I used to like to wear longish skirts with t-shirts or sweaters, as they were very comfy and I’ve always had trouble finding slacks to fit (especially in my twenties and thirties when clothes were sized for a woman 5’4″). This summer I saw a family at the Farmer’s Market. The mother and her four daughters were wearing long skirts with t-shirts and holding signs opposing women’s reproductive rights stated in frightening religious terminology. Then I saw the skirts differently–as a symbol of control over women’s bodies. The tiniest of them tried to hand me a flyer. I felt really manipulated–someone that young you just want to make happy, but I told her “no thank you.”
As I write this I remember the start of the Persian Gulf war. Andrew was five. He made a “No War” sign because he saw I was devastated. “Look, Mom! We can do this!” We joined a small anti-war demonstration in Princeton, WV. His color photo was on the first page of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph a few days later.
Apparently, this was a point of some contention among the ladies in the Bible Study I went to, though they never said anything directly to me, reluctant I suppose to stir up conflict. They were gracious, accepting people and I’m sure I was a porcupine, always flinging my needles around. In another setting, and a few years later, I heard a progressive person I admired say that she would never take her child to a protest march. Should I have felt shame?
After the war was over–it only lasted 42 days–I wrote a letter about the experience of bringing a child to a protest to the BDT, which they aptly titled, “The First Amendment–A Powerful Freedom.” Funny to read the paper, see the headline, think, oh that looks interesting, and find out that it was my letter to the editor.
I didn’t make Andrew pass out information to passersby at least. I thought of it as an exercise in empowerment–this is what you do to communicate an opinion others may not know is locally held. It’s OK to have a minority point of view. Find friends who share it and let others know. We were a handful of the Mercer County Peace Coalition: Edith Bell, Lee Brown, and even some I didn’t know. What a joy it was to work with them on this and other projects. What hearts they had. How they dedicated themselves to keeping up with the news, gathering information, encouraging others to care, to act. Most importantly, the Peace Coalition never supported depriving others of their human or civil rights.
When I noticed my long skirt hanging in my closet this morning, I felt a wave of revulsion. But it eventually led me to the memory of a time in West Virginia among people who were as good as any you’d want to meet in your life, people who tried to create the kind of world you’d want to raise your child in. I’m wearing this long skirt, reclaiming it. It’s warm over leggings and it’s winter. I won’t cede it to the fundamentalists.