Numerous women (as well as several men) flocked to the streets of Manhattan today to protest the inauguration of President Trump. Most of the attendees were clad in shirts that portrayed a written message or carried posters that expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in our country. Many of these messages seemed to communicate their concern about the dignity of women (as well as of several minority identities), while others simply wanted to make it known that they were not pleased with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president.
My immediate reaction to the herd of people I saw filling up the sidewalk next to the deli in which I was nonchalantly chomping on a sandwich was to scoff and turn my nose up. I poopooed their foolishness, their vain heroism…why subject yourself to standing out in the cold, shouting useless slogans that will hardly accomplish anything, and will most surely not provoke the new president to have a change of heart this late in the game? You could be sitting in a heated building like me, enjoying a delicious meal!
I have serious reservations about these types of protests. The foundational premise and ideals, goals, plan of action, and method of communication seemed unclear to me, as well as their understanding of the notions of womanhood, identity, “rights,” human dignity, and democracy. I am highly skeptical that any protest or rally that lacks these essential factors will bear significant fruit. Thus I wrote off what I saw as a bunch of frustrated and angry people who, rather than taking the time to develop a cohesive and nuanced proposal, just wanted to “make a statement” by complaining in public.
As I returned to my sandwich, congratulating myself for my nonpareil status of righteousness and logic, I stopped once again and asked, “but what am I doing?” I was being right! I was being logical! And then I asked, “but who cares?” I do! So while I continued eating my sandwich and basking in the rays of my own glory, these protestors continued doing exactly what they were doing two minutes ago.
In a speech he gave last August, Fr. Julian Carron warns of this temptation to construct walls around our own ideas and notions of righteousness:
So many men today are sincerely looking for an adequate response to their own needs and the needs of others, after so many ideological defeats, and we find them therefore as companions on the journey. Recent history has left us less presumptuous and more open to dialogue, even with people apparently very far from us. While coming from absolutely different stories and paths, a thousand miles apart, it is as if–paradoxically–the current situation makes all of us travel companions who are more open to listening to each other. We are not excused from the challenge to find adequate responses, and we should verify whether we are open to consider that which, in dialogue, others offer us, and if what we can share from our experience also has value for them.
He then goes on to cite Jean-Louis Cardinal Taurin, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue:
Therefore, Cardinal Tauran is right–in situations in which we might think of forming various responses, ones that are more rigid, he does not tire of insisting on the inevitably of an unarmed dialogue: “The response is always and in any case a dialogue, an encounter…the only possible road is that of an unarmed dialogue. To dialogue means to go toward another unarmed, with a conception of truth that is not aggressive, and yet however not disoriented.” “There is no other way?” the interviewer asked. “Absolutely not. We are condemned to a dialogue.”
I was reminded that my own version of “making a statement” was just as futile, if not more so, than the efforts of the protestors. As much as I may not understand or agree with their methods, we are “condemned” to dialogue with each other. It is this same “wall-building” mentality that has lead us to this point of confusion and disarray. Therefore, I must be willing to lower my guard in humility and open myself to seeking to understand the other. I must be open to asking them questions and be prepared to listen to their answers receptively and discerningly. Walls don’t allow for progress or unity, only bridges can allow for that.
Pope Francis prophetically reminded Congress back in September of 2015:
When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.
I left the deli with an open heart and curious mind, ready to listen rather than to condemn, and to begin to ask “who are these people, what do they want, and what are they looking for.” I prayed for us all to have the courage to “resume the path of dialogue,” and for the grace for “new opportunities to open for all.” I may not know what the next few years have in store for us, but I do know that my desire for unity is greater than my desire to prove that I’m right. May the walls of pride crumble in our hearts so that bridges of charity may flourish in their place.