The Day I Got Harassed in Public

I was asked to speak at the Love Trumps Hate Rally here in Springfield. Please note that this was a rally, not a protest. It was intended to be an opportunity for people to gather together to heal and express solidarity in the face of the turbulence that has arisen from this elections season. I would hazard a guess that people on all sides, no matter how they voted, felt the anxiety and uncertainty leading up to the 2016 election. The rally had a variety of speakers, performers and artists. I was one of the speakers toward the end of the rally. I noticed as I awaited my turn to speak that the crowd had dwindled some. At the same time, I heard the trucks decked out with Trump-Pence signs and the Confederate flag revving their engines noisily as they drove around the square in protest of what we were gathered for. So my anxiety level was a little higher than it had been at other events I’ve spoken for.

I began my speech expressing my excitement on election day, my hopes of witnessing a new barrier being crossed, the excitement to watch history unfold. I shared my disappointment over how the election ended up turning out. As I told the crowd of my dismay at a woman presidential candidate being talked over and interrupted and demeaned and bullied on the national stage, a man started yelling over me as I spoke those words (irony much?). And then, about two minutes later as I was sharing a disturbing story of what a member of our church overheard another man say post-election, a man jumped up on the stage and did a jokester-y dance in front of me while he held an oppositional sign above his head. I continued speaking, sharing how I have family members that voted for Trump and how I am not willing to cut them out of my life over it. Then the man danced his way next to me, put his arm around me (while I was still speaking) and when I turned and looked at him, he said, “Thank you for your vote.” I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what he was trying to do by saying that to me. Almost immediately someone came up and pushed him (without touching him) back away from me and then a bunch of people gathered around me. I have to be honest, for a second or two, I thought perhaps there were several others like him who were swarming around me and I got scared. I could hear some scuffling and shouting behind me and wondered if I should continue speaking. But then I realized the people who were standing behind me were in fact allies forming a protective barrier around me, shielding me from the man who had tried to demean and belittle me in the middle of my speech. And for a moment, I had to stop and regain my composure. People cheered as I steeled myself to finish the speech. Really, I am so thankful to those in attendance at the rally for their incredible support in the midst of a scary moment.

Afterwards the police asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said no. Because I felt like it would make me look bad if I pressed charges for someone coming up to me and putting his arm around me. His action wasn’t violent, he didn’t physically harm me. But I had several men tell me that they viewed it as assault and I’ve been wondering why it is that I didn’t see it that way.

The fact of the matter is, what the man did was wrong. I was speaking and he came up and invaded my space, he interrupted my speech to speak patronizingly to me, but he did it in a way that no one else could hear. He jumped around like a jokester in front of me as he made his way over to where I was standing, making a mockery of the words I was speaking from my heart. I spent a great deal of time crafting my words and then adapting them for this particular audience. I gave a lot of care to ensure that I was seeing the humanity of people on all sides of this election, that I felt it was important for all of us to listen to one another, no matter who we voted for. I wrote and re-wrote, I took the task seriously, and here some guy started jumping and dancing around in front of me as I spoke. I felt humiliated and demeaned. I felt like I was being made a fool of when I was trying to pour my heart out and speak words of hope and comfort to people living in fear and worry and uncertainty. Did he physically hurt me? No. But he did embarrass me (which is one of the worst feelings for me). And he scared me. Because I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know what his intentions were. And I didn’t know if he was alone. I felt extraordinarily vulnerable. And then I was overwhelmed by the show of support from those in attendance at the rally.

The other thing I’ve been wondering since yesterday afternoon is why me? There were a number of speakers before me and nothing like this happened while they were speaking. In fact, I think the only real disturbance during the entire event was the one I just described. So what was it about me that attracted this guy’s attention and inspired his antics? (He later told the News-Leader that he voted for Trump, but that didn’t mean he was a bigot. Oh, how I wish the guy had listened to my speech! It was as much to him as to anyone else gathered in the square. It was a call to ALL OF US to start listening to one another, to begin to understand where the places of hurting are that lead us to vote the way we do.) The only thing I can think of is that it was partly because I was a woman standing alone on that stage. And perhaps that’s why my male friends saw what he did as assault. Because they were shocked to see a man come up and touch me and interrupt me like that in public while I was making a speech because that is an experience they have NEVER had. And this may also be why I wanted to explain it away, to make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it was. Even though clearly it affected me as I broke down in tears the second I finished speaking. But as women, we are taught (whether explicitly or implicitly) to accept the way men treat us, to put up with it and not confront it. Because if you confront it, it will only get worse for you. So just stay quiet and accept it and move on with your life. It’s exhausting. I don’t know how Hillary Clinton did it.

 

 

For those who are interested, here is a manuscript of my speech:

Nearly two weeks ago, we made our way to the polls, some with dreams of a new barrier being broken, a new era beginning. I spent much of the day with my 8-year-old friend Lily, who was so excited about the news the evening might bring. And I was looking forward to watching history in the making alongside this fierce and excited young girl.

Now, I’ll be honest with you. I have voted in six presidential elections. In half of them, the candidate I supported won and in the other half, the candidate I supported lost. But you know, this election is different. As a person of faith, as a woman called by God to preach the good news, I cannot stand silent in the wake of this particular campaign season and election.

There are so many parts of me that have reacted to what happened on November 8. As a woman, I am demoralized because a woman who ran for president and has been a public servant for 30 years has been smeared and systematically torn down since the very beginning and those tactics worked and she lost. She was talked over and interrupted and demeaned and bullied on the national stage (an experience that frankly almost every woman has had to endure many times in her life) and the one who treated her that way was rewarded. As a person of peace, I am frightened. I heard people promising violence if the election went the other way and acts of violence have been reported on both sides in the wake of Tuesday night. As an ally of those in the LGBTQ community, I am heartbroken as I hear the anguish in the voices of so many. As a granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, I am angry that my family members were described so hatefully. As a participant in interfaith dialogue, I am worried that all members of Islam are being labeled as potential terrorists. As a pastor at Brentwood Christian Church who works for inclusion and extravagant hospitality, I am devastated that exclusion and inhospitality seemed to rule the day. As a human being who strives every day to see the humanity of those who think differently than me, I am challenged to understand why people voted the way they did.

We are a nation divided. But we are not divided because of who won the presidency. No, our divisions started long before that. And I wonder if that’s what makes this so hard. For months we have been aching for this election to be over so we could go back to some sense of normalcy, where we could go back to just being neighbors and friends and families and no longer enemies. But I think this election may have broken us. I have heard it from people across many generations: never have we been so divided. And we would have been just as divided if the election had gone the other way. Because as a nation, we have failed to listen to one another. We have failed to recognize ourselves in the other. We have demonized those who think differently and act differently and vote differently.

While for many, a vote for Donald Trump did not equate to a vote for racism, xenophobia and hate, it did equate as a vote for those things for some. A member of our church, while sitting in a waiting room on the Wednesday morning after the election, heard a man say to his wife: “Well, thank God Trump is now President. He’s gonna get rid of all the blacks, homosexuals, Jews and terrorists and we’ll get our country back.”

I know I have family members who voted differently than I did. But I’m not willing to cut them out of my life for doing so. And I know that I am coming from a place of privilege, being able to say that. Because I am a straight cisgender white woman with health insurance whose status in this nation most likely will not change under a Trump presidency. But I am an ally of many groups of people who cannot say that with 100% certainty. And I hear you and ache with you. Still, it is important for me to listen to the stories of those who voted differently than me. The stories of those who are struggling to make ends meet, who no longer have jobs available to them that have benefits like health insurance and sick days, who’s communities have crumbled due to closing manufacturing plants, who feel betrayed by Washington every step of the way and just wanted something to change. People vote the way they do for a myriad of reasons and we need to listen to one another. But right now, no one is leaving space for those who may think or vote differently than they do. People are unfriending family and friends left and right, refusing to be in the same room as those they once loved. I can’t help but think many of the bold declarations I’m seeing are tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face because let’s face it, we are all living in this country together. Most of us aren’t going to leave because of how this election turned out. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters], or perish together as fools.” But how can we ever begin to do that when the wounds are so deep?

We have a broken and divided electorate. And right now, it feels like healing may not be possible. As a minister, I often turn to the Bible where we find people crying out to God in the face of injustice, in the midst of distress, when the people are downtrodden and broken and devastated. The great prophets raised their voices against the powers that be that held the people under the heel of their boot. The prophet Isaiah preached to a broken people, a people living in exile, a people who had lost hope. And he reminded them of God’s work in this world, of God’s dream for God’s people. A new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no more weeping, no cries of distress, where lives are not cut short by disease or famine or poverty or war. Where all will have housing and food to eat, where work will bring dignity and life and all will be blessed. The people of Israel needed this word from Isaiah, this reminder that God had a dream for them and that what they were living at that moment in time was not it. They needed to hear that God is the God of justice, the God of the poor, the God of the marginalized, the God of the voiceless, the God of the weary. In the wake of this election, as I wondered what the future holds for us as a nation, I’ve had segments of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” running through my head, a refrain lifting the fog of my despair:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

You may shoot me with your words,
Y
ou may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

We will rise. People of color and people of all gender identities, people of varying sexual orientations and people of all socio-economic levels, we will join hands together and we will rise. People of all ethnicities and people of all faiths, people with power and people with none, we will join hands together and we will rise. People of justice and people of love, people of hope and people of courage, we will join hands together and we will rise. We are called to listen to one another, to see the humanity of each person and to treat them with dignity, so we will rise. We are called to speak out when we see injustice, to stand on the side of the oppressed, to feed and clothe and visit and care for and welcome the least of these, so we will rise. We are called to work together to live into this dream for all people, so we will rise. It starts with you and it starts with me. It starts with us. And we will rise. Before you make an assumption about someone because of who they voted for, stop for a moment and imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. Imagine the fear of not being able to provide for your family. Imagine the reality of not having any good jobs in your community any more. Imagine the anger at broken promises by politician after politician. Imagine the fear of having your marriage dissolved through no actions of your own. Imagine the terror of hearing that a powerful leader doesn’t want to allow members of your faith into our country. Imagine the anguish of hearing your child cry because they believe that they are going to be sent back to Guatemala. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, listen to them speak with the intent to hear their story rather than with the intent to formulate a response. And then join hands with them so that we can rise together. We have hard work to do, and our work starts here.

And to those who are living in very real fear right now because of campaign promises that were made and now have the potential of being realized, know that you have so many gathered here in this space right now who will stand by you, who will help you, who will rise up with you. We will stand beside you and love through it all. And we will fight for you. It is our calling as a community to make sure that it includes you. To show you through our words and our work that you are not alone and you are loved beyond your wildest imagination. We won’t let anyone in power leave you behind or strip you of the rights you have fought so hard to get. The call of justice won’t let us stay silent. The call of God demands that we speak, propels us to act and moves us to love. Together, we will rise.

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8 thoughts on “The Day I Got Harassed in Public

  1. Thank you for your words. Thank you for your courage (even though it felt scary). Perhaps, also, it was you who was harassed because your words were that powerful. When they go low, we go high. You are an inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Hello, I was at the rally. I’d never before heard you speak but your comments were powerful–and inspirational. They were just what I needed to hear. Thank you for spending the time beforehand to craft a message that touched my heart–and those of everyone in attendance. I’m glad you posted your comments; I’ve told friends about what you said. Now I’ll send them the whole text. May God bless you.

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