By listening to each other, we all succeed

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At the second Sandpoint Women’s March in January of this year, alongside almost a thousand of their neighbors, there was a small minority of people who came bearing signs against abortion, favoring Trump, and questioning the case of Kathryn Steinle. These opinions were far different from the majority opinions at the march.

Some said the people holding the signs had no right to be there. Of course, literally, of course they do have a right to freedom of speech. I was grateful they came. I’ve been in a crowd of people who don’t agree with me (seems like ever since I moved here!). Not my idea of the funnest way to spend a Saturday. It gave me a chance to meet and briefly exchange comments with several sign-holders about the status of women and how it could be improved.

We started to hear each other, I think. One man made a small joke … always common ground with me! We laughed together for a moment, and there was no wall between us. Another accepted my comment that President Trump is my president, too. I asked him, why do you like Trump?

“He’s a manly man,” he said with a smile. This surprised me. I had thought of Trump as a man, a white man, a stupid white man. I hadn’t thought of him as “manly.” I could see why the man standing in front of me would like that. I’ve lived my life around manly men; I am no stranger to their ways.

So I said that. “I can see why you like Trump. I agree that he is strong and outspoken and those are qualities we both admire. But I have been sexually assaulted (more than once), and I don’t like that part of being a manly man.”

He nodded in a way that made me feel he understood how I felt, too. Perhaps more of us can start to think about which qualities of manly men we want to take with us into the future, and which are better left behind.

For me, the march was about women being heard. It succeeded beyond that: it gave citizens a place to hear each other. This is a woman’s way of politics. It is the opposite of how men have run things for many thousand years now (although the founding fathers may have possibly had something like this in mind). I would rather call this “community politics” (as opposed to “corporate politics”) and leave gender out of it altogether. But we are stuck with what history has given us: the ways we think and speak about these issues are based on the gender of the people who are most affected by them.

Uncompromising corporate politics can never produce compromises about the problems facing us now. Community politics will. We can find ways forward by hearing people who disagree and giving everyone a voice instead of arming ourselves. When people are not being heard, they yell. This is what happened at Community Hall last year at the gathering to hear speakers on immigration, who were forced from the podium by people who yelled. But by November we were talking about climate change in the same Community Hall with speakers from both sides of the debate. Those conservative speakers also braved a crowd that was mostly unsympathetic, but at least were quiet when they were speaking.

I have common ground with my neighbors here who are not happy with the federal government. For example, I believe in the US Constitution and freedom of speech. I don’t like the way the government regulates small organic farms. I moved to Idaho seeking a more independent life as close to the wilderness as I could get. Though we disagree on many important details (like who the good presidents are!), we agree on not-so-little things like solar energy. We want our kids to be healthy and educated. We can figure out how to do this without seeing each other as enemies. We agree on bigger things, too: that it’s time to use our voices and our votes to rid ourselves of corporate power, to help ourselves help each other, to save our independence, if not our democracy.

Listen to each other. Speak your hearts in ways we can all understand, and start with issues we can work together on (maybe sexual abuse and assault?). Use the power we hold in our hands to force the hands of our leaders. Sign petitions on issues you agree with. Put people in office with our votes who are community politicians and seek common ground with the colleagues who disagree with them. Though it may not always require voting for women, this is a manly thing to do.

Nancy Gerth was a volunteer with the second Sandpoint Women’s March.

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