Last year, Chelsea Handler was literally and figuratively on the front lines of the March on Main that dominated the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival, as millions of Americans nationwide took to the streets for Women’s Marches protesting Donald Trump’s accession to the Presidency and in support of a variety of causes. Handler will not be in Park City for tomorrow’s Respect Rally, but the longtime talk-show host, who announced in October she was stepping back from her Netflix series to focus on activism and the 2018 midterm elections, remains passionate about issues that had her out in the Utah snow last year front and center, as is clear in this guest column she penned for Deadline.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since I, along with 8000 other nasty women (and men), walked down snowy Main Street in Park City, Utah. I was still feeling completely in shock from the election at that time; devastated, angry, and grieving for women all over the country whose elected leader had boasted about how he’d “grab ’em by the pussy” and later shrugged it off as locker room talk. This was after he called Mexicans “rapists” and told Mexican reporter Jorge Ramos to “sit down and shut up” during a press conference. And who had defeated the first woman candidate who ran for the office, not in terms of total numbers, but instead by picking off enough votes in targeted areas to win the electoral college.
Something about the combination of those things – this particular candidate beating that particular candidate – stung in a unique way. We had no idea at that time just how momentous that day would be. We were just one of hundreds of marches across the country, with women showing up in over 400 U.S cities and another 150 around the world. The numbers were organic, and surprised even those of us most passionate; something was going on. Collectively our marches that day served as a battle cry to everyone, everywhere that we refused to give up. To the contrary, we were just getting started.
I’m proud of the sisterhood that the Women’s March got started and how the momentum of that day has grown. But if 2017 taught us anything, it is that we have a long and difficult way to go. The outpouring of women who have spoken out about their personal experiences regarding sexual assault and harassment since the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfaced is yet another painful chapter in the movement we began in January of last year. As difficult as it may be to hear these stories, and even more difficult (and sometimes dangerous) for those who tell them, my fear of this important movement dwindling, as so many have in the past, gets smaller every day. The Women’s March wasn’t just a moment, a blip, a short burst of anger. It was and, most importantly, still is a burst of change that, with diligence and care, will not be undone. In other words, the March marked the starting point for a new chapter, a chapter that is still being written. But it will never be unwritten. Things are different now.
Of course, the path forward has hurdles. The solidarity that so many of us demonstrated then and continue to find strength in has been met with what can only be described as the transparent weakness of Republican Party leaders, who have consistently refused to stand up to not only Trump’s damaging legislative agenda but his disgusting and shameful rhetoric. In the past year we’ve seen the alt-right become more emboldened than ever by Trump, whose refusal to condemn their sickening actions in Charlottesville was as dark a day as any since he took office. We’ve watched in terrifying awe as he’s tried to enforce a barbaric immigration ban, as he not only defended but endorsed and promoted an accused child molester in Roy Moore, and as he’s taunted Kim Jong Un on Twitter, threatening nuclear war and further solidifying his lack of regard for our safety and standing in the international community. It has been dizzying.
The whiplash we have felt as one assault on American values overtakes another can be disorienting. In fact, sometimes I wonder if it’s designed to prevent us from staying focused, and organized. With all the noise, many outright attacks on our foundational ideals get lost. Certainly the individuals do. There is no space in the noisy assaults for human stories. Just this week, Jorge Garcia was deported from Detroit as his wife and 15- and 12-year-old children tearfully said goodbye. Garcia came to this country with an aunt when he was 10 years old, two years too old to be considered for DACA relief; his parents had already emigrated to this country. He worked his whole life in Michigan, and his wife is retired from Ford Motor Company. He came to the attention of immigration enforcement when he and his wife attempted to make sure his paperwork was in order. Under President Obama’s ICE he was able to get deferrals, to continue to work and contribute to his community and raise his children. But this year ICE has arrested more people than in any of the past three years, and Jorge Garcia is now living in a country that is foreign to him, apart from his family. This administration is separating children from their parents. Removing active, participatory fathers from their children. There are few things that are more inhumane.
In a way, Garcia is not special. There are so many others, whose stories have been lost in the noise of the louder news feed. Cindy Garcia’s kids are not going to break through the larger attacks on civic virtue that capture our attention each day. I understand that airtime and attentions are limited, but I’ve become concerned that the chaos is intentional. If our target is constantly moving, it won’t matter how ready we are to fight back or even how many of us there are. Because we will not know where to aim.
And yet we have had some successes. Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama, for example. The last
time a Democrat won in Alabama it was a quarter of a century ago. And Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 30 points in Alabama. There is no doubt that Roy Moore’s flaws were an important factor in this extraordinary victory. But there is more to the story. Jones ran a superb campaign, focusing on persuasion and turnout. And in both he delivered. He talked to voters about values rather than issues, and about what doing what was right for Alabama. And he committed to turnout efforts. Jones joined forces with the Alabama NAACP who phoned every registered voter who did not show up in 2016, and they organized poll rides and direct voter contact. Doug Jones figured out where to aim.
I was inspired by the Jones’ campaign’s success as I was last January by my friends and allies in Park City. And it got me thinking about how important it is to contribute to solutions, instead of to noise. The noise is enticing; it’s hard to tune it out, and it evokes emotion and passion in response. But I want to make sure that, at least for my part, I am contributing to making sure my own efforts contribute to knowing where to aim.
It is for these reasons (and many more) that I’ve decided to dedicate my indefinite future to activism. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to travel to some amazing places and never more so have I needed that escape as I prepare for what’s ahead. In doing so, I’ve had the chance to properly clear my head and really focus my energy on how I can best contribute to affecting change. The shock of the election may have subsided, but each news cycle’s replacement shock is threatening to paralyze us; at the very least it weakens our efforts to fire back.
The urgency with which I started 2017 with the Women’s March caught up with me and I needed a minute to compose myself for the marathon that we all need to run to survive a Trump presidency. There are so many who are continuing to fight. I want to contribute to the fight they all are ready for in the most effective and efficient way that I can. It seems to me that it is important that we know exactly where we’re going – that we know our target — and that has and will continue to be my focus. No one could have predicted the chaos that ensued in 2017, but now that we’ve seen that it can, in fact, get worse, we can arm ourselves with better tactics and clearer direction as we face it. I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to help everyone else’s effort to see the target. I’m ready to do my part. Let’s all try and do our part— knowing we are not alone, knowing we are all in this together.