When I was ten weeks pregnant I gave an impassioned speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Hobby Lobby hearings about why universal access to contraception was part of my own religious understanding. I’d wanted to share about my own planned pregnancy, but at that point I wasn’t far enough along to feel comfortable telling that in a public way.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last protest for almost three years. After the birth of my daughter I cut my travel significantly. I spent most of my weekends in the cocoon–or what sometimes felt more like the prison–of our home rather than out in the public square. As someone deeply ensconced in the activism world this turning inward felt like I was betraying the causes and the people for whom I cared deeply. How could I be an effective advocate if I couldn’t show up?
Over the last few months I’ve done a lot of reflecting on how parenting has shifted the way that I think about myself as an activist. Whether rooted in parental love, self-preservation, or some combination of these two, I’m less willing to put myself in harm’s way than I was before I became a mother.
Though I recognize as a white, middle-class woman that my physical safety at a protest is generally protected, there have been instances when I have felt threatened. Since most of my activism has focused on reproductive health and rights there have been a number of times when I’ve been in a space where anti-abortion extremists showed up to terrorize, intimidate, and shame us. Last month I wrote about my participation in the blessing of an abortion clinic only to find out days later that Revs. Dennis and Christine Wiley, the co-pastors who led the ritual, were targeted by anti-abortion protesters who picketed their congregation, going so far as to enter their sanctuary to intimidate children making their way to Sunday school.
The work of justice can be uncomfortably risky.
Like for many the Presidential election has jolted me out of activist dormancy. Last month my family participated in the Women’s March in Raleigh. My husband pushed our two-year-old daughter through the crowds as I held up a sign I’d made with her finger paints that said, “Love Not Hate Will Make America Great.” Much to my relief the protest was peaceful with only a handful of counter protesters, but as author Luvvie Ajayi has rightly critiqued, the women’s marches were majority white, and white women are protected by the police. We had nothing to fear.
As a white woman, the parent of a young child, and a follower of Jesus I continue to seek discernment in what it means for me to show up in this political climate. How do I parent and participate at the same time? How do I do so in a way that makes sense for this stage of life? Each day I ask for the courage to do whatever is required of me, even if I’m fearful, and the wisdom to know when it’s better for me to support the movement from afar. We know that this work is long and hard, and that we will rely on the next generation of justice-seekers to continue this work. My prayer is that my daughter will be among them.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rising will be published by the FAR Press this fall. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.