By: Pat Peters
What, Me Protest?
Believe it or not, I had never participated in a protest or march of any kind before last month. By the time I was old enough to be secure in my own opinions and hold certain strong beliefs about rights and privileges of all people, I believed that there was nothing to protest or march about. I was under the impression that we, as a society in the United States of America, were headed in the right direction and I didn’t need to make a big fuss about any of it.
That changed following this past November’s election, when I saw that many of the rights I have taken for granted for so many years were at risk of being compromised. The rights of people of every religion (or no religion) to coexist peacefully in the U.S. The rights of people of color to be treated with dignity and respect. The rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies. The rights of adults and children with disabilities to receive the education and resources they need to be fulfilled human beings. The rights of people of every sexual orientation to live and love without prejudice.
As the day of the presidential inauguration grew closer, it became more and more apparent that my fears were legitimate. So when the Women’s March on Washington was announced for Jan. 21, I was ready to stand with them. I couldn’t make the trip to D.C., but going to the capital of my home state, Austin, Texas, was a reality. After procrastinating making the actual travel arrangements, I found out that a march of solidarity would be happening right in my hometown of Denton, Texas. So I signed up, made signs, recruited my entire family, and made sure that we would be part of this historic event.
History Is Made
On Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, my husband, daughter, son and I made our way to the Denton County Courthouse Square to march with our homemade signs. I have to admit that I went with just a bit of trepidation. In preparation for the march, we had received advice from the Action Network telling us how to prepare for possible confrontation with authorities and eventual arrest, how to ensure that we had the contact info for Legal Aid, and more not-so-hopeful advice. In truth, however, we were not preparing for any confrontation or actual protest, but for a peaceful, civil march around the square in solidarity with concerned citizens across the North Texas area, throughout Texas, the nation, and the world.
What we experienced was a peaceful, joyful few hours with more than 2,800 like-minded people who were concerned enough about the direction of our country to take time out and be heard. We met up with old friends, made new friends, shared rallying cries, and even held five minutes of silence. When you think about the practicality of almost 3,000 people being silent for five minutes together, it boggles the mind, but it really happened right here in Denton, Texas.
So… About Intellectual Freedom
This was the most powerful experience I have ever had of the people’s right to assemble, of the people’s right to free speech and freedom of expression! While there was certainly some negativity, most of what we saw, heard, and experienced was positive and hopeful.
There were people who expressed surprise and even outrage at having to address all these rights again. One person we talked to was a retired teacher who had taught high school English to both of my children and who is also a member of our church. She apologized to both of my 20-something children, saying, “I thought we had this.” But she and others like her were willing to stand up again and make themselves heard.
Since Jan. 21, we have already learned that we will have to work hard to ensure that intellectual freedom remains our right as citizens. We will have to work hard to ensure that our families, friends, and strangers will be able to stand up and speak, write, sing or tweet their ideas without fear that those ideas may be silenced because they don’t match the ideas of those in power.
But having marched on Jan. 21 and taken part in this global act of solidarity, I’m confident that we can work that hard. We will work that hard. We know what’s at stake, and it’s worth the effort. And there are millions of people worldwide willing to work!
Pat Peters is director of the Decatur Public Library, Decatur, Texas. In her spare time, she is an adjunct professor of Library Science for Texas Woman’s University, having taught both graduate and undergraduate Children’s Literature and Youth Programming. Pat is the 2016-17 chair of the Texas Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. Pat and her husband Jeff live in Denton, Texas. Pat can sometimes be found @PatriciaP628.