To March or Not to March

Four women share why they did – or didn’t – join Dublin’s “Women’s March on Washington”

Nearly a week later and Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington is still making headlines. What began as one woman's off-the-cuff response to the United States’ new Commander-in-Chief became a viral, global protest by millions of women, men and children on six continents. Cities around the world joined in solidarity for women’s rights, universal health care, environmental awareness and social justice, and thousands gathered locally in Dublin, Galway and Castlebar.

But I didn’t.

To be fair, I’ve got plenty of excuses. I'd just returned to Dublin after a month-long trip to the US. My husband was still stateside with his family, while I jetlagged on our sofa with three kids. And though I was well-aware of the march in Washington, DC, I’d not realized marches were happening everywhere, even here. As my friends back home (who spanned all religious and political spectrums) planned their protests and placards, I cheered them on feeling only slightly left out, and perhaps even a little relieved that I resided at a safe distance.

I don’t need to march, I told myself. I live in Ireland.

Much of my Christian community in the US (at least the under-40s) were emboldened as they, perhaps for the first time, stood shoulder to shoulder with feminists and activists, families and community leaders. Many of these young women marched because of their faith, not despite it. As followers of Christ, they had plenty of reasons to resist this new political administration, and they weren’t afraid to say so. 

“It is interesting how the first wave of feminism was deeply rooted in the Christian faith,” writes Jesus Feminist author Sarah Bessey. “It was precisely because of their deeply cherished faith that women were compelled to organize for the vote, for women to be declared persons under the law, for the rights of workers, for women to wear pants, for temperance even (because the victims of drunkenness were usually women and children), and so on.”

I wondered if my Irish friends felt the same, so I asked around.

Kate is American and moved to her Irish husband’s home village in 2012, where they attend a Church of Ireland. “I would definitely consider myself a person of faith, but I tend to keep my ideas about faith and my thoughts about politics separate,” she told me via email. Kate joined other American expats for the Dublin march in order to “speak out against unethical and corrupt ideals.”

The marches remind us of the importance of articulating those kingdom things that we believe and practice.

“Just for one day," she said, "marching enabled participants to be with like-minded people, replacing the feeling of ‘doom and gloom’ with a sense of hopefulness.”

Melanie is an Irish writer and actress and she, too, marched in Dublin on Saturday. 

“I was there. With bells on!" Melanie said she tries to "see the world through the lens of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us to love God and love others. In standing up for women, I see myself continuing Jesus' work of compassion and inclusion and empowerment."

Still, some women of faith were hesitant to join the march, despite their distress over the new American President.

“My heart swells when I see pictures of the march,” said my friend Sharon, an American by birth who became an Irish citizen two years ago, “because I do agree with most of the issues and I'm so glad that people are standing up to keep an account of Trump.”

But Sharon stayed home on Saturday, saying that she struggled with fully supporting the typical interpretation of women’s rights.

“I knew there would be a lot of Repeal the 8th slogans going on and I didn't want to be like, ‘I'm with you about 80%!!’ So it was an awkward moment for me living out my faith in society.”

Another friend of mine felt the same, “When I first heard, I considered going to Galway,” said Kathy, who lives in Ennis. “Then, I felt that it was up to those in the US to show their views–not other countries. I later looked up more of the ‘agenda’ of those protesting in Ireland and realised I couldn't support a lot of what they stood for.”

It's true; the feminist capstone of reproductive rights kept some believers at bay. The Women’s March in Washington was sponsored by Planned Parenthood and, after an outcry from abortion-rights activists, march organisers cancelled a similar sponsorship from pro-life groups. Similarly, the Ireland march was sponsored in part by the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Coalition to Repeal the 8th, which many evangelical Christians feel they can't fully embrace.

Sharon considered if she might have been more likely to march had she been in the USon her home turf, so to speak. “I would have marched for access to healthcare, fair and level-headed immigration policy, and policies that evidence a whit of concern about the environment.”

Her thoughts were echoed by my friend, Lynn, a Canadian living in Dublin with her Irish husband and children.

“Those who are feeling ostracized and marginalized even more now need to know that they have the support of the majority, and I think in some ways those marches are about that.”

In talking to these women and reading other Christian feminist commentaries of the day, Micah 6:8 came to mind (as it often does in times of philosophical and political distress).

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

If we use this verse as our guide, we can feel empowered to raise our voices and march our feet. By excluding ourselves from the equal rights conversation, the movement is missing a major voice and a distinct aspect of empathy, compassion, and service that only followers of Christ can provide. As Lynn said, “[Those who march] remind all of us of the importance of articulating those kingdom things that we believe and probably practice, but don't necessarily articulate regularly.”

For expat Christian women like Sharon, Kathy and myself, we each must decide how to "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly" in the time of Trump, as well as how to march in solidarity without wholesale unanimity.

"Maybe I should have stepped out in that awkwardness," said Sharon.

Maybe I should’ve joined her there.