On Saturday I march. From the southernmost end of Duval, where Key West tourists line up for their vacation pictures with the big red buoy, to Mallory Square, where those same tourists gather for sunset.
It will be the first time I can stand alongside others of like minds and step off to chants of “equality, unity and social justice.”
Because, you see, journalists don’t march. Or, at least, I should say, back when I was one, journalists didn’t march, or protest, or carry signs, or any of those time-tested First Amendment things because the journalists I knew signed statements of ethical conduct prohibiting behavior that appeared to be a conflict. I wrote columns and shaped editorials for four decades, and, except for one newspaper-editorial-board-sponsored event back in the 1990s, called “Not In My Town,” I didn’t get out of the office much.
I march because I can. Finally.
I may lose some friendly acquaintances who think these “marches on fill-in-your-town-name” are designed to be vehement, liberal, anti-administration protests.
No doubt, some will be because, well, the First Amendment and all that. But from the first “you know, we ought to do something” moments, organizers of the Women’s March on Washington — the mother of them all — right down to the amazing young women who are the Key West steering committee, the message has been singular: We march for unity, equality and social justice. For women’s rights. For human rights.
Over the past month, I’ve worked in the background as young Key West women flexed their power. Single mothers. Working women in their first jobs. Acquaintances who may — or may not — have shared high school. These are the women for whom we march. This is their march, the one in which they show they can take on the future and make a difference.
Watching these young ones learn for the first time the challenges of organizing and leading is life affirming. In some ways, sure, it’s hard to turn over the heady in-charge role, to know that my time is passing. But, the sheer joy of knowing that these women and hundreds of thousands like them around the country are in charge and moving on overcomes any touch of nostalgia. Godspeed them.
And, so my role is a simple one. Help where I can. Nudge a bit here and there. Make a phone call and put the right person in contact with the other right person. Write a check. Cheer them on. Write a news release with bullet points, five Ws and an H. Make sure we crones on our trikes are holding up the rear of this march in style.
On Saturday, I march:
- Because too little has changed since I wore my “first woman who” sashes in the early 1970s.
- Because I had to write front page stories in order to get a credit card in my own name — my unemployed spouse was the bank’s preferred underwriter on the card that read “Mrs. So-And-So.” My beloved owner/publisher told the complaining bankers they could stop future headlines by giving me the card. They did. I learned the power of important reporting to change the world.
- Because I bit my tongue every time a male boss called me “girl” or hugged me with wandering hands or suggested I be more ladylike and “friendly.”
- Because the nuns measured the length of my hemline before letting me student teach in their junior high.
- Because I couldn’t sign for a car loan or a mortgage without a man holding my hand and signing alongside.
- Because I was paid less than the guys.
- Because I paid more for health care insurance for no reason except my gender.
- Because women and children are too often as much an afterthought today as we were when we were legal property.
- Because Title IX and every piece of legislation or court decision that ensures equal rights and protection for women and LGBTQ, for the elderly and the young, for people of color and for those with disabilities, for those who are different can be wiped away with a single vote in a local, state or national legislative body or court. What Congress and SCOTUS giveth, Congress and SCOTUS can take away.
- Because I believe in the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment and it is under attack through a thousand cuts. Here’s what it says in case you’ve forgotten: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
- Because there is no Equal Rights Amendment.
- Because a couple hundred young women in my newsrooms had to work harder, be smarter and act nicer to stay even with the men — and that was in a workplace where women executives were common.
- Because the young women and men in my life need to know I will do whatever I have to do to protect their futures.
- Because Social Security, ACA, Medicare and Medicaid prevent millions of our poor, our middle class, our young and elderly from perishing in place.
And, I march because the work I started with that first headline about women and credit cards is good work and the work’s not done.