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Women marching as a sign of hope

Shortly after the election of Donald Trump to the office of United States President, Sister Barbara Battista saw a post on Facebook about a march of women in Washington the day after the inauguration and decided that she wanted to attend.

A busload of marchers from Terre Haute, including Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates and others, prepare to leave for Washington, D.C., last night.

Why she and others are marching

“I want to say, ‘Here we are, the whole rainbow assortment of us, and we’re watching,’” Sister Barbara says. “‘We expect to be treated with respect. We have energy. We’re going to be engaged. And we can do this.’ (This being having a civil society.)”

Several Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates and SP staff members are present with Sister Barbara at today’s Women’s March on Washington.

Response to divisive language

“The past couple of years, it’s becoming more and more clear how separated people in this country are — just based on race and religion and socioeconomic status and other man-made categories of people.…I’m not willing to just sit and listen to [those voices of division] become louder,” says Julia Lopez-Kaley, a staff member in the sisters’ liturgy department and a Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College alumna, who is attending today’s march.

Sister Barbara Battista joins the Women’s March on Washington today.

According to the website catholicsocialteaching.org.uk, the theme of human dignity in Catholic social teaching “is about our radical equality before God that leads us to think no less of somebody because they are from a different place or culture, because they believe something different to you, or because of their work or employment situation.”

The Women’s March on Washington and similar events seek to create spaces where all are welcomed to stand in solidarity with people on the margins of our society. Though planned by women and speaking out for women, many involved in this movement hope to encourage participation by all who feel marginalized and their allies. Sisters and others involved hope it’s a space for people to come together and build a movement to sustain our work for justice into the future.

March organizers originally emphasized that this is not a protest but a march of solidarity and unity. It’s not about one person or one policy, but about an approach to being throughout the country.

But solidarity isn’t just a vague feeling. It requires action.

“This is leaving the nest to do work that I can actually do,” Julia says of her decision to join the march. “And the work itself is just simply being a body. I mean, I’m one person. I can’t represent all women. I can’t represent all people who are unprivileged. I’m a very privileged person. I can’t represent them and I can’t do the work for them. But I can be present. By being present I think I am making a statement as much as I can as one person.”

Connected to mission

Lorrie Heber, director of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, sees the March as integrally connected to her work for environmental justice with the Sisters of Providence. “Basic human rights rely on care for creation,” she says. “They rely on clean water and clean air and unpolluted land and the ability of all peoples to be able to live on earth, live with earth.”

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a sponsored institution of the Sisters of Providence, also emphasizes education through a broad lens. “Being a student at the Woods,” Julia says, “you constantly heard that the goal was to gain education and experience so you could go out to the world community. It wasn’t just a local community. It wasn’t just the country. It was the world community.”

Breaking boundaries, creating hope

“Women are coming together to say that their voices deserve to be part of the conversation, that the principles of respect and unity are more important than precise uniformity.”
The motto of the Sisters of Providence, “Breaking boundaries, creating hope,” speaks of the importance of building bridges in the life of the community and its members.

The Women’s March on Washington is not one group. It is not one unified effort. Participants are attending despite differences of opinion on specific platform items. Women are coming together to say that their voices deserve to be part of the conversation, that the principles of respect and unity are more important than precise uniformity.

By uniting around those principles they hold in common with the national March organizers, Sisters of Providence and friends seek to build relationship. They recognize that unity does not equal uniformity. Many see it as part of following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was willing to reach out to others and create relationships that some criticized as contrary to his Jewish religion’s teaching.

To many of those participating in the March, it’s about connecting to others.

“Staying connected, I think, is really important,” says Lorrie. “In addition to being drowned out by negativity, it’s easy to retreat back into your own corner.” These connections with others, across a large variety of differences, will sustain a movement toward justice.

Continuing forward

“To be perfectly honest, “says Sister Kathleen Desautels, who ministers at the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago, “I’m joining the march to buoy my own spirits, to renew my own commitment to the justice work ahead.”

While it will take sustained action, the March this weekend is a good place to start, to forge connections, and to make a stand. As Sister Kathleen says, “No one march, no one letter or call to one’s Congressperson is going to change the world in the moment. However, I want to believe that such a large crowd gathered for the purposes of the March will be a sign of hope to the rest of the world who watches.”

Julia says, “There is a very strong message that is created when a large amount of people show up together and peacefully but strongly say, ‘We are here, and we’re not going anywhere. … we are not complacent. We do not accept that [the normalization of this kind of divisive language and actions] is happening. We are watching.’”

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Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste is in formation with the Sisters of Providence. She is a native of Indianapolis and has a degree in sociology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily is passionate about justice with special interest in environmentalism and sustainability. You can follow her blog at solongstatusquoblog.wordpress.com. She currently ministers with the NETWORK lobby for Catholic social justice.

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