Embracing The Unimaginable

It is my conviction, that if the world can be saved, it will be women who do it. And they will not do it with war, they’ll do it with words.
— Former Icelandic Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

I was watching a TedTalk this week while I was doing my makeup and the young woman speaking was sharing clips of conversions she had created with strangers, in which she asked them,

“What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?”.

I paused, mascara wand in hand, and looked myself in my tired eyeballs; their edges crinkled. I couldn’t help but grin.

Womens March DC

Last weekend, I went to march in Washington DC with half a million other women and men who knew that something had to be done.

I drove for 9 hours straight, overnight, without any sleep (ZERO), through five states, from Toronto to the American capital so that I could bear witness to whatever was about to go down.

And boy am I glad I did.

Here's why:

I had heard talks of the march being organized sometime around the holidays. Lena Dunham was interviewing someone for her Lenny newsletter and they spoke of what was being planned. I remember thinking, “Good for them.”

And that was about it. 

And then it was January 20th. 

I found myself sitting in my doctor’s office on an exam table waiting for my beloved, highly-anxious, ever-caring doc to come in and fill out a routine prescription. I always look forward to our visits. His tiny stature, loud nasal voice, and total dedication make him a caricature of himself in the most amusing way.

Helen Hayden - DC

But today, I wasn’t looking forward to much.

I sat there with CNN streaming on my iPhone and listened as some squinty eyed, cheeto-dusted man took the oath of office.

I tried to be optimistic. I reminded myself that this could be an opportunity - a crucial one - for people to come together, to heal and to fight… but in that moment, all I could do was weep. 

For Americans. For women. For people of colour. For the LGBTQ community. For light. For humanity.

All I could hear were the promises he had made; to build walls, to parade tanks down Washington streets, and to fly fighter jets over New York City. I heard him talking about how lazy “the blacks” were, quipping that we needed global warming because it was cold and snowy in New York, and of course remarking that you “need to treat women like shit” and that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who choose abortion. 

How was this happening...

After I left the doctor's office and shut off the inaugural coverage, I found myself wandering around completely distracted and restless.

I had to do something. I couldn't sit still. I went into a friend's clothing shop to help out for a few hours. 

Being the smart cookie that she is, she had designed a sweatshirt with one word on it: 'FEMINIST'

They sweaters had sold out the day they arrived. 

Women and men were coming into the shop - meg - all afternoon hoping to nab one; they wanted to wear them at the march in Toronto (being held in solidarity) the following day.

And then it donned on me: the march!

women's march dc

I furiously started googling the different ways to get to Washington. 

It was 6pm. The march was due to start at 10am the next morning. 

Flights were minimum $1300 one way and buses and trains were either sold out or didn't arrive until the afternoon.

Which left me with one option; drive.

It's a nine hour drive from Toronto to Washington DC.

I could do it... but it would mean no sleep...

I needed backup. I started calling and texting my local girl army.

americans, women's march

"Are you nuts?!"

"I love you, but I'm just not that interested."

"FU*K! My passport is expired!!!! You're my hero, babe - sh*t on Trump's shoes for me!!"

 

A selection of the responses I received. 

I was losing hope when a name popped up on my Facebook messenger.

"Elvis - you're a feminist, right?

Elvis Deane is a writer, director and documentary filmmaker that cast me in his last female-driven feature. I explained to him with haste and desperateness what I was trying to do and why. He told me he didn't drive but that he'd message some friends, only to write back and report that they'd already departed. 

There seemed to be only one option left...

"I know you can't drive... but can you keep me awake?"

 

"...do you drive like a maniac?"

 

"Elvis, my phone's gonna die. I'm going home to get my camera. Are you in?!"

An oh-so-pregnant pause.

"Yeah, let's do this."

And a moment later.

"Oh god. I don't do impulsive things."

 

An hour after that, we had some funding from an editor and producer and were at the airport car rental desk with cameras, red bull, and a mutual question of our own sanity.

The drive was pretty brutal. Five of the nine hours we were in fog that was sometimes so thick we couldn't see 10 feet in front of ourselves. But with the help of shitty gas-station food, chemical energy drinks, and the grace of the universe itself, we rolled into DC at about 9am. 

We parked the car at the hotel and headed for the subway.

And that's when it was clear;

this thing was gonna be huge.

It took us an hour to get from the entrance of the subway onto an actual train-car, and another 45 minutes to make the trip itself, which under normal circumstances would take about 15 minutes.

The energy was palpable. Organizers and transit employees remained calm and marveled at the crowds. One beautiful, elderly man with a megaphone serenaded the waiting crowds with tunes about the current state of train traffic.

Moms and dads carried their children on their shoulders and their babies on their breast, clearly proud to be able to have their family together at such a momentous event. 

Some dressed in whimsical, flamboyant attire and the majority carried signs bearing the messages they most wanted to share with their new president. And the world.

don't rape me trump

As I took in the crowd and the almost jubilant energy, I couldn't help but wonder again...

how did this happen...

When we finally exited the train and started to make our way into the thick of the crowds, it was clear that this was the largest gathering I'd ever seen or been a part of. And I think even if I live to 100 it'll be hard to beat.

Shoulder to shoulder, half a million men and women stood in protest of Donald Trump and his promises to strip away the rights of women and minorities. And while we stood there in the streets of DC, around the world, millions more were joining us in solidarity.

From Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia - a town of just 66 - where a dozen women marched the streets with signs that read "The Future is Female", to the hundreds of women & men who gathered in the threatened forests of Nairobi, Kenya to sing freedom songs and share poems of hope.

It was so clear to me that day that the one force the never ceases to unite humanity the world over, is the whisperings of hope. 

Hope for better. Hope for freedom. Hope for justice. Hope for equality. Hope for humanity.

We stood in the streets together, quite still, eventually with nowhere to move, and listened to artists, poets and politicians of all backgrounds proclaim our collective angony, outrage, anger, and hope. I looked around to see the faces of every race, the signs of every sexuality and gender - I was in the midst of diversity defined - and it was rapturous. 

The atmosphere from start to finish, was one of total peace. There were moments of celebration and joy, pauses filled with sadness and sorrow, an undercurrent of total frustration, but woven through it all was this ever-pervading sense of peace. 

Eventually the songs and speeches came to a close and the crowds slowly and calmly dispersed into the afternoon and evening hours.

There was a quiet pride that seemed to linger in the air, but a humble one to be sure. I don't think anyone was under any illusion about this being just the first step in a much bigger movement. There were battles to come and we knew it. 

We made our way closer to the capitol building and were met with an almost comical, post-apocolyptic image; the empty chairs and destroyed lawn that lay beyond a crooked chain link fence looked like some sort of democratic graveyard. (Given the circumstances, that might soon be exactly what it was.) The grey skies and collection of 'Don's Johns' porter-potties only contributed to the absurdity. 

post-inauguration Washington DC

And the absurdity continues to grow. 

In the days that have followed the march, the new president and his party have begun to systematically strip human rights and approve orders that will include, but are not limited to: 

funding cuts to civil rights, arts and evirontmental organizations, approval for the continuation of Keystone and Dakota pipeline construction, the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy which bars international NGO's who perform abortions from receiving further funding, as well as gag orders on the National Park Service and EPA, essentially eliminating public transparency and freedom of speech.

Oh, right, and then there's that big wall...

It is day 8 of a 1460 day term.

And so, admittedly with marked fear, my question re-emerges,

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!

The answer, though deeply complex, started to reveal itself to me on our drive back home from Washington.

DSC_7684.jpg

If you would like to gather some insight on how Donald Trump was elected to America's highest office, I beg you to take a drive through the rural areas of America, and perhaps begin with the rust belt.

Previously known as the industrial heartland of America, it could be described now as a total wasteland of a once booming steel industry. 

While some cities and towns have managed to adapt by shifting focus towards services and high-tech industries, others have not fared as well, witnessing rising poverty and declining populations.

The derelict image that is painted over the rust belt landscape is so visceral that one can't help but be taken aback. Buildings are literally collapsing in on themselves, massive factories and warehouses lay dormant as mere shells of their former vital selves.

Trump-Pence signs stay proudly planted in the yards and windows of homes and 'Make America Great Again' is painted loudly on the walls of town halls.

These are towns and the people in them are the people that Trump spoke directly to during his campaign. He vowed to save them by reigniting the once booming industries that they were apart of. And having seen the state of this region firsthand, it's easy to see why these individuals were so enraptured and enlisted in his promise. 

The problem is, I don't know how many of them are going to remain enraptured when their basic human rights have been taken in exchange for their new factory job...

It is now becoming exceedingly clear that Trump's economic promises to the working-class will come at a devastating cost to all of humanity.

I could go on for pages, citing the details and measure the President and his counterparts have already taken to dismantle basic human rights laws, but sadly, there's just too much to share already.

What I will do, is beg you to take just a little time each day to stay informed on what is happening as we speak in The White House and the devestating ripple effects it's creating around the globe.

wtf america

Because you have to understand that this DOES affect every single one of us.

Someone asked me just the other day "why do you care so much?"

"You're Canadian", they said. "You should be happy!"

I am not happy.

The actions the new president has taken in just this first week in office are a direct affront to our planet, to freedom of speech, and are a threat to women's rights and minorities everywhere.

I am scared. I am angry. And you should be too.

That said,

I will not be violent.

But I will not be silent either.

women's march portrait

This week I have seen colleagues harassed for the color of their skin, I've listened to the most influential politicians in the world condone providing "alternative facts", and I personally have been followed, photographed, and intimidated, just for merely appearing to be liberal and "anti-Trump." 

 

But I'm not anti-Trump.

I pray 'The Donald' has a Grinch-like awakening and miraculously grows a gigantic immigrant-loving, refugee-accepting, woman-respecting heart. And in the meantime, I will do whatever I can to be PRO-PEOPLE.

 

women's march DC

I believe that's why we all showed up in the end. Because we know, that in spite of our differences, we are just one people. 

One of my favorite podcasts - 'What It Takes', a production by the non-profit foundation, The Academy of Achievement - feautured a talk given by former president Bill Clinton in 2004 to a group of students and scholars who had gathered at the academy.

He spoke candidly of what he learned during his time in the White House and the years that followed, but what struck me the most was what he said he believed was most crucial for us "young people" to know moving forward. 

He prefaced the quote below with two things:

Another quote by an Irish-American author, Malachy McCourt, saying that "Harboring resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.", and a story of him trying to persuade former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, not to launch the second intifada. He said Arafat thought he was crazy and that they had to do it as the Israelis were "humiliating" them and had tainted the Temple Mount. They were deeply offended. But Mr. Clinton offered that the intifada was only one possible response. If it were up to him, he advised, he would have a little Palestinian girl with a bouquet of flowers meet Ariel Sharon and offer to show him the Al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock and say "when this is ours, you can come back and visit everyday". Apparently, Arafat thought he was "three bricks shy of a full load". To him, that was an "unimaginable response".

And then Mr. Clinton continued to say this:

The future of the world depends upon the unimaginable response.

Anytime anybody does anything to you that you believe compels a certain response on your part, you have given up the freedom that we have spent the last 50 years trying to secure for the whole world... In every corner of the world there were those who fought for freedom...all those people gave you a chance to be free.
Then somebody does something to you and you say, “I had no choice but to respond in this way”, and you just gave them your freedom; you put your life into the hands of someone else.

Those of you who are much younger than me are going to be asked to shape a world unlike the world all of us grew up in. You have to create - not an interdependent world (because there’s too much instability) - you have to create integrated world. And the definition of that is when what you have in common is more important that your interesting differences. You have to find a way to share benefits, share responsibilities and share the simple value that your common humanity matters most.
If you do that, this is going to be the most interesting time we’ve ever lived in.

Will we have more people die from terrorism? Doubtlessly. We will.
Might there even be some horrible biological or chemical incident? There might be.
Has any society ever been destroyed by terrorism alone? No.
Will we be the first? Highly unlikely.

All great contests begin in the mind and the heart; with the imagination... and with the ultimate human freedom: “I choose to see this in a different way. I choose to react in a different way. I choose to imagine a different future.”.

That’s really what we need today, almost more than anything else.
— Former President, Bill Clinton

At what now seems like an unimaginable time, I believe our only hope is an unimaginable response.

And 3 million women and men marching together around the world, isn't a bad start.

 

Just the beginning,

H. x

Helen HaydenComment