In January 2017, upon my return from the Women's March, I realized I no longer feared living my life as a single woman. I'd been separated for more than a year and was finalizing a divorce, but when I returned from D.C., I felt -- perhaps for the first time in my life -- that I could actually thrive on my own. Having been surrounded by all that humanity in Washington, D.C. helped me to see that I'll never be alone as long as I follow my instincts, remain engaged in things I feel passionate about, and stay open to new ideas and new points of view.
In February, I met up with Marla Walker, who'd sold me her bus ticket to Washington, D.C.
I gave her one of the hats and a scarf I'd carried along the route of the Women's March. Even though Marla didn't experience the event in person, these tokens, created by other women, would serve as reminders she was still a part of the movement.
I also reached out to Patricia Sainz on Facebook:
Me: Hi, Patricia. My name is Christine Wolf and you generously invited me into your office on the day of the Women's March on Washington. Wonder if I might interview you for a piece I may write someday for ChicagoNow? I'll never forget how generous and thoughtful you were that day...and I'd love to tell the story of how we met! Thank you AGAIN for helping Jill Greenman and me that day. Take care, Christine
Patricia: Hi Christine! I was happy to give you and Jill a little break from a long day. Yes you can tell our story Please say hello to Jill for me.
Me: Oh thank you! And you go by Pat, right? I wanted to share your generosity on my blog. And I got to thinking that you took us in as "refugees"...ironic with Trump's stance on immigration, especially since you said you were born elsewhere. There's such a point to be made by what you did. Please refresh my memory (and please tell me if it's okay to share): Where were you born, when did you come to the U.S., and what company do you work for? I want to make sure I have my facts correct!
Pat: I'm from Mexico, I've been here since 94, I work for a non-profit organization called Initiative for Global Development, I'm the finance and administration director.
Me: I'd like to illustrate to the Trump followers that, here, in America, EVERYONE welcomes everyone.
Pat: I hope so.
Me: What you did for Jill and me is such a metaphor and lesson about OPENING DOORS, not closing them. Thank you, Pat. When you first came here, did you feel welcome?
Pat: Yes, always.
Me: Thank goodness.
Pat: But I have lived in big cities that have all kinds of people from different countries.
Me: Feel free not to answer any of my questions. Did you ever consider becoming a US citizen? Maybe you did/are?
Pat: I've been a US citizen since 2004. I love this country and I'm a very proud American.
Me: Was ‘94 your first time in US?
Pat: No I've been coming to the US as a tourist many times.
Me: Thank you for sharing, btw. I will someday write my piece for ChicagoNow.
Pat: Good luck!
Me: The fact you came downstairs and brought us upstairs to take refuge...across the street from [Trump’s] hotel...speaks volumes. More later. Thank you. Xoxo
Pat: You are more that welcome! All the best!
In March, I was invited to the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, where I was asked to write about the living conditions there. Travel advisories had warned of major safety issues, though I refused to let them stop me from going. Based on just some of what I witnessed, President Trump might easily (and horrifyingly) label these places as "s***holes" -- so I cannot wait to publish my take on these beautiful islands (and their residents) and what it's ACTUALLY like to live there. I know that my trip to these new destinations was possible because I'd traveled to the Women's March by myself.
That same month, I wrote a piece about a preventable health emergency just coming to light with doctors everywhere. As frustrated and angry as I was on behalf of hundreds of families I'd heard from -- struggling with sick kids, desperate for insurance coverage -- I believe my piece was received as effectively as it was because
1) I'd witnessed so many calm, enthusiastic protesters sharing their views in D.C.,
2) I channeled that calm attitude while advocating for these families, and
3) I'd faced naysayers before and just kept on going.
In April, I attended my second political rally, this time in Chicago. Walking throughout the city in that nasty, biting rain during The People's Climate March, I protested -- among other things -- the federal government's repeal of numerous environmental protections.
In May, I went to Springfield, Illinois, lobbying for legislation on behalf of the families I mentioned earlier. I'd never lobbied before. I'd been asked to speak to legislators and to the media, and I didn't think twice about jumping in my car to go. I know that my "spontaneous" trip to Washington for the Women's March had given me the confidence to do this.
In June, the blog post I'd written back in October '16 -- inspired by President Trump's insensitive comments about women -- received an honorable mention by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, a reminder that efforts -- like the Women's March -- sometimes take time to yield clear results. I also signed my first book contract that month, something I'd been working toward for nearly ten years.
In July, on the 7th, I wrote a piece urging Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to sign a bill into law providing families insurance coverage for a frequently overlooked and misunderstood childhood condition. On the 15th, I appeared with others on the local CBS affiliate urging the same.
Three days later, on July 18th, the Governor of Illinois signed the bill, HB2721, into law.
In August and September, I took some time to reassess how far I'd come since the Women's March, and to once again ask myself some honest questions, like What do I want? and Where am I headed? In a way, I felt as though I'd stalled a bit, and that I was operating without a clear set of directions. I took some time to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty, and tuned out the doubtful chatter in my mind. I reminded myself to listen -- really listen -- to what my instincts tell me. And then, I kept going.
Later that month, I traveled to Wellesley College to conduct research for my book, and then interviewed U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky back in Evanston, Illinois. During both encounters, I was reminded how strong the female spirit is, and how much women have overcome to achieve equal standing in our society. I thanked Rep. Schakowsky for her tireless efforts in Washington, and mentioned that we'd briefly stood together during the Women's March for a photo. When I asked her to sign a copy of that picture, she reached for it and wrote two simple words: "Stay Strong."
I thanked her with two words in return: "I will."
In October, I traveled back to Washington, D.C. for more research on my book, feeling confident, knowing my way thanks to having been there during the Women's March.
In November, I returned to D.C. for even more research, reminded once again, as I walked along the Mall, of how many of us turned out that day in January, 2017, standing up for what's right on behalf of citizens everywhere.
In December, I received a message from Patricia Sainz, the woman in D.C. who'd invited us into her office during the Women's March. She'd noticed on Facebook that I was in D.C. for work, and made an offer that I still can't believe:
"Hi Christine! I saw that you are in DC. You can stay in my studio in Georgetown if you want. I’m away on vacation until 12/9. Let me know! I’ll give you my address and my neighbor can give you the keys." When I thanked her and asked how she was doing, she responded by writing, "I’m good thank you! My home is yours and Jill’s whenever you come to DC. Don’t forget! Hugs!"
And this month, January 2018, I once again heard from Patricia -- one year after the Women's March: "Hi Christine! Happy New Year 2018! I want to give you my address and cell number for when you come to DC."
I replied, "Happy New Year, Patricia! Thank you - yet again - for your generosity! How are you?!"
"Hi!" Patricia wrote, "I’m well and back to reality (work). In regards staying in my place, the offer has no expiration. It’s a Mexican thing."
* * *
Since the Women's March, I've come a long way and learned more than I ever expected. I've learned how to be fearlessly independent and to stretch my voice in ways I never had before. I've witnessed examples -- time and again -- of the goodness in others, as well as the critical need to keep doors open. But if you'd asked me at any time during this past year what I was doing to "contribute" to the "betterment of our country", I might have said, "Not sure," or "I'm just getting through," or "I've unfortunately needed to focus on my own needs this year."
What the Women's March taught me was to stop apologizing for attending to my own needs.
Looking back, I can see that, by slowly building my own self-confidence, doing things that mattered deeply to me, I'm now situated to help others find their own voices. The Women's March was like an oxygen mask, of sorts.
And as for those questions I asked myself before the Women's March, I have some answers:
Q: What do I stand for?
Q: What can I improve?
A: Only myself.
Q: What can I leave behind?
A: I used to think this question was about "shedding the past," though I now see it as "leaving a legacy". And what I hope to leave behind is evidence that I have tried my best to build unity.
Q: Who are my true friends?
A: A friend is a friend. Period. We cannot be all things to all people at all times -- at least I know I can't. This past year I've leaned on some friends far more than others, and I've missed some of my other friends beyond description. My friends didn't change -- my circumstances did. And the real truth of the matter is, while change is hard, your friends are your friends, and they always will be.
Q: How do I envision my future?
A: With optimism and hope...always.
I also recently asked friends on Facebook to describe how the Women's March changed them, and here are a few of the comments they shared:
•"Made me feel less hopeless, more empowered, less alone and full of courage"
•"Marching with my daughter, surrounded by so much love and grit, gave me great optimism for the world my daughters will spend their adult lives in."
•"I became a Deputy Registrar so that I could register IL residents to vote and let their voices be heard."
•" I was overwhelmed by how so many disparate strangers - grandparents, kids, babies, milennials, baby boomers, gays, straight, trans, moms, dads, Muslims, Jews, priests, every race - came together with one voice. And how incredibly kind everyone was."
•"The March made it clear that the best thing I can do is to listen and believe, and respond in the most supportive, compassionate way possible. And the worst thing I can do is assume I’ve been enlightened enough to have already done these things well enough."
And though 2017 was a BEAST of a year, it made me who I am -- wiser, stronger and ever more grateful for those who see me as a whole person, rather than "just a woman".
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