By Jacq Tatelman
My husband and I started Camp Power in 2009 – a one week overnight camp for hundreds of kids growing up in Brooklyn’s toughest, most overlooked neighborhoods. It was there that the Girls Side created EDGE. A 20 minute pow-wow, on the edge of camp where the lake meets the golf course, where sounds of birds, morning dew on the soles of summer shoes, and swaying of leaves is the only sound you can hear. It was in this circle of women + young girls that my whole perspective on working with kids, raising my own, and being a woman changed. It was these conversations and shared stories that lead me to Washington, DC for the Million Women March.
I can close my eyes and explicitly remember this past summer, a young women shared a story about feeling discriminated against because she was black, less than because she was a woman, and worthless because her life at home with one parent was so turbulent she felt totally unlovable. I remember looking down at her different skin color as it hugged mine, I was squeezing her as tight as I could and thinking “I will fight for you, I will do whatever I can to fight for you.”
I thought of this girl at the exact moment I boarded the bus at 5am from Brooklyn to DC. There was an inherent feeling of greatness to this day – the Brooklyn street corners were packed with people boarding buses, many wearing all shades of the bright pink hat that will certainly live in infamy to represent this historical day, and the coffee cart man offered several different flavors of creamers for free. The bus ride was smelly but unforgettable. I was so fired up (slightly nervous due to the protests that followed the inauguration), but knew in my heart this is exactly where I was supposed to be. Standing with my sisterhood of woman and not just FOR women – young like my daughter and elder like my Grandma – but the LGBTQ community, those with disabilities, immigrants, and other marginalized populations of people in my life whose voices are being drowned out. This day wasn’t for me…this day was for them.
When we got off the bus in DC I looked at my crew of five and it was clear that this was so much bigger than any of us had imagined. We were in this for a togetherness that far superseded any explicable emotion. We stuck together and walked our 2.5 miles to the center of it all. Around us the buildings that have always stood for the tenants of this America we loved, we felt like those buildings and what they stood for were under attack and we the marchers were there to protect the sacred stories they were built upon.
We gathered with the 500k other marchers and… waited, chanting, laughing, crying, reading all the signs, chatting with a woman who spent weeks knitting a giant uterus and after a few hours it felt like things were in a stand still. The message was “there are too many people! they’re not letting us through! turn around and go another way!” Despite the fact that everyone was gracious to each other, we were feeling claustrophobic being squeezed between people, every way we turned, people, people, we clustered up and thought maybe we should just get through this and walk back to the bus meeting spot. We were here, right? Then out of the corner of my eye I see a sign “FIGHT LIKE A GIRL” and beneath it, a gorgeous black woman, whose face felt so familiar, it hit me. Keep going. My sweet camper’s face peered back at me and we did. The five of us worked through the crowd and marched alongside the fiercely brave men, women and children. When the men were chanting “HER BODY HER CHOICE!” and the women followed with “MY BODY, MY CHOICE” in unison… I cried. Are these issues really in jeopardy? Everything felt surreal, but being amongst the thousands restores your faith – we will rise up together because this, this is what democracy looks like.
After a long ride back to NYC we got off the bus, all five of us hugged. I’ll never forget the people I was with that day. We will always have this. I hailed a cab and the driver pulled over. He saw my arms full of pillow & blanket, backpack, rolled up sign, and immediately welcomed me into the cab. As we drove into the quiet night back to my home in Brooklyn he turned around and thanked me. And again, I cried.
When I got home I let the hot shower soak into my entire body, and I felt the water hitting my limbs and toes. The days events had taken such a toll on my emotions and changed me in way that was so profound I was shocked. I was not going to let this be my America. Not the place I was born, not where I am raising my two children, not where I run a business that celebrates diversity in a way that is so tangible I have literally embraced it in my arms thousands of times. I refuse for this to be my reality and today was the first day of the fight.
So to all the girls from EDGE, and those on the edge right now, I promise to to keep fighting for you, and to proudly do so… like a girl!