the ideological spectrum needed the release and recharge that came with turning out by the millions at marches around the U.S., as well as London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and other locations.

The solidarity found in marshaling that sisterhood — with the assist of husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers — left me, along with an estimated 500,000 others who attended the Women’s March on Washington, awestruck. It was the kind of large-scale shared experience that has become rare in the age of online communities and fragmented media consumption. The sea of pink “pussyhats” that formed the day after the inauguration became a potent and cheeky symbol of defiance.

But there were aspects that were disconcerting. The unchecked venom directed at Trump in many homemade signs demonstrated the political and cultural divisions this country faces. I spotted a woman and young girl walking around wrapped in yellow police barricade tape that read “F–k you” rather than “Do not cross.”

The expressions of defiance reflected the punch to the uterus delivered Nov. 8, after months of predictions that Hillary Clinton would easily defeat Trump. The pain was made worse by the fact that Clinton lost to a man with a track record of shocking behavior toward women. After achieving the proud milestone of electing Barack Obama as our first African-American president, the rise of Trump feels like a betrayal — as if nearly half the electorate decided to reject common decency for an ill-defined promise to “make America great again.”

Perhaps the hardest statistic to accept is the fact that a majority of white women voted for Trump — 53%, to Clinton’s 43%. Of white women voters, some 45% with college degrees went for Trump, along with 62% of non-college graduates.

The rally before the D.C. march featured a marathon list of fiery speakers. Crowds were urged to form a new resistance to Trump policy proposals ranging from vows to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back abortion rights to creating a national registry for Muslim-Americans. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., rightly demanded that Trump and his controversial campaign- chief-turned-special-counselor Steve Bannon “stop sending those dog whistles to white supremacists” with their political rhetoric. Appearances by Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis provided a historical link to civil rights movements of the recent past.

But in more than four hours of speechifying, there were virtually no calls for bridge-building with the women who supported Trump. The spirit of tolerance and inclusion that was eloquently expressed by activists ranging from America Ferrera to Janet Mock to Linda Sarsour should also apply to recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of those who identify as conservative, or anti-abortion, or even pro-Trump.

There has to be some common ground to strive for among mothers (and fathers), young women, seniors, women in poverty, and women with disabilities. The stark ideological divisions and suspicions created a political vacuum that Trump filled with a dystopian message rooted in fear. Demonizing those with opposing viewpoints will only deepen the trenches on both sides.

At the Washington march, it was a man who came closest to expressing this sentiment. Van Jones, founder of the nonprofit Dream Corps aimed at criminal justice reform and the Love Army movement, reminded the crowd that it takes work to live up to an oft-seen slogan at the marches: “Love trumps hate.”

“Real love is the strongest stuff in the universe,” he said. “We gotta be better liberals and better progressives. I’m tired of hearing us say ‘Love trumps hate’ but sometimes sound more hateful than Trump. I’m tired of us putting down the red-state voters and saying they’re all stupid and they’re all uneducated. We have to stop that. Just because somebody made a bad vote doesn’t make them a bad person.”

The passion and conflict on display during the inaugural weekend — from the chest-beating of those in the red “Make America great” hats to the fist-pumping of the pink pussyhats — is the stuff of great drama. There are stories to be mined from this moment that should expand the boundaries of empathy and compassion we have for one another as Americans. If this election taught us anything, it is that we have lost any semblance of national unity at a time when our demographics are irrevocably shifting to a younger, more multicultural and multiracial composition. Trump’s election won’t staunch this progress.

Rather than deepening the us-against-them attitudes that divide men and women, urban and rural, whites and people of color, young and old, we should aim higher in our quest for the fabled “more perfect union.” Hollywood can help that effort.

As Jones stated so succinctly: “When it gets harder to love, let’s love harder.”

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