By Tiffany Burnette
I woke up feeling anxious. My friends and family were far away on the other (east) coast. I’d be marching alone today.
Jane*, the 72-year-old hippie who’s lived all over the world. I met her at the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon while trying to get back to my volunteer post at the information booth. As we were trying (and failing) to navigate the massive crowd, we ended up next to one another. Being the very tall person I am, I’m on tippy toes to get a better view, when out of the corner of my eye, I notice Jane. She had pulled out a piece of paper, protected from the rain by a plastic sleeve, and began to sing. Her lovely voice stood out amongst the chatter and, even though a moment prior there had not been a single bit of space between any one person, a little circle formed around her. She was small but fiery and when her song ended she looked to me and said, “This hat is really keeping me dry, it’s made by women in Peru, the hat they work in, looks fancy but really, it gets the job done.” She began to laugh at her own words and went right into chanting in Spanish with other Spanish-speaking folks in the crowd. I was fascinated by this woman, she was feisty, bold and, I had an inkling, well traveled.
At one point, as we waited for the march to begin, Jane is trying to sing, drink water, eat nuts and hold her enormous poster. She finally shoves it in my hands and says, “You don’t mind holding this for me because you lost yours right?” From that moment Jane and I were attached at the hip. While we marched and passed her sign back and forth, she taught me old protest chants and songs. She told me her stories of traveling and living all over the world. How she spent her time in the Peace Corps. Her stint in New York City in the 70’s, a wild time as she recalled. We bonded further when we realized that we both lived in the same neighborhoods in Brooklyn and, for both of us, took our leave after about ten years there.
We marched heart and soul together, she kept calling me her sister and fed me blocks of cheese out of her purse. Quite literally shoving it into my mouth saying I needed the protein. She said she needed it too, she’s been here before, knows these ropes, and was well prepared. I couldn’t help but laugh and go along. She reminded me of a mix of my late grandmother and my old aunt Mickey. The aunt Mickey who asked me years ago to write her name on every beach I walked upon so she could visit it too after she perished. Jane had a freeness about her that helped lift me out of my anxiety and helped me feel further liberated by the day’s events.
At the end of the march, Jane spotted a Moroccan restaurant off to the left of us. Jane enthusiastically says “Let’s go eat and get warm!” She pulls me out of the marching masses and into the warmth of the place. She pushes her way to the bar where there were a few empty seats and we sat down and peeled off layers upon layers of soaking wet clothing.
It’s now that we really get to dig a little deeper into getting to know one another. She asks why I marched. I tell her it’s because I’ve been triggered by a sexual assault that took place when I was young, among the many other reasons such as that we still live in a society that supports racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc., etc. She knows how I feel, she’s been fighting her entire life, protesting, being loud, bold and outspoken. A woman in a man’s world. Which is pretty awesome knowing that she was born in the 1940’s. But then she turns to me and says that she also knows about being triggered because she’s been sexually assaulted once and attacked and almost raped two other times.
Each incident was while she was traveling. One while taking a morning walk on the beach in Venezuela. One while bunking up in the Peace Corps. She said that she denied her assault until a few months ago because she let the man into her room. This man was also her friend who ended up forcing himself on her.
After dinner, we hugged (she paid, I fought it but she won), exchanged information and went our separate ways. There were so many people marching on Saturday, so many experiences had and lessons learned, or ignored (you can read more about intersectional feminism over at Bustle: Google Searches For Intersectional Feminism Are Skyrocketing So Now Seems Like A Good Time To Go Over What It Actually Means.
I’m so happy I marched alone (anxiety, isolation and all) and met Jane, two women coming together, who’ve traveled the world, are survivors of the men who oppress us still but brave and courageous enough to use our voice, our privilege, to fight for ourselves and every women, man and child on this planet because we believe it is the right thing to do. Personally, she made me finally feel like I wasn’t alone or isolated, that there are moments that bring us a sense of unity in periods of transition, even if only for a day.
She made me realize that one interaction, a mutual exchange of sisterhood, courageousness, bravery, and solidarity, can change lives.
Like Jane said when texting her contact info, “It’s nice to meet you, Tiffany, on this most auspicious day.”
*Names changed for privacy
Tiffany Burnette is the Creative Director and Founder of Designhype, Inc., a company which combines two of her lifelong passions: design and travel. Tiffany has been a professor at Pratt Institute, teaching courses on design entrepreneurship. Being that both of her parents are entrepreneurs, Tiffany always knew she wanted to start her own business (or businesses). She’s a passionate women’s rights advocate and believes that the more women travel the more we can change the world. She holds a Master of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from The University of the Arts.
You can learn more about Tiffany and her company at www.designhypeinc.com
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