The New President and My Old Marching Shoes

Hello, everyone, in case you were wondering where I was, I have been busy revising my latest novel. I want to stay focused but don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, my faithful reader. Meanwhile, I wrote the following for The Huffington Post which I wanted to share.…/5880bed6e4b0fb40bf6c46f7…
Diana at march.jpg

I went to my first protest march when I was twelve. It was 1969, and I walked down Great Neck’s main street in favor of a proposal to bus children from a low-income area to Great Neck schools. Wearing plaid bell bottoms, I carried my own handwritten sign, “They won’t hurt you, why should you hurt them? Give them a chance, too!” (There were even smiley faces in the letter O’s.)

As demonstrators march for and against President-Elect Donald Trump, I’m reminded of all the marches I’ve attended since that first protest. Moreover, I value demonstrations which don’t incite hatred or violence because they are hallmarks of a healthy democracy.

My mother, a first-generation American, instilled in me the belief that if I thought something was wrong, it was my obligation to speak out against it. In between long drags on her cigarette, she shared the Jewish adage: if you save one life, you save an entire world. Her interpretation? With your one life, try to do something.

She didn’t mind when I skipped school to attend demonstrations. To her, engaging in political activism was the best kind of education. I traveled to New York City to protest the Vietnam War, and also ventured to Washington D.C. for demonstrations in favor of women’s reproductive rights.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I attended a reproductive rights rally in New York. It was about the time that I’d become more religiously observant, so I carried a clothes hanger (to represent what women sometimes used for illegal abortions) and another handwritten sign reading, “Orthodox Jews for the Right to Choose.” A woman approached me, saying she wanted to join my organization; I admitted that I’d just started it and I was the only one in it. Afterwards, I went home on the subway. It was crowded and I squeezed my way out the car. I now apologize to that passenger, whoever she is, who discovered that I accidentally left my hanger hanging off her sweater.

Before the Iron Curtain fell, I marched at the United Nations on behalf of Jews trying to leave the Soviet Union. In 2000, when I was living in Westhampton, I again marched in Washington, D.C., this time in the first Million Mom March. My friend, Liz Liggon, and I took the Long Island Railroad into New York City and from there to the nation’s capital. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Liz, who is African-American, I felt a sense of strength and unity.

Sometimes, I admit, I’ve been misguided. At Cornell in the late Seventies, I joined Iranian students in their protest against the Shah of Iran. Then history unfolded. I am painfully aware that those students returned to an extremist Iran, where the revolution turned against them.

During the Israel-Lebanese War in 1982, I attended an anti-war protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in New York. A decade later, I found myself living in a small beach village in northern Israel, only twelve miles from the Israel-Lebanon border. I came to understand that certainty comes easier when you’re not living in the war zone.

Making my home in northern Israel, I am involved with a peace group — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze women — and last October, we went to the Women Wage Peace March, on the Israel-Jordanian border. We walked along a snaking dirt path under a cloudless sky to reach a holy place near the Dead Sea, one of the lowest points on earth. It’s a baptismal site for Christians, with an Arabic name, Qasr al-Yahud, or the Jews’ palace, making it a convergence of all three faiths. Thousands of women gathered that day: Palestinian women in galabiyahs and hejabs walked arm and arm with Israeli Jewish women in tank tops and shorts, demanding that our leaders reach a peace agreement. Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who helped end the Liberian civil war, told us, “History will write this day.”

I hope so. Yet even if all the protests I’ve attended have not made a difference in the world, they have made a difference in me. How lucky I am to be able to publicly voice my opinion. Even when I disagree with other demonstrators, I still respect their right to be heard. That is a priceless gift of freedom. This is something I learned when I was twelve and this is how I’ve lived my life.

I just turned sixty and I’m still wearing my marching shoes.
In the photo is Jennifer Charm, Robert Raynor and I am holding the sign.

About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
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5 Responses to The New President and My Old Marching Shoes

  1. Dana Wissner-Levy says:

    I remember that demonstration well. I had a pigtail burn off accidental. Very nice piece Diana. .

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Diana, I’m glad I took the time to read this today instead of waiting a day or two. Thank you for being a responsible protester/activist. Thank you for making sense. So much of what I saw on TV yesterday made no sense, was vitriolic, hate-filled, and just wrong. I’m sharing your post. More women need to read it.

    • dianabletter says:

      Thank you, Marilyn. It’s tough to remember that we can agree to disagree…and stay respectful. Hope all is good with you!

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