Guest Post — Mormon Feminists for Equality: Virtuous Activism at the Women’s March on Washington
I made this sign and held it during the Women’s March on Washington. I didn’t realize that it took courage to proclaim that I was a Mormon feminist who champions human rights until I interacted with other marchers. It felt a bit disarming to have people respond to my sign so emphatically. Here are a few of those exchanges:
–An elderly woman walked by arm-in-arm with her husband and said lovingly, in her strong, raspy voice, “I want to tell the Mormon feminists: I’m very proud of you!” (This made me cry.)
–Another woman flashed a knowing smile and thumbs up despite the hoards of people between us. I responded in-kind. (I like to think that she was an incognito Mormon feminist.)
–A middle-aged woman whispered as she walked by: “My daughter is on a mission.” Her hushed tone communicated that she wished to hide her Mormon identity. I simply nodded in response.
–When she saw my sign, another middle-aged woman’s face lit up as she unzipped her coat, revealing a BYU sweatshirt. No words were exchanged, just giant smiles as we moved past each other. Then she closed up her coat as quickly as she’d opened it to conceal her Mormon-ness from others’ view.
Little did I know that by scrawling out the words “Mormon Feminists for Equality” using Crayola markers while standing on a D.C. metro platform, I would connect with so many Mormon women in our nation’s capital that historic day. Not to mention the countless discerning looks and smiles from fellow marchers—some of whom proclaimed that they were from Utah and supported our cause.
By holding my sign, I was declaring to the masses that I am a proud Mormon feminist who believes in the inherent value of all people—no matter their sex, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, social status, or their abilities. To borrow a symbol from the Book of Mormon, I was holding a modern version of Moroni’s “title of liberty:” I was using my voice and my body to stand against evil. To fight for the protection, freedom, and rights of the vulnerable. “In memory of [my] God, [my] religion, our freedom, and our peace, our [sisters], our [brothers], and our children” (Alma 46:12).
In contrast to the violence exacted by Moroni when “he caused to be put to death” anyone who refused to “covenant to support the cause of freedom” (Alma 46:35), not one person in any women’s march held in over 50 countries that day was harmed. This, despite the fact that the freedoms of millions are infringed upon, even stripped from them, every day in this country and the world over. I was astonished that no one was trampled after the D.C. march organizers announced that we were being forbidden to march by the authorities. This news came after being crammed into a few city blocks with half a million people for the better part of a day (we did eventually march). My friends who attended other marches reported the same atmosphere of concern and care for one’s neighbor—most of whom were strangers just moments before.
On Sunday, Sister Elaine Dalton spoke to single Mormon women at a fireside in Salt Lake City, where she seemed to criticize those of us who marched on January 21st. The Deseret News reported her as saying:
“We were in a cab, and as I watched those women marching and yelling, and should I say, behaving anything but ladylike and using language that was very unbefitting of daughters of God,” Sister Dalton said. “As I watched all of that take place, my heart just sank and I thought to myself, ‘What would happen if all of those women were marching and calling to the world for a return to virtue?’”
It’s painful to hear an esteemed former women’s leader in my community focus on the tone with which some of the marchers expressed their feelings. By doing so she implicitly devalued the efforts of all of the marchers in attendance—even using the Young Women value of virtue as a foil for women like me.
And yet, I can relate to Sister Dalton’s recoiling in judgment about language and behavior that was likely foreign or unfamiliar to her. I too can find myself choosing comfort over understanding when someone’s experience conflicts with mine. So I hold what I view as Sister Dalton’s intent to inspire in my heart at the same time as I unequivocally state that what she described as an observer through a window of her NYC cab grossly misrepresents a courageous, peaceful demonstration against hate and violence by millions of women worldwide. Yes, there was rhetoric I would not have chosen at the marches. But the pain that was being expressed is paramount; the wounds that were given voice need to be heard.
The sheer number of women who showed up and spoke up that day, and who represented women who couldn’t, testifies that women’s pain runs deep and across borders and cultures. Wikipedia totals the number of cities in the U.S. that held women’s marches that day at a whopping 676. Even more mind-boggling are the ”137 marches outside the United States in support of the 2017 Women’s March” (“List of 2017 Women’s March Locations”). It was the largest one-day protest in U.S. history, involving between 3 and 4 million attendees, with not a single documented arrest. And despite this suffering resonating globally, the vast majority of the language and behavior that I witnessed that day was truthful, moving, and inspiring. Here is a sampling of what I jotted down from marchers’ signs in Washington D.C.:
-A woman’s place is in the revolution.
-Respect my existence or expect my resistance.
-Body sovereignty now and forever.
-Sisterhood [symbol for female] -Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights.
-We love our gay daughter. Equality for all.
-Hear our voice.
-Marching for my daughters and yours.
-United we stand: divided we fall.
-Power to the peaceful.
-Love is love.
-Women thinking freely
-Our bodies. Our minds. Our power.
-Be kind. Be brave. Know your worth. (Find your voice.)
-This is personal. And the personal is political.
-Rebellions are built on hope.
-Here’s to strong women: May we know them. May we raise them. May we be them.
-“Compassion is the radicalism of our time.” –Dalai Lama
-Unity. Solidarity. Activism.
-All people deserve respect.
-If you want to be great, you’ve got to be kind.
-We the people defend dignity.
-We will NOT be quiet.
-Just because I move through a public space, my body is not a public space.
-To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.
-For my mother, for my father, for my daughters, for my wife, for my nation. #whyimarch
-We resist. We matter.
-History has its eyes on you.
-Hate has no home here.
-BECAUSE MY DAUGHTERS DESERVE BETTER. [held by a man] -I march so my daughter doesn’t have to.
-There is not enough room on this sign for all the things I’m worried about.
-This is what patriots look like.
-We all belong here; we will defend each other.
-Gentle by nature: fierce by necessity.
-We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
-JUSTICE not JUST US.
-“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
-“I affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every person.”
-“Girls should be treated the same.” [written by a 5-year-old girl]
The majority of the signs I saw waving amidst the crowd embodied President Nelson’s declaration for “women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve” “to speak up and speak out” (“A Plea to My Sisters,” General Conference, October 2015). They personified “stand[ing] for truth and righteousness” (Young Women Motto). In short, they were virtuous.
Virtue is synonymous with morality, valor, merit, potency, and grace. I shudder to think of what would become of this country—or any country—without the overwhelming display of virtue I witnessed by women that day.
The women I marched with in D.C. on January 21st were peaceful warriors for the survivors of sexual assault and abuse, the LGBTQIA community, for people of color, for indigenous people, for immigrants, for children and adults with disabilities. For the oppressed. For the marginalized. For the forgotten. For those who are being cast out or banned from entering this country based on their place of birth and/or their religion. For those who have lost their liberty.
The same chapter in the Book of Mormon that depicts Moroni raising his title of liberty contains an eerie warning: “Yea, [we] see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men, [who seeks to] destroy the foundation of liberty” (Alma 46:9, 10). The world needs more women who will boldly and unapologetically oppose hate, discrimination, violence, and evil of any kind through nonviolent but potent acts of bravery. Holding my sign was just the beginning of my virtuous activism. Will you join me?
Wendy has had multiple lives, figuratively speaking, but she likes the one she’s living now the most.