On January 21, 2017, I was one of roughly 10,000 people who attended the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo in solidarity with the millions of women, men, and children marching throughout California, in Washington D.C., across the country, and around the world. Our message was simple: we marched for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families and because we recognize that our vibrant and diverse communities represent the strength of our country.

I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo and it was an experience I will never forget. I recognized that everyone in attendance got up and showed up the same way mothers, working women, and just about every woman I know gets up and shows up to juggle through life and handle her business each and every day, no matter how she is feeling.

I also recognized that, quite frankly, many of us were not feeling our best because we were fearful we would lose the civil rights and humans rights we had fought hard to secure and we were angry with the direction our nation was headed. As we stumbled out of a harrowing election and into a new Presidential administration, many of us were feeling vulnerable. Those of us, like me, who have been fighting for social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice my entire career, were just plain exhausted.

“But today is a new day,” I said to the sea of thousands at the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo. “So let this be the beginning of one loud, persistent, collective, diverse, and justice- seeking roar of strength and action that reverberates far and wide.” The crowd cheered in agreement and I felt a connection. “The set-backs we face represent a reminder to check our complacency at the door,” I said. “A stranger’s struggle that is different from our own represents an opportunity for empathy and a plea for compassion. Today is a new day and we will not be reduced.”

It’s been nearly a month since Inauguration and I’ll admit there have been several times since the Women’s March that I’ve had to pull out my own keynote address and read it to myself so that I am reminded why I marched, that I won’t be reduced, and that I must, no matter the setbacks, continue to fight harder.

I have heard from many who attended the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo that my keynote address inspired and motivated them and they thanked me for being brave as I stood before the largest crowd I’ve ever stood before and spoke from my heart, as a women and a mother, as the daughter of a Jewish immigrant mother and Mexican-American father, and as the wife of a man whose family came to this county as refugees seeking asylum.

I am humbled to hear that my words were motivating and inspiring and brave, but the truth is this: I was inspired by the outpouring of compassion, love, and resistance I witnessed at the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo and in the images I saw from hundreds of marches around the globe. I was motivated by my children, who I could see in the crowd before me as I spoke, because I know they watch every move I make and listen to every word I utter, and it is my responsibility as a parent to raise them to become the next generation of social justice warriors. I’ve written extensively about this responsibility—the intersection of lessons I’ve learned as a civil rights and social justice attorney and the lessons I’ve learned as a parent—in a recurring column I write for the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association called Mommy Esquire.

And yes, it was brave of me to deliver the keynote address because, quite honestly, I am an introvert at heart who does not like large crowds. But, the truly brave one was a mother in San Luis Obispo that I know who, hours after the event, publicly shared that she marched with her husband and children so her boys would know the difference between locker room talk and bragging about sexual assault. She went on to describe her very personal and painful experience with sexual assault and her refusal to let her children grow up in a world where violence against women is normalized. She is the brave one and she, like the thousands who marched alongside her, inspire and motivate me to keep on fighting.

So what can we do moving forward? To begin with, we can remind ourselves that we cannot do everything. But, if each of us does one small thing a day, our strength in numbers and show of resistance will carry weight well beyond the march. If you are a mother or father with young children and can barely find time for a shower let alone political action, don’t despair. First, remember you are raising citizens and, before you know it, they will be voters. So read to your children, discuss current events in developmentally appropriate ways, and teach them to be polite and respectful. Raise them to stand up for others and speak out for justice. Make sure they know the history of struggle that came before them and continues to this day.

Visit these sites for some great book suggestions:

http://www.allthewonders.com/books/thirty-five-picture-books-for-young-activists/ (Thirty-Five Picture Books for Young Activists)
http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=11177 (30 Inspiring Books on Girls & Women of the Civil Rights Movement) http://www.niahouse.org/blog-fulton/2016/11/3/40-childrens-books-about-human-rights-social-justice (40+ Children’s Books about Human Rights and Social Justice)
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/8-empowering-middle-grade-novels-kids-interested-social-justice.html (8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice)
https://geekdad.com/2017/01/13-books-children-activism/ (13 Books to Teach Children About Protesting and Activism)

Next, identify your local, state, and federal representatives and put their numbers in your phone. When an issue comes up that you care about, when you hear discussion about a policy or law or appointment that concerns you, or when you want to offer positive reinforcement for a job well done, pick up the phone and make a call. The website and mobile app www.5calls.org makes it incredibly easy for you to do this. You might end up leaving a message, which is fine – just provide your name, zip code, and a succinct message about the issue you called about and whether you are for or against it so your opinion will be logged (note: faxing is a great alternative if the phone lines are jammed). Elected officials are infinitely more responsive to constituents in their district, so make sure your representatives know how you feel and that their reelection will depend on their willingness to do what is just. I’ve been making phone calls every few days on my way to work. I constantly remind myself: democracy is not a spectator sport and a little exercise every day is healthy for everyone.

Along the same lines, you may want to purchase a stack of postcards and a roll of postcard stamps and create some pre-printed mailing labels for those same representatives. I ordered postcards that have a photo of me and my family at the voting booth on the front and a quote from President Obama’s Farewell Address that says “guardians of our democracy.” The backside of the postcards includes my return address and a space for me to write a quick note to my representatives. I planned to write one postcard a week, but with everything going on in Washington DC right now, I have been writing at least six a week. I’ll have my children write some too when an issue comes up that they can understand and about which they can voice an opinion.

Please take the time to understand and do not lose sight of what is happening at a Congressional level. Many members of Congress are abdicating their duty to hold the Executive Branch in check and proposing legislation to eliminate regulations or agencies that are responsible for things that are important to your family’s health, safety, and education, such as clean water, toxics, and public education. If you live in a swing state, do everything in your power to make sure your district swings in a healthy direction at mid-year elections in 2018. This website and app, www.swingleft.org,will help you identify if you live in a swing district or not. If you do not, it will direct you to the closest swing district in your region so that you can focus your attention, time, and campaign donations there. I cannot underestimate the importance of Congressional mid-year elections in 2018. In order of impact, commit to do the following as often as you can: email, write, call, and visit your representatives. Visit www.indivisibleguide.com/web for more guidance. Remember, democracy is not a spectator sport.

Finally, we must all be aware. It is very tempting to stick one’s head in the sand when the problems we face feel too great to shoulder. But, I would argue that complacency is how we got here and, from what I’ve observed in the weeks since Inauguration, the very democratic foundation of our country is in grave danger. Identify reputable news sources and check in once a day. It doesn’t have to be for long and some days you will simply be able to read the headlines, but know what is going on in the world, in our country, in your local community, and stay connected. Staying connected with individuals and groups who are leading the resistance will not only keep you informed, but also keep you sane.

At the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo I said “We will educate ourselves and our children and be teachers when necessary and students always. We will be mindful of the news we consume and the stories we are told. We will oppose the normalization of tyranny and hatred and resist the decline of decency and denial of facts. We will remember darker days and the tendency of history to repeat itself and our awareness will move us forward.”

Stay informed. Stay connected. Educate yourself. Educate your kids. Make phone calls. Write to your representatives. Visit your representatives. Continue to stand up and speak up for those feeling more vulnerable than ever. Stay motivated. Stay inspired. Be brave.

That is how, together, we will march forward.

Erica Flores Baltodano
Civil Rights Activist and Local Attorney

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