A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance
January 20, 2018
To say 2017 has been transformative for the United States — especially for women — would be an understatement.
January 21st, 2017. Maybe it was because Carrie Fisher had recently died, Star Wars was back in the lime light, or because I needed a spark, but the movies’ themes rang true and deep to me. Before leaving for the Women’s March, an image of Ms. Fisher was seared into my mind: Princess Leia, guns drawn, with the text, “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance.” It stuck with me. When I arrived in D.C., the first protest sign I saw was a quote from Rogue One: “Rebellions are Built on Hope.” I marched proudly all day, hand-in-hand with my feminist husband, reflecting on these themes (a call to duty, class war, fearing for the future, to name a few). We vowed 2017 would be a year of action. A promise kept.
I didn’t realize it, but the march was a major turning point for many (I can’t tell you how many incredible activists I met this year whose efforts were born out of the march). For me, the changes were profound. In 2016, I moved to Maryland so I could attend a prestigious PhD program. I had a background in community organizing and intended to get back to the good fight, but I felt learning research skills would allow me to better speak truth to power. I had good intentions, but more and more of my time was being spent in the resistance. In March, I helped lead a group of social work students from all over the country to the Capitol, where we lobbied our legislators to vote for people-centered laws being considered. In April, I did several teach-ins on how to be a legislative advocate. I got very involved in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants by analyzing and defending proposed laws which sought to protect them, both at the state and federal levels. I also wrote countless op-eds.
Much of May through July was spent working with the grassroots, anti-poverty group, “RESULTS.” The Baltimore chapter’s leader was on maternity leave so I co-led in her stead. I helped keep the group organized, met with legislators, and pleaded to protect the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): an evidence-based method of combatting poverty. We also fought to protect other safety nets, such as Medicaid and SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”). You see, by August, we knew the tax reform fight was coming and we were trying to sound the alarm.
By the time September rolled around, it became clear I needed to quit the program and enter an uncertain future. Making the decision to leave research was scary, but confirmation came quickly that I’d made the right choice. Within a week, I began working on a US Congressional campaign I’d volunteered for in the past for a single mother, Allison Galbraith, in MD-01. Advocating during the day, campaigning at night, it was hectic but electric. I felt energized by this new sense of purpose. In November I was accepted into a doctoral program which allowed me to continue this work, something a purely research focused program could not offer me. I also found a job as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Advocacy & Social Action to master’s level social workers. Dr. King said you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith. I felt very lucky steps were continuing to appear beneath my feet.
While my colleagues and I had been beating the “tax reform” drum since August, in December, we went to war. We fought passionately and painstakingly. Much of my time was spent calling, emailing and visiting legislators, writing op-eds, attending town hall meetings, and protesting the unjust bill in D.C. I was in excellent company, routinely storming the Capitol alongside fierce fighters like Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, Ady Barkan, and many other wonderful individuals from around the country. We shared our stories, and many of my friends — including clergy, people in wheelchairs, teenagers, and 80 year olds — participated in nonviolent civil disobedience. They chose to be arrested to bring attention to the “abomination of a bill” as one clergy member put it. Despite our best efforts, as you know, the tax bill passed and Trump signed it into law on December 22nd. We cried that day. But as I’d done on Wednesday — November 8th, 2016 – I encouraged my friends to take the time to weep, and then come back to the fight.
Now here we are. We madly mourn our losses and wildly celebrate our successes, like the special election of Doug Jones or our victories in Virginia. And we plot how to get out of this mess. I am comforted everyday by the myriad of Americans stepping up to run for office. I myself learned last month no Democrat was going to run for an open seat in my district for the Maryland House of Delegates, so I’m doing it, and you can too! For those of you contemplating running, someone gave me this gift, so let me pass it on to you: you ARE qualified, and if you’re waiting for someone to ask, I’m asking you: don’t just march – RUN! For those not interested or able to run for public office, please support those around you. We are better together, and we can turn our country around. To get back to those Star Wars’ metaphors, it’s been an incredible year in the resistance and we’re just getting started. To those struggling in these trying times, take heart, things can be different if we work for it. That said, it’s my great hope to see you in the rebellion!
Allison Berkowitz is a social work doctoral student, an instructor of social action to master’s-level social workers, and an active legislative advocate for several groups and causes. Originally from Florida, she spent three years in Alaska and has settled down in Maryland. Allison believes in people and tries to make the world a little better each day. Find her on Twitter@AllisonForAll