Waking up to a new dystopia

Elaina Provencio/Staff

I woke up on Jan. 22 half-expecting to wake up to a brave new world. I stumbled out of bed, dizzy with emotions and numb to the rain. I went to get a cup of coffee, my coat still soaked from standing in the rain for hours the day before.

I looked around. It was a day like any other. The rain was coming down outside just as it had in the days prior, except this rain wet the pavement that had held up the heels of thousands of marchers.

My friends and I attempted to articulate what we’d experienced the day before. I talked to people who had marched in the women’s marches in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, Paris. They agreed, nothing felt the same.

I expected to feel excited, energized and motivated to lead the resistance against a government and society that was ignoring the needs and rights of millions of people. I was there as we voiced our opposition. Instead, I felt empty.

I recalled the faces of first-time protesters as they lit up at the rally in San Francisco, their ears perking up when they heard the call to resist. I remembered the strength in those who had retired their picket signs decades ago, as they stretched their limbs and dusted off their signs. I held onto the hope in the eyes of young children, who looked up to a brighter future, clinging to their crayon-written signs and wearing their pink pussy hats.

The women’s march was a movement. I stood in the rain in the city and felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. I could make a difference, I could make a change. The tips of my fingers tingled with an effervescent energy that was contagious. It traveled through us all as we stood packed like sardines.

Where was that energy the day after? It had faded and left in its place a deep and gaping hole. I expected to wake up to a new world, but woke up to hateful tweets, cynical comments and a White House that denied the grandeur of it all. The world hadn’t changed.

After taking a step back from the experience of the women’s march, I laughed at how naive I was to think that everything would be different. That’s not how movements work. They light up, sparked by a hope for change, and then slowly burn until the flames of the fire are too enormous to ignore.

We need to keep the fire burning.

We need to fight for everyone. I was amazed at the intersectional dialogue at the rally. There was turnout for women’s rights and gender equality. A cry for the protection of immigrants and undocumented citizens. A recognition for the struggle of people of color and support for Black Lives Matter. It was a safe space for LGBTQ+ and trans dialogue. We rallied for climate change and health care. We spoke out against hate and promoted love.

These rights feel like basic necessities to me and those around me, but that’s not the same for everyone. Living in an echo chamber, we lose the opposition that drives us to action. For some of my friends at marches in other places in the world, they rallied on the sidelines of hate and discrimination. Their cries for freedom rang out both before and after the election of Donald Trump.

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

-Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World”

I walked in the rain and felt the cold realization that many of the people I knew at the rally wouldn’t have been there had it not been for Donald Trump. White feminism is too often blamed for its exclusion, and the march in San Francisco emphasized the importance of breaking down that barrier and opening a dialogue that welcomed and included everyone. But did it work?

It’s been a week since the women’s march and I can see the fire fading in the eyes of those who rallied for the Instagram like, who made signs for fun and saw the experience as a temporary space to lift each other up in dark times. I’ve seen a liberal privilege take hold in the minds of people whose resistance and opposition will never be challenged in a debilitating way. We can stand together, we can raise our voices and our fists in solidarity, but it’s not enough.

I will never forget Jan. 21, 2017. It was the day the world stood together against hate. It changed many people for the better and will carry on a legacy of freedom for decades to come. Deep in my heart I know that mass mobilization can carry an idea into a movement, and I’m ready.

Even if the world isn’t ready to change yet, we must be. We need to have conversations and facilitate difficult discussions outside of our realms of comfort. We need to keep each other accountable and remember to fight for the rights of those whose struggles don’t reflect our own.

Had the election results turned out differently, this movement would have lost a lot of support, but the struggle for freedom would continue to have waged silently for those marginalized in our society. We’re angry, and anger is useful. It’s what lights that fire. Strength and education keeps it burning.

For those who had never participated in a protest or rally before the women’s march, it’s time to arm yourself with the knowledge of those who have been fighting for far too long. For those who  retired the idea of activism long ago, it’s time to teach us, the young people, how to mobilize. For those who deny the need to fight for anything, please speak less and listen more.

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

Aldous Huxley wrote that in the novel “Brave New World,” a dystopian society whose ideals don’t feel too far from those of today. I’ve been conditioned to believe in a free and mobile society, but others may not share those same beliefs.

Remember the context, the conditions that brought us here today. Take responsibility, think before you speak, and please, Berkeley, let’s not forget who we are. We can make a change, if we remember the power of protest and the need for peace.

Contact Elaina Provencio at [email protected].