“I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” – Future President Barack Obama, July 27, 2004.
We woke up to a gutting reality seven weeks ago. Hillary Clinton would not be President. An unqualified demagogue would replace President Obama in the Oval Office. We knew that the progress we made over the past eight years would be undone by the new administration. Hope, which brought many of us together during the Obama Presidency, now seemed lost. How would we combat this administration? How would we stand up for what is right and good in the world?
I am member of the Pantsuit Nation admin team, and I found myself coming back to the group to read stories that morning. I wiped my tears onto my t-shirt and reminded myself that the heart of organizing is storytelling. It is about connecting the story of you to the story of us. That is what drives us to act for what is good and right in the world.
Storytelling has moved us forward throughout history. Stories force us to look at what we refuse to see, or what we cannot see because of our own lived experience. When Emmett Till was brutally lynched in 1955, his mother, Mamie, decided to bring his body back to Chicago and allowed the world to view his beaten, unrecognizable body. Those who bore witness – in Chicago and in magazines and newspapers - were changed. It sparked action. Rosa Parks said afterwards, "I thought about Emmett Till, and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others, and I felt violated. I was not going back."
Stories spark action. 9/11 first responders repeatedly went on Jon Stewart’s show to tell their story until legislation was passed to provide lifetime health benefits. Malala Yousafzai tells her story so girls around the world can receive access to education. Planned Parenthood has been attacked by the right for decades, but has overcome efforts to delegitimize their mission through people telling their stories about the Planned Parenthood they know.
On a personal level, I came out as a lesbian by telling my story in a blog post several years ago. I was emboldened by the countless others who came before me in the LGBTQIA community who stepped forward and told their story. 20 years ago marriage equality was a dream that we did not think we would see come true in our lifetimes. But then our stories began to be told in your living rooms and movie theaters. Now marriage equality is a reality, and I will proudly marry my love next year. (Our story is here on Pantsuit Nation.)
Everyone has a story. And for some of us, especially those in marginalized groups, speaking out is action. It is not always safe to tell a story. But we need to hear them so we are prepared to stand with those who will be targeted by this administration. We need to hear these stories so we can show up for those who need us most.
A “skinny kid with a funny name” told his story at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and launched onto the national stage. Four years later he would become our President. And eight years after that, on November 29, 2016, he posed the following question when reflecting on his plans once his presidency comes to an end: “How do we rethink our storytelling… so that we can make a persuasive case across the country? And not just in San Francisco or Manhattan but everywhere, about why climate change matters or why issues of economic inequality have to be addressed.” Let’s honor his legacy by listening to each other’s stories. That is the heart of organizing. And that is the heart of our mission.
Pantsuit Nation will continue to amplify the voices of our members and will highlight stories from our community with corresponding actions in our weekly Story + Action posts. We will stand up for what is right and good in the world. These next few years will be hard. But together we can stand up for the progress we have made. We will show up for each other. Forward together.
(President Obama quotation from 11/29/16 Rolling Stone interview.)