In our present realm of oppression, it is apparent that anecdotal evidence is not given the esteem it so obviously deserves. We’ve heard voices chiming from corners big and small across the globe for decades now. We’ve read words and witnessed testimonies. We’ve flinched at headlines and chosen realities that are more comfortable, more suitable for where we want to be, because acknowledging the suffering will make it real. We’ve turned our backs on one another when we needed it most.
I think of Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I think of Tarana Burke and Andrea Pino and Annie Clark and many, many more. I think of the echo chambers they created so that survivors left and right could tell their stories. I think it is brave when powerful people risk their power to be honest, so that the powerless can be heard just as clearly. That is why we are here.
The number one thing that has bonded me to the people in my life is our shared victimization. I tell a story and step into the light. The light is big enough for all of us. My friends, my family, a stranger; the light is big enough for all of us, and I know this firsthand because I have sat in rooms full of people who have stories to tell, and not the fun kind. It escalates to a point where we realize that things we thought were normal are not — or they are, but they should not be.
I’m seventeen and think I’m grown, but it’s comically obvious that I am not. I’m all eyeliner and bones. I work at a store, and there are two or three grown men that like to come to this store, where they feel they have the right to leer and joke and follow and proposition. I’m seventeen, so I’m flattered, because to be Woman is to be desired by Man. I should feel grateful. So why are my hands trembling when I finally get a moment alone? Because I told one of them my age, hoping to deter, and they didn’t bat an eye? Because he’s memorized my schedule and the whole staff knows to warn me when he walks in so that I can hide? That’s just how things are when you’re pretty, sweetie.
I’m thirteen and I’ve stopped taking neighborhood strolls because too many
men boys have honked or leaned out their windows and yelled or followed me for a couple blocks. I’m any age at a family reunion being commended for looking a way that I have no control over and when are you going to get a boyfriend? When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? When are you going to fit yourself into this mold we made for you? It’s nice and warm. We think you’ll like it.
I’m sixteen and crying in the office, my boss asking me if I want him to fire the kid that just assaulted me in the break room. I’m fifteen and catatonic on the couch, because something was taken from me very suddenly. I’m nineteen and laying wide awake and his arms feel like straps and I’m immobile, afraid to move lest my tears spill. I’m any age with another girl or woman and we’re swapping tragedies like war stories because we’ve been at war with the world, with our bodies, since birth. It’s a nefarious kind of nostalgia that makes you realize very quickly just how perverse reality has been made to be. When I need all my fingers and toes to count the true friends in my life, but can count on one hand the ones that haven’t been victimized in their lifetimes, is the evidence still anecdotal? Or should we acknowledge the elephant on the glass ceiling before it crashes through and crushes us all?
My shimmering shadow, the woman who has gone back in time and comforted that girl of thirteen, fifteen, sixteen, nineteen, the woman whose anger could level cities, has stepped into the light. We are angry. We are One. I am angry that each and every time a piece of me was chipped away, someone brushed it under a rug named “boys will be boys” or “it’s because you’re so pretty” or “was it really rape if you were dating?” or “it happens to all of us, sweetie, it’s just the way things are.” I am angry because my parents actually did a really good job of raising me to be powerful and not live in fear but society had other plans for me. “It’s just the way things are,” they insist. No it’s not. It doesn’t have to be. It’s that way because we allow it to be.
When I’m told that I’m exaggerating or whining or seeking attention or sympathy, I turn and motion to the army of survivors, the sea of soldiers, whose stories I’ve heard, whose stories are real. I am not exaggerating; I am storytelling. I am not whining; I am storytelling. I am not seeking attention or sympathy; I am storytelling. I am sending a message into space that I am safe, I have this light that I exist in, and there is room for you, too. If you listen closely, you can hear a thrumming chorus chanting, “I do not accept your oppression any longer.” People of color have had it. LGBTQ+ folks have had it. Poor people have had it. Disabled people, people whose creeds and religions that xenophobia has tarnished, people who reject the gender binary or surf along it, have all had it. We’re done playing a game where we are running out of lives, that was designed by the only people actually capable of winning it, called “Bootstraps Ethos.” How can we pull ourselves up when, every time we do, we get knocked down? How can Black individuals even buy into the lie that they have bootstraps when so many of them are descendants of those that we shackled, when they can still hear the rattle of chains and taste the pain of generational trauma? In this land of the free and home of the brave, we must be brave so that we can all be free.
Maybe you hear the word “reckoning” and start to sweat. All it is is a tallying of consequences and a redistribution of freedom. Freedom to walk the streets safely, to love safely, to exist safely, to persist safely. If you choose not to join us, that’s okay. All we need you to do is sit back and watch. We’re not coming for what you have; we’re coming for what has been chronically taken from us, all of us, what there is more than enough of. There is a trillion-pound cake and plenty for everyone to eat, if only the elite few would surrender their need to simply have it.
This is not my story, or yours. It’s ours. I am not free until we are all free. Listen closely. Can you hear the glass cracking overhead? That’s the sound of change.