How to Get in the Way (Even When Things Are Terrible)

Want change in 2019? Keep showing up.

By Sarah Mirk December 21, 2018 Published in the January 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jack Dylan

I’ve worked as a writer and editor in and out of Portland for more than a decade, covering sexuality to politics. That means however infuriating the day’s political circus is, my job is to take a deep breath and get reporting.

But watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings this past fall felt like a breaking point. His smug testimony was a flashback to every man in my life who has dismissed and belittled me. It was a rare moment when I felt speechless, too upset to even write.

Feminist scholar Sara Ahmed says: “When you expose a problem you pose a problem.” I mulled those words while I thought about Christine Blasey-Ford, speaking up to become a problem for Trump’s political machine, despite knowing it would derail her life. Would I have done that? I usually report on the news, rather than being the news. How much am I willing to get in the way?

I happened to be in New York City as the hearings came to a demoralizing close. Burning with anger, I biked to Trump Tower. I assumed there’d be a protest, and I needed to shout.

When I pulled up to the menacing black monolith, there was no chanting crowd to be found. But I noticed a family with a tween daughter holding signs by their sides that read: “Believe Women.”

“Are you here for a protest?” I asked. “Yeah!” they replied, surprised. “We thought there would be one.” “We could just be a protest,” I suggested. “But I don’t have a sign.” The daughter excitedly reached into her bag and pulled out poster board and a Sharpie. I wrote, “We All Hate Trump.”

We stood there, four of us with our signs. Immediately other people started standing with us. A group of young women showed up in red shirts that said “Believe Women.”  Two women appeared on bikes with a tiny dog in their basket. An elderly Canadian couple stopped in, too. Suddenly, we were a group, growing stronger with the arrival of each stranger adding their voice.

What does a protest like this do? Will it make Trump sit up and take notice? No. Will it end sexism? No. But it made me feel like I was finally in just the right place, getting in the way. In the midterm elections last fall, a lot of new people turned anger into action, too: at least 300,000 more Oregonians voted in that midterm election than the one four years prior.

Showing up to vote once every two years may not be enough, either, but it’s a good start. And if my Trump Tower stop taught me anything, it’s that if we really want to change things, we have to get in the way whenever we can.

Sarah Mirk is a journalist and comics artist who also writes books about sex. She has voted in every single election since she turned 18, even the boring ones.
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