By all accounts, tens of thousands of people - possibly hundreds of thousands, - will be in Washington, DC on Saturday, January 21st for the Women's March on Washington. Members of local congregations and the UCC Washington office are preparing to welcome and march with our brothers and sisters from all around the country. Most importantly though, we are planning to work side-by-side with all who plan to march, either in Washington or in cities and states around the country, and those who are not planning to march, to help bring about a just world for all in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
In these days leading up to this event, there has been much spirited debate about whether this march will be of lasting consequence. After all, some would argue, the long-term impact of the many marches that have been held over the decades has been somewhat mixed.
Having lived and worked the District, I have seen and participated in a lot of public witnesses. To some degree, I can understand the concerns of the skeptics. I don't think marches alone bring about meaningful and lasting change – but then I don't think any single action, taken by itself, will change the world.
Marches and other forms of public witness can be transformative. They help us to locate ourselves in a particular time and place within caring communities. These actions also push us to ask the question - not simply what happens next, but what will we do next?
What will we do when we go home? Will we commit to engaging in challenging conversations with people who think differently? Write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper? Run for school board or neighborhood advisory council? Reach out to people who are active in our communities around issues we care about? Visit your state legislator's office or the district office of your member of Congress? Seek out and listen to the stories of those most impacted by public policy decisions? How do we connect our individual voices and actions over time? How will we keep it moving?
As a person of faith, I believe God moves in and through us, as we march toward justice, and that God invites us to make the next move. I am reminded of an old story – I have heard it in different variations and seen it attributed to different sources. The story tells of a wise old woman who lives in a small village. Some of the children in the village questioned whether she could truly be as wise as everyone said. One day they set out to test it. They went to the old woman, with a baby bird in hand. They planned to ask her if the baby bird was alive or dead. If she answered dead, they would open their hands and let it fly away. If she answered alive, they would crush it in their hands and show her it was dead. So they asked her, "Old woman, this bird in my hand, is it dead or alive?" She looked into their eyes and answered, "It's in your hands."
What will the Women's March on Washington accomplish? Much of the answer is in our hands.
Sandy Sorensen is the Director of the Washington, DC Office of the United Church of Christ.