By Lauren Ware Stark, English Language Development and Humanities teacher at Cleveland High School
On Thursday, September 28th, 2018, I joined the over 20 million Americans witnessing the testimonies
of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Like many women and other
survivors of abuse or assault, I’ve struggled with a range of emotions in the wake of their testimonies:
admiration for Dr. Ford’s eloquence and composure, disdain for Kavanaugh’s entitlement and white
male resentment, and empathy with the all-too-familiar details of Dr. Ford’s assault. Kavanaugh’s
confirmation is moving forward despite several credible accusations, and I find myself wondering: how
can we – as women, as survivors, as educators – respond? How can we possibly challenge a system that
excludes and degrades us?
This weekend, I’ve been repeatedly invited to join one possible response: a “female blackout” on social
media to “show what the world might be like without women.” In considering whether to join this
action, I am torn. I want to stand in solidarity with the women taking this action, which serves as a
visible manifestation of the attacks on women in our nation’s highest offices as well as our collective
grief and anger. I want to support the idea that it is important to imagine what our would be like if
women disappeared. But, I’m not sure that this particular action is the way I want to respond.
We don’t need to change our profile pictures for men to imagine what it would be like if we all
disappeared. We are all already surrounded by narratives of abused, missing, or murdered women.
Violence against white women is fetishized in news stories, true crime documentaries, and thrillers,
while violence against women of color is normalized in these same media. As Trump’s response to the
murder of Mollie Tibbets demonstrates, violence against women provokes outrage only insofar as this
outrage supports existing race, class, and gender hierarchies. If a woman is white, middle-class,
“innocent,” and compliant, white male elites can use her assault or murder to justify the reification of
the social structures that benefit them. If not, her race, class, relationships, or speech will be used to
justify the violence against her – if this violence is acknowledged at all.
While I stand in solidarity with women who find the “blackout” to be a meaningful form of protest, I
won’t be changing my profile picture. For me, the blank profile mirrors the messages we already receive
throughout our culture: that women are silenced, violated, or stripped of their power every day, and
that – for many men – this is exactly how things should be.
This brings me back to my original question: how do we – as women, as survivors, as teachers – respond? What can we do? The best answer I’ve found is that we need to keep doing everything we can to build our collective power and work toward a more just social order. We need to celebrate and learn from the infinite ways other women – women of color in particular – have built power and transformed their communities. And we need to use every tool we have at our disposal to challenge the existing social order and work in solidarity to build an alternative one.
So, how can we build our power? We don’t need to look far for ideas. In Seattle, Tracy Gill reminds us of
the power of using ethnic studies to support our students’ abilities to critically examine and reimagine
the world around them, as well as the power of advocating for this curricula at the union and district
levels. Rosa Powers reminds us of the power of working to transform our union from the ground up,
whether it be refusing to accept that we should be paid “wife’s wages” in the third-most expensive
housing market in the country or refusing to accept the displacement of our colleagues even when our
own job is safe.
Marquita Prinzing reminds us of the power of working democratically with educators to collectively
envision and work toward a more racially just union and school system. Nikkita Oliver reminds us of the
power of linking the struggles for Black and Native lives, as well as the power of building a grassroots
political party. Kshama Sawant and Pramila Jayapal remind us of the power of working for equity from
within positions of power. Ijeoma Olua and Lindy West remind us of the power of using biting wit and
journalism to take down what bell hooks calls the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Northwest
Detention Center Resistance, the Seattle Clinic Defense, and Black Lives Matter – Seattle remind us of
the power of collective action to challenge and disrupt systems of oppression.
As a radical woman, teacher, survivor, and unionist, I am tired of men telling me how I should or
shouldn’t work toward change. I’ve had men tell me that civil disobedience and protests won’t make a difference. (I teach history. They do.) I’ve had men tell me that agitating within the system won’t make a
difference, either. (It can.) Women fall into this binary way of thinking, too, and, in many ways, they are
right: protest isn’t enough, advocacy isn’t enough, representation isn’t enough. But, I don’t believe that
this means these strategies are wrong, just as I don’t believe that changing your profile picture to
protest assault is in itself wrong. They’re just insufficient on their own.
Not everyone can or should use every strategy or tactic, but we need to collectively use every tool at our
disposal. We need to support our students’ abilities to critically examine and reimagine the world
around them. We need to show up to support struggles that are linked to – but distinct from – our own.
We need to work together to fight for equity in our schools, unions, and communities. We need to flood
all three branches of government with women and people of color who will fight for a more just system
for all of us. And, when our government oppresses us or our brothers and sisters in struggle, we need to
As the FBI finishes its “limited” investigation into Kavanaugh and the Senate likely moves on to confirm a racist, sexist elitist to the nation’s highest judicial office, I hope that you will join me in using every tool
at your disposal to show that the status quo isn’t acceptable. And, whether or not you changed your
profile picture to a black box this weekend, I hope that you will build and show your power in the weeks
to come. In the words of Audre Lorde, “Each of us must find our work and do it.”
Featured image by Elliot Stoller