Strongly Afraid

Marge Piercy said: “A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.” Tell us about a time when you did what couldn’t be done.

As I review various advocacy projects in my mind that fit this criteria, I realize how the devil is in the detail. For example, the story of how I forced the City of Pittsburgh to allow access to my blog website is a twisty complicated and rather boring tale of policies, nuances and a rather unsatisfactory ending as we wait for the City to overhaul their entire IT department. People were determined that I would not get it done, but really … it isn’t that interesting to retell as a story. Unless we discover that some other site of importance has been blocked, too. But there’s no way to know.

A lot of advocacy work is boring, mundane, and often downright irksome and annoying to others. “Is she writing about that AGAIN?” you might think. And you’d be right – OMG, so many posts to free the Domestic Partner Registry from the basement of the City-County Building – of course, it should have taken one simple phone call. But it didn’t. If you knew how many phone calls and emails and conversations I had behind the scenes, you’d be exhausted.

Truck illegally dumping in Manchester circa 2008
Truck illegally dumping in Manchester circa 2008

I actually tried to write about my struggle to get PennDOT to maintain their property in my Northside neighborhood. I fell asleep halfway through the retelling. And that included exciting photos of tar and more photos of illegal dumping. The end result of that was very good in that we established a working relationship with PennDOT and the lot was maintained. Sadly, they sold the plot to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society which intends to build an off leash dog park for their dogs. I’m not opposed to that, but I have many, many questions and they aren’t too responsive. Our house is quite literally the closest to the lot and our fenced in yard with our own dogs will be most directly impacted. So I would hope for a bit more transparency.

The overarching theme is that most advocacy is not Hollywood screenplay material. It might be interesting to film a scene where a middle-aged lesbian confronts the company illegally dumping in her neighborhood, but probably not. Most of that screenplay would be me typing emails, reading emails, cursing the fates and typing more emails. There are few speeches or monologues. No awards or invitations to meet someone exciting.

There are rewards, sure, but most of us have our eye on the next step. The City still doesn’t have a set of policies for web filters or for managing the Domestic Partner Registry. The PennDOT lot just took a dramatic twist pitting activists against homeless pets. I guess that could be exciting, but I just feel like “Are you kidding me?”

The full poem “For Strong Women” by Marge Piercy better captures this sentiment than just a line. Piercy writes in the present tense about a woman who struggles against the odds, not from the vantage of someone who looks back at a job well done. A strong woman weeps, strains, and is scarred by those struggles. A strong woman continues to struggle until others struggle, too.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

I wish my neighbors would stand with to demand that the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society treat neighbors with the same respect and dignity we expected from PennDOT. I wish we weren’t battling over parking cones and snarky comments from the postmaster and pointing fingers. I wish we tried to make each other strong, not make each other the focus of our rage and outrage. I wish we saw strength in one another instead of demanding allegiance to our factions.

Until then, I can definitely say that I am afraid.

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