Tell Me Your Stories

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Wikimedia Commons

Lately, I have discovered that I love to hear people tell me their stories. My past few jobs have been in the service industry, and gave me the opportunity to interact with the public on a daily basis. In all of those roles, the part I liked best was listening to what customers would share about their lives and what journeys brought them to my workplace. 

 Recently, a woman came in tea shop I barista at, and I ended up having a short conversation with her and one of my coworkers. She told us that her son plays the organ and because of that was able to spend a year at Eton, a private boys school,  in the UK. While attending there, he got to have a brief conversation with the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the current monarch. I was incredibly impressed. How many of us can say we got to converse with the Queen Mother herself?

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Wikimedia Commons

I can’t quite explain why I like hearing about other people’s experiences so much. Maybe it because I’m a writer, and real life can be some of the best inspiration. Or maybe it’s because I’m an empathetic person and I want to know what the people around me are feeling.

These intimate moments of connection with strangers are some of the more meaningful parts of my day. Life has infinite possibilities and we are never going to get to experience all of them. But our lives are enriched when we learn about someone else’s background. When I am empathetic, I feel like I can live vicariously and experience people’s lives alongside them.

 The show Bojack Horseman on Netflix has a line that has stuck with me since I watched the episode it’s said in.  “In this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.” The more I think about it, the statement holds true. We often define ourselves by how we connect to others.  Everyone is someone else’s something. 

So many of life’s most important moments happen because of the smallest things. Moments become memories, memories become stories. Stories are shared and the circle of connection grows. I feel such joy when I realize that by hearing people, I become part of that circle.

With all of the ugly events that have happened recently, more than ever we need to connect. We need to listen to each other. And this isn’t meant to be a simple blanket statement about sharing good feelings. We really need to listen and try to understand the experiences of those who we share the world with.

Please don’t stop sharing your stories.

 

Prevenge: Murder, Mayhem, Motherhood

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

A slasher film about a pregnant woman committing murder with a kitchen knife sounds like some weird version of Mad Libs, and not necessarily a watchable movie. Nevertheless, writer, director and star, Alice Lowe has made a movie like Prevenge a tense, yet funny, gory, yet artistic, horror film. Filmed during Lowe’s actual pregnancy, the movie’s main character, Ruth, is a British woman expecting her first child. Ruth’s partner, as we gradually learn, died in a climbing accident due to the apparent negligence of the other climbers.

Prompted by the voice of her unborn daughter, Ruth kills the people she holds responsible for her partner’s death. By taking advantage of how others treat her in her delicate state, our heroine shockingly becomes adept at committing murder. 

I learned of the film when a trailer appeared as a suggested Facebook ad. I was hooked the minute I started watching. As a fan of both women-led media and horror films, I knew I would enjoy Prevenge. The film plays with society’s notion that pregnant women exist in a state of bliss, full of love and motherly devotion. In contrast, our main character Ruth is hindered by her pregnancy and frightened by the will of her daughter.

Prevenge Poster

The fetus is extremely verbose, complaining about the people and world around her. She speaks in a cutesy demonic voice that sounds like Peppa Pig on drugs. “You can’t shake me, I’m fury.” Ruth tries to lecture her daughter, but it’s pretty clear who is running the show. As Ruth’s condescending midwife says, “Baby knows best.” But unfortunately, what the midwife doesn’t know is that the baby wants people stabbed to death.

While the movie’s premise has the promise of a cheesy B-Movie, it’s actually the opposite. Slow moving and deliberate, this is not a stylized or exaggerated film. Ruth commits her murders in a believable way and the story is all the more effective for it. Aside from the murder, you could be watching a movie about a woman mourning and working her way through a difficult situation. Ruth having her autonomy stifled by the wants of her unborn daughter offers an exaggerated metaphor of women feeling that their body no longer belongs to them while pregnant. 

Music by the group, Toydrum, adds to the freakiness with a synth soundtrack. Even in the film’s calmest moments, the soundtrack reminds you that all is not right and something menacing is right around the corner.

I was impressed that Lowe took advantage of her own pregnancy to play Ruth. It added a layer of creativity to her project that otherwise wouldn’t be there if someone else was playing her. It’s rare, unfortunately, that we see a film with such a strong female presence behind and in front of the camera.

Some people could interpret the madness aspect of the movie as hinting at pre and post-natal depression. Yes, Ruth is not all in her mind and clearly depressed. But the film does not go into detail about what can be a complicated illness. Ruth’s midwife never brings it up in conversation during her appointments. Whether that is a deliberate story choice or neglect by the character is not commented on. However, women who have experienced pregnancy-related mental illness may relate to Ruth. Having never been in that situation, I can’t make that judgement.  Prevenge is more art than exposition, if you are looking for an in-depth discussion of the disease, you may have to look elsewhere. 

Would I consider Prevenge a feminist film? Yes. A female character does not have to be a shining beacon of morality to be a good character. Society praises women who are loving, kind, and feminine, and female characters who don’t follow this are often derided by fans. Look at how people responded to Breaking Bad’s Skyler White and her criticism of her husband Walt’s meth dealing. The hate got so bad that actress Anna Gunn wrote an article about it that can be read here.

Ruth is a three dimensional. Yes, she is going around committing murders, but her partner died, leaving her pregnant and alone. Along with the violence, we get scenes of Ruth sadly contemplating her situation. I for one just wanted to give her a hug.

In the movie, Ruth criticizes the expectations of how women are supposed to act during pregnancy in a great scene to disparage how mothers-to-be are poorly treated in the workforce. She attends a job interview as a ruse to meet with one of her victims. The woman interviewing Ruth tells her that while qualified, she wouldn’t be hired because she is pregnant. After she slits the woman’s throat, Ruth throws a sexist comment back at her as a post-kill one liner.

Finally, nothing beats Ruth as she gets ready to commit her last murder. This mild-mannered and ordinary woman transforms into an avenging goddess, red dress flowing around her, with a face painted like a skull. 

While I really enjoyed the movie and all the squirming feelings it produced, I thought that the ending was a little rushed. Prevenge was wonderful at creating suspense, I don’t want to spoil the climax, but it loses steam as it nears the finish line.

That being said, I know that Lowe gave her best performance. Ruth was never a cardboard cutout, such as when she kills a man and then lovingly putting his senile mother to bed when she wanders out of her room. Prevenge is unforgettable, I sincerely hope that this is not the last we see of Lowe.

Prevenge is available to watch on Shudder.com.

Am I Doing Enough?

By RACHEL BOLTON

Am I doing enough?

Or rather, am I doing enough art? I use the term art loosely here. Art is music, drawing and painting, singing, acting, and writing. All of the activities that come from creativity.  Despite how busy I (think I) am these days, I feel that I’m not producing enough art.

For 2017, my resolution was to write more. And so far, I have. I’ve had several articles published, I’m almost done with the novel length fan fic that I’ve been working on for the past year, I’ve submitted my short stories around, and I’ve been writing consistently on several projects.

This isn’t me trying to brag about my accomplishments. I do believe I deserve to pat myself on the back a little for what I’ve done. My self-doubt needs to be reminded that I am working hard.

What’s the origin of my feelings of inadequacy? Is it Imposter Syndrome? Maybe a little. But the feeling isn’t so much that I don’t deserve my accomplishments. It’s more like I believe I should have more of them. 

I have a form of anxiety, and as my fellow anxiety havers can attest, the illness is pretty talented at lying to you. Anxiety can tell you that you aren’t good enough.  My anxiety can turn into a crippling form of self-doubt, especially when it comes to my writing.

I am terrible at taking breaks. I gave myself carpal tunnel during my first National Novel Writing Month from repeated hitting of the backspace button. During another year’s NaNoWriMo, I worked and worked until I was a human-shaped ball of stress. I didn’t stop and take care of my stress. Instead I told myself to keep working, and I nearly gave myself a major panic attack. It wasn’t until I was staring at my laptop, completely unable to type that I stopped working. There are other less intense instances of browbeating myself into doing non-stop work.

For all those demands on myself, a part of my brain thinks that I should have more to show for it. Worst of all, there is the little critic in my head that says I don’t deserve a break. Sitting and playing a video game for an hour to decompress shouldn’t be a bad thing.

Recently, I’ve been reaching out to my fellow creative types to hear what they had to say about the feelings that I’ve termed “Not Enough”. It was so validating to get evidence that I was not alone. I spoke to a few of my fellow contributors at Rose Water to listen to their stories.

What Rosewater writer Alex Creece said stuck out to me. She said, “we stifle our own imaginative and creative endeavors by holding ourselves up to prescriptive standards of what we think creative success ~should~ look like. Rather than creating for its own sake, we become fixated on creating in order to achieve a very particular end product or achievement.”

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The author’s desk. Note the list of projects to be worked on.

I think everyone is guilty of wanting to have the same success as a person you believe is more successful than you. But I think we forget that we see others’ lives through what they post on social media. We are looking at them through rose colored glasses. Not many people are going to post about their personal struggles online. Unless you are writing an article about your personal struggles, like me.

In the past few weeks I’ve been feeling better about my writing and habits. I tell myself that if I’m doing at least one creative thing a day, whether that’s writing, crocheting, or playing my ukulele, I am doing enough. I’ll even write little supportive messages to myself on the dry erase board next to my desk. Life gets busy, and we all can’t dedicate the majority of our day to our passions. We should be proud of any time that we do get to use for them.

What could you do when you start feeling inadequate or overworked? If you think you need a break, you probably do. You could take a deep breath, and do something new. Here are a few activities I did to get out of my funk. You might want to give them a try.

Paint your nails a funky color.

Get another tattoo.

Drunkenly watch Batman cartoons with your roommates and laugh. 

Walk in the sunshine to the library.

Eat ice cream with your significant other and talk about the plot holes in Harry Potter.

Drink tea with the cat in your lap.

Call your mother.

Call your father.

Share stupid memes with your friends.

Crochet a scarf and watch Netflix.

Reread old drafts for new ideas.

Sit and breathe.

Breathe.

Learn some new coping skills.

Get ready to start over.

You can do this.

I believe in you.

 

 

Unboxing My Past Selves

This past Christmas, I decided to take several boxes of books from my parents’ house back to my apartment. I was tired of looking at bare spots on my bedroom shelf. Some of the books had been in storage since the summer before my freshman year of college, including Harry Potter, my Sherlock Holmes anthologies, and the entirety of Full Metal Alchemist. Seeing them again was akin to meeting old friends after a long absence.

However, it wasn’t just the books I was interested in taking with me. In those boxes were nearly two dozen notebooks and diaries I kept during three distinct periods in my life. They ranged from school notebooks, to marble journals, to Mead Academie Sketchbooks. I decorated them with stickers, magazine clippings, and anything else I found worthy.

My sister and I spent a few hours rereading my childish handwriting, laughing over drawings of various quality, and she especially enjoyed teasing me about what I agonized over in high school.

The two marble notebooks I am most grateful I kept were the pair I wrote and drew in during first grade. My teacher, who I will refer to as Mrs. C, wanted her students to write at least a page about a daily prompt or whatever was on our minds that day. Sounds fun and simple, right?

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Apparently my mom writing my name wasn’t good enough for Mrs. C. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

Wrong. First, Mrs. C was an unpleasant teacher. I was terrified of her. She had a large black beehive hair-do that I still  don’t know how she did everyday. Adding to her frightening appearance, Mrs. C wore garishly theatrical makeup that would’ve belonged better in a 50’s B-movie.

Second, the challenge of writing a whole page filled me with dread. I could never write the page-long amount she required. Curled over my tiny desk, I would write a sentence or two and then spend the rest of the time illustrating my brief description, afraid that Mrs. C would come over and demand I write more.

Keeping the journal gave me my greatest joys and biggest fears during the 1999-2000 school year. Mrs. C ran her classroom with standards that would have worked better for high school aged students. Everything had to be neat and organized, from the sharpness of your pencil, to your handwriting, and to the contents of your desk .Any failure was met with yelling.  I was scared that she would discover that my journal fell apart, or see that I drew a very unflattering picture of her when I wrote about my dislike of math.

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I wasn’t trying to exaggerate her appearance, but she really looked like this. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

Accompanied by a short description, I mostly drew my family, my dream of having a dog (specifically a poodle), how much I wanted to go home from school, how I missed my mom, with the occasional cameos from beanie babies, Jesus, and the cast of The Sound of Music. 

Rereading them now, I feel a protective, almost maternal love for my seven-year-old self. Those two notebooks show the honesty of childhood. I wrote and drew about my life as I saw it and as accurately as possible. While reading it, my sister recognized my mom’s old sweater in one of the drawings.

While no other teacher I had mandated keeping a journal, it wouldn’t be the last time I would pour my ideas and drawings into one.

A few years later, at twelve, I started what became a series of fourteen sketchbooks. In the days before I had a laptop, this was the only way for me to unburden my many creative ideas. Like my first grade notebooks, I wrote and drew in them. Luckily, the art and writing had improved.

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Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

At that age, I struggled to have friends. My childhood best friend had moved away before I started junior high, and I couldn’t find my footing in any social group at the new school. My being awkward and lonely gave me plenty of time to write and draw. Page after page was filled with whatever I was interested at the time, which often included warrior women and emo boys, my major obsessions with Star Wars and X- Men, and several parodies of the two.

Even though I was not the greatest artist, I probably drew hundreds of character drawings. They were characters with what I hoped were interesting backstories who came from thriving and detailed universes. I created the denizens of a multi-racial fantasy world with the intention of turning it into a novel. While I doubt I will ever do that with those characters, I think back on them with fondness.

I feel a little embarrassed by a few of my ideas, but I do look back on these journals with pride. They are my beginning as a creator. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I am impressed with how far I’ve come.

Slowly, I stopped drawing.

It wasn’t that I disliked it, but more so that I started writing more and wanted to focus on that. My parents put the spare computer in my room, so I typed out my stories instead. It was simpler and faster than writing by hand, and soon the sketchbooks sat on my shelf, untouched.

However, inspired by a New Year’s Eve 2010 watch-through of Bridget Jones’ Diary, I decided I would start keeping one as well. I wanted to be like the titular heroine, someone who wrote about her life with thoughtfulness and wit.

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I didn’t want anyone to read these, thus the warnings. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

It was not to be. While I am attached to my earlier notebooks, I feel no such nostalgia over my high school diaries. I deeply cringe when I think about them.  

The words my seventeen-year old self wrote were sappy, obnoxious, and love-obsessed. Rereading them, I think of how badly I needed to get snapped out of many unhealthy mindsets I had. 

Compared to my earlier journals, I wrote more about what was happening to me than what was going on around me. I wasn’t making up stories or drawing pictures of my classmates. It was self reflection without the self improvement that usually comes with that habit.

Contrary to first grade, I wrote long winded analyses of my life. (No drawings this time.) Endless, nauseating passages about my crush, the people I despised, and problems my friends went through. It is a chilling documentation of a high school social group. Who liked who, who was a mess, what weird stuff happened at the latest hang out. If I ever needed to write a teen drama, I could just cheat and use my diary for plots instead.

I stopped writing in the diary a few weeks into my senior year. I got a boyfriend, and since most of my writing was about how I wanted one, my new relationship left me little to write about.

While I feel embarrassed by my high school diaries, they make me happy because they are proof that I have changed so much since then. I’m calmer, more sensible, and stronger now.

Since high school, I haven’t kept a diary. I still write down story ideas, but it’s more of a way for me to scribble out my thoughts more fluidly than if I were to type it out on a computer.  A part of me does miss keeping one. Maybe I will keep one again in the future.

As for my old notebooks, they have a place of honor in my apartment. I’ll keep them forever. My journals are pieces of my self, or pieces of my selves.

One Message, Many Voices: The Women’s March

By RACHEL BOLTON

Everyone has seen the photos and videos. Thousands of people in cities all over the world, standing up for what they believe in. The sheer number who participated is overwhelming. Even weeks after it happened, the Women’s March is still being talked about.

Maybe you were one of the protesters, or you knew someone who went. I went to my local march in downtown Boston. I’m proud that I went, sending the message that women aren’t going to give the current president an easy time. The stories of that day are just as varied as the people who attended. My story is entirely my own and doesn’t represent everyone’s experiences.

My choice to go was last minute. I followed the Facebook page for the march in Boston, and two days before the start, I made the decision to go. I felt unspeakably dissatisfied with the results of the election. (Don’t worry, I did vote.) I am still amazed that the American people didn’t elect Hillary Clinton.  While I didn’t agree with all of Secretary Clinton’s actions and views, I believe she would have been a capable and intelligent president. She spent her life working for the government in ways that made her, in my opinion, one of the most qualified candidates in history. Instead, America elected a man who has never held a government job and has a verifiable history of outright racism and sexism.

Going to the march would allow me to put my frustration and anger to good use. I didn’t want to be one of those people who merely complains and does nothing about it. Since all good protesters need a sign, my roommate and I cut up a cardboard box for a canvas. My sign was foldable, something that would come in handy the next day.

I put a quote from one of my favorite sci-fi shows, Babylon 5, on my sign:“No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom.” I thought it fitting for everything that has happened since November 8th. 

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Holding my sign at the march. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

I live in Salem, a place known for its history with the infamous Witchcraft Trials. Up in the North Shore of Massachusetts, Salem is about a half hour train ride from Boston. There was no way I was going to try to drive there when I knew the city going to be busy. Since I was taught by my dad to never be late for things, I aimed to leave for Boston two hours before the march started.

When I got to the train station that morning, I expected it would be a little more crowded than usual. It was packed, I could barely find a place to stand. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said they would have more trains available that day, but I overheard two women talking that the trains had been full since several stops ago.

My stomach sank. I didn’t want to miss out on what I knew would be a historic moment. However, the commuter rail did stop and I got onboard when a woman opened the door.

The train car was like a proverbial can of sardines. Luckily, my unwieldy sign folded up, and I tucked it under my arm.  I don’t think anyone else could have fit after the stop in Salem. Despite my claustrophobia, I was impressed to see that so many people wanted to be a part of the march, even piling into an overcrowded train so they would be able to participate.

The most interesting conversation I had that day was with an older woman I stood next to. After apologizing for having to be in her personal bubble, she told me about her and her family’s history of activism. Her mother had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, and she herself had protested the Vietnam War in Washington D.C. She planned to meet up with her son at the march, joking that she wanted to bring her grandson too, but he was three and she thought he was too little to appreciate it.

The starting point of the march in Boston would be Boston Common, a large park in the middle of the city. After I got off the commuter rail, it was just a short subway ride to the park. Luckily this wasn’t as packed but most of the people on the subway with me were also attending the march. The driver of the train guessed where we were going and announced he was rooting for us. Everyone cheered him on for his support.

As soon as I took the elevator out of the station, I immediately felt the energy in the air. I participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in college, but that was much smaller in size. That march had around two hundred people in it, but I could tell that the Women’s March was far beyond that number. I would later find out that 175,000 people attended the Women’s March in Boston.

 I expected it to be both an act of unity after the election and a good starting point for further activism post-inauguration. It was. Already, there were groups of people holding signs and chanting. I met up with my friend, Riley, soon after I arrived. I wanted to have a buddy for safety’s sake, although I’m privileged to say I never felt nervous or concerned for our wellbeing during the march. 

Riley saw my sign, and being a resourceful art student, quickly made her own sign out of markers and a notebook. Holding on to each other so we didn’t get separated, we began to move further into the park.

I thought that the protest would be mostly young white women, but I was happily surprised to see it was not the case. The crowds were diverse in age, race, and gender. Whole families were there – even little kids holding signs of their own. Pink pussy hats were as far as the eye could see. It’s amazing to me that the president’s dreadful comment has been turned into a symbol of solidarity.

One of the most fascinating parts of the day was seeing what people put on their signs. Besides seeing plenty of angry anthropomorphized uteri, the Star Wars theme was a popular choice. Since her death, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia has become a face for women stepping up and leading social justice movements. I also spotted several of Rogue One’s heroine Jyn Erso’s quote, “Rebellions are built on hope.”

According to the woman who organized the march, the organizers expected that twenty-five thousand people would attend. Boston ended up being one of the largest sister marches with a hundred and seventy-five thousand people in the park at Boston Common. I told Riley that if more people showed up, we would need a bigger city to contain the volume.

My spot was too far back to let me see them, but the march had decent microphones for their speakers. The Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, was there to endorse the goals of the marches. Walsh’s speech made me proud to be a resident of Massachusetts. He reminded the crowd that our state has a legacy of being the start of or supporting numerous social movements, from the American Revolution, to abolitionism, and being the first state to legalize gay marriage.

Mayor Walsh hyped up the crowd with his message, readying us for the appearance of Senator Elizabeth Warren. The moment she said hello, all of us marchers started chanting her name. It took a minute or two before it got quiet enough for her to talk.

Senator Warren greeted the women and friends of women of Massachusetts, thanking us for giving her the opportunity to speak. She went on to talk about her disagreements with the policies of the current administration and about how they are not the ideas that will benefit the United States. She said, “We are here! We will not be silent! We will not play dead! We will fight for what we believe in!” The crowd enthusiastically agreed. I knew she was a great speaker, but I was truly impressed with what she said. I sincerely hope that she will run for president in 2020. 

After the speakers finished, Riley and I continued to stand, waiting for the actual marching to begin. Unfortunately, we ended up waiting a long time to move. I stand on my feet all day for my job, so I was used to it. But after nearly three hours in one area I was ready to start walking.

Since the organizers weren’t expecting so many attendees, the marchers moved slowly. In order to get out from the park to the street, everyone had to funnel through one tiny gate. Linking arms, Riley and I started moving forward. Knowing that people were starting to get frustrated with the pace, the organizers asked us to introduce ourselves to the person next to us. We ended up speaking to a Quaker Church group who all came together.

Finally, Riley and I were able to slip through a hole in the gate to get to out of the park and into the march. Residents of the apartment buildings waved rainbow flags overhead. Once we got to the path, things started move faster. It felt nice to stretch my legs. I held my sign up in the air, glad my voice was one of many.

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A small section of attendees. Photo courtesy Riley Cady.

My first exposure to female protesters was the character Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. I remember thinking as a kid that if I was alive back then, I would have been a suffragette too. It is with  a strange mix of annoyance and pride that I can look back and tell my younger self, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance to protest inequality too.”  Like the movements of the past, the world listened. The Women’s March was an undeniable presence in the cites that held it, the news, and on social media.

I was grateful to experience this day, but only thing that I’d do differently would be to bring a water bottle and a snack. After a while, my stomach started to growl.

Besides my superficial problems, the march brought up a lot of intersectional issues that need reflection. Although the uteri signs were humorous, it is important to remember that not all women have uteri and there are also men and gender nonconforming people who do have one. As a cis gender woman, it is easy for me to relate to the imagery, but there are people who are uncomfortable with the portrayal of uteri as an explicitly female trait. 

Then again, women’s reproductive organs have been historically seen as inappropriate or things to be ashamed of. Putting them on a poster shows that uterus-havers aren’t going to let the government dictate what happens to them.

While the crowds were diverse to a degree, there were not as many people of color in attendance relative to the representatively diverse city that is Boston. White women have a history of ignoring or shutting out women of other races in their activism. We also can’t forget that the majority of white women did vote for the republican candidate. My fellow privileged white women and I need to acknowledge that history and make sure we are making space for and supporting the women of color around us.

Because the majority of marchers were white, and because I was in a liberal part of the U.S. there wasn’t a fear of being harassed for protesting. This will not always be the case for other marches or other minority marchers, especially if they are about more controversial issues or have a majority of non-white protesters.  The protests at Standing Rock are an example of this. 

It’s incredibly inspiring that the Women’s March globally was a success, all of us have to remember that this is just the beginning. We can’t sit back now and congratulate ourselves for participating. With regards to myself, going to the march inspired me to not be a passive activist. I have to be out here, visibly supporting the causes I believe in. I can’t just sit back and share articles on Facebook and think I’ve done enough.

As the new administration continues, we all have to take care of each other, no matter what our age, race, sexual or gender identity, or national origin. Like the march, and like Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, we are stronger together.