Friday, July 19, 2013
Of Pink Shoes on the Senate Floor
This morning I put on my pink running shoes and my new pink running shirt, snapped the leash on the dog, and hit the sidewalks of the suburbs. The sun was just coming up over the rows of nearly identical houses with proud stone and brick facades, though I was looking at their peeling wood-clad backsides, and the sunrise sweeping across the horizon was pink, too. Pink and purple swirled like the colors of fairy wings and princess dresses we love to put on little girls.
I realize sometimes that I talk about running like one of those wiry, sports-bra-and-bike-short wearing devotees of the pavement, one of those people who talk about their mileage as if they were cars. But I am just a faithfully chugging little engine that could, someone who is daunted by every hill, someone who has to worry about things like chafing and whether I should try and tuck my inhaler into the strange little pocket in my running pants. As I love to tell people, I run because it doesn't come naturally to me, because it is a hard thing for me to accomplish. Every single time I step out the door and break into a jog, it hurts; my muscles scream and my lungs burn. I do it because I have a perverse need to prove to myself that I can.
I run (and sometimes walk and often hobble home in exhaustion) because I don't want to live a life focused on what I can't do. I run to remind myself that I am more than my fears, more than my habits, more than my dress size. I run to remind myself that I am strong, powerful, resilient, brave. I run because it feels good to do more than you are entirely sure you can do.
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Half a decade ago, the morning after Hillary Clinton dropped her bid to become the democratic nominee for president, I heard on the radio, "Now we can finally get down to figuring out who is the best man for the job." I don't think the radio personality who so casually let those words slip meant that he was happy the race was finally down to what was familiar, that he was thrilled to report that, like every presidential election in our country's history, sifting through the frontrunners would mean choosing the best man for the job. I think he honestly meant that the world could stop focusing on this distracting sideshow and start focusing on the main stage.
It's just that, for those of us who have never had a chance of reaching the main stage, his words stung. They reeked of privilege, of the comfort of being able to choose between two men, of the familiarity of arguing over the color of the debaters' ties and the comparison of the candidates' wives as potential first ladies.
I don't in any way mean to downplay the significance of choosing a president who does not look like every other president we have had before that. Believe me, I celebrated the landmark nature of our president's victory both times he was elected to office, but there is part of me that can't forget that we still only had the option of choosing the best man for the job. When I think about that comment I heard on the radio, it reminds me of a quote I heard recently: "Privilege is invisible to those who have it." The man who so casually told a national radio audience that we could calm down and choose the best man for the job said those words because it did not occur to him that always only having two men to choose from was a deep, ingrained, systemic problem.
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I watched people talk about standing with Wendy in retrospect. One of the survival mechanisms I have evolved is only taking in bite size chunks of social media and not feeling like I have to keep up with it all at all times. It's been a steep learning curve for me, and I especially wish I could handle it all in large chunks like others seem to be able to do when I see a movement like this hit the internet.
But for me, it was the next morning when I realized what had happened.
My first thought when I started seeing the pictures and videos of the crowd at the Texas Capitol that night was how my husband, Sam, loves to show the capitol building off to visitors, how he has often been teased for showing it over and over to the same people as we drive around town, not unlike the "Look, kids, it's Big Ben!" scene in the European Vacation movie. I thought about how Sam takes our boys to visit the capitol on Texas Independence Day and how I have run down the steps of the UT Tower early in the morning and looked out at the capitol's stone facade all lit up and gleaming from a distance.
The day after Wendy Davis' now famous filibuster, I stood on the steps of the tower and looked out at the capitol again, thinking of those pink running shoes and how tired her feet must have been. For some reason, I couldn't get the image of those shoes out of my mind.
I know for so many of the people who went to the capitol that night, it was about the bill in question. I know the abortion debate is pretty much the divisive political issue of our generation and that many people vote for candidates or entire parties who match their stance on the issue. And yes, of course, I have my own strong (though often muddied and not yet fully cemented) opinions about the issue. It wasn't the debate itself that hooked me, I guess is what I am trying to say.
For me, the reason I found those pink shoes on the senate floor so iconic was because it was just such a powerful image of a woman making a stand for what she believes is right. For me, I could not help but feel a surge of pride at watching a female senator stage a filibuster to argue for the rights of the women in her state. I couldn't help but feel that constriction in my chest, the tightness in my throat that precedes tears, when I saw the footage of the crowd taking over the filibuster with a roar of protest.
Because, not only does it feel good to do something you are not entirely sure you can do; it also feels good to watch someone else do it. It feels good to watch a woman put on her pink running shoes and face the world as a strong, powerful, brave person. It feels good to watch someone stand, watch someone rise. We rise with them, when we see it, just as we break apart a little, too, when we watch others cower and hide and believe the lies that tell them they don't deserve to stand themselves, that they don't deserve to rise.
I can't help but think about those pink shoes on the senate floor every time I pull on my own pink running shoes these days. I'm no Wendy Davis, certainly, but I do know what it feels like to grow tired of standing up for something, to wear your feet down just trying to stay upright some days, to wonder if you can hold your own against the barrage of criticism and the endless work of pushing against the tide. I know how hard it can be just to stand up in the first place, to trust your own weight to the strength of your convictions, never knowing if they will buckle beneath you.
But one other thing I've learned the past few years: when you stand, you carry me, and when I stand, I carry you. So, I'll keep strapping on my shoes, keep saying the hard things that need to be said, and keep watching for you to put your shoes on. And I'll be cheering when you rise, because I'll rise, too.
Image credit 1 & Image credit 2, both used under Creative Commons License