Finding our voice and being heard

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Late into the night of Nov. 8, I received a phone call from my son who lives in Denver, Colo. Distraught and in disbelief, fearful for his rights as part of a marginalized group in our society, he felt at that moment he no longer knew or understood the America he was living in only a few hours before.

I explained that night, that no matter what, he still could be with the person he chose to love and the man he chose to marry. That the values we raised him on of tolerance, compassion, empathy, courage and kindness would always be celebrated in this country. That if there was anything I had learned throughout my life it was about our ability to choose how we show up in our own story, our own life. We have no control over what happened that night, we only have control over how we react and respond to it. And above all I would always, always have his back.

So a week later when he called to ask if I would like to march with him for the Women’s March in Denver, I did not hesitate to say, “It would be my honor.”

As the date grew closer for the flight out to Denver, I was thinking of all those women who had gone before me, the ones who marched for the right to vote. The women who organized and got laws passed that allowed me to own my own business, to take out a loan in my own name without the co-signature of a husband, and who empowered me to be a mother of two boys and a businesswoman at the same time. I thought of the women over my lifetime who taught me how to find my own voice and not to be fearful to be heard and to connect with other women who too desired to make a difference. They instilled in me the strength and knowledge to lead by example, to help push forward on projects like Iowa City’s first shelter for battered women and children in 1980.

I thought of my mother and my grandmothers and the goodness and strength they instilled in me to rise above and be the best woman I could be. That doing the right thing by everyone was not a sign of weakness, but courage to be open to all possibilities. I was raised to believe that until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you have no right to judge.

I thought about my children and my grandchildren and how much I needed to do this march for them. But in the quiet of my own heart, I was doing this for my son. He deserved a mom who was not afraid to stand in her truth. A mom who meant it when she said, “I have your back.” A mother who still led by example that it is essential that we embrace our own fears of people who do not fit our own version of the truth. A wholehearted mom who will lean in with love, compassion, courage and gratitude and has the ability to hold that space for that which she does not understand.

So Jan. 21 came, and it was a crisp and sunny day in Denver. As we got ready, my son made sure I had mittens and wrapped me in his own scarf so I would be warm. We joked about role reversal as he was now dressing me as I once dressed him as a small boy.

As we came upon the crowd at the Civic Center in downtown Denver, there was a sea of colors and movement that took my breath away. The excitement was palpable, and any nervousness I had as to what to expect quickly dissipated in excitement and anticipation of what was to come. My son said the organizers had expected 40,000, which ended up being an estimated 200,000 people. And the amazing thing is I never felt afraid. My son grabbed my hand and never let it go the entire march. At one point the crowd was so dense you could feel the breath of the person beside you. We saw three generations of mothers, daughters and babies in strollers next to older women with walkers. Husbands and wives, sisters, friends, gray hair and purple hair, LGBT, refugees and women of all sizes, colors, shapes and lots and lots of pink hats. It truly was a rainbow of peaceful and diverse brilliance.

Because of the vastness of the crowd, it had become impossible for us or the surrounding supporters to continue to march. There were just too many people to handle the designated route and nowhere to go. After an hour of not moving, my son shouted, “Let’s go.” People began to yell, “fired up” — “ready to go.” He along with hundreds of other people began to march on an alternate route through the streets of downtown Denver. It was organic and real and exciting. As I looked around, I said to my son and his friends who had now joined us, “Look, take this all in. This is America. This is who we are.”

As the crowd began to move down the streets, my son said, “I want to start a chant. Will you do it with me?” We said, “Go for it.”

He said to his female friend and me, “You say: ‘my body, my choice.’” Then he shouted, “Her body, her choice.” Slowly all around me the women shouted “my body, my choice,” and the men shouted “her body, her choice.”

As I breathed in the magnitude of what my son just started, I was filled with the knowledge that he indeed knew his self worth. As the chant eventually ended, a woman turned to my son and with a nod of affirmation shouted, “Thank you, boys.” At that moment I had never been more humbled to be a part of such a historical event, proud of the boy I had raised and the man he had become.

After the march ended, we heard many speakers who shared their hopes and desires for a better tomorrow. They reminded us of the shoulders for which we all stand on. That it is our responsibility to our own children and to ourselves not to let the rights we all fought so hard for slip away. They echoed the ancestral voices of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

The speaker who touched me the most was a deaf activist who signed a poem with such power and feeling that her body became an instrument of peaceful protest. As she finished, thousands of people rose up and with a tapestry of colored gloves and mittens waved the sign of applause.

I turned to my son and as we hugged I said, “We are a part of history today.

“Always remember you are an amazing person, and no one can ever take that from you.”

On the way to the airport the next morning we talked about where do we go from here? How do we get involved? How do we take this amazing energy that we witnessed the day before and create positive results? How do we form new connections to truly make a difference?

Something happened to me on that Saturday in Denver. I realized it was time to pass the torch. He was ready. They are ready. It is their time. It was my job as his mom to hold the space for him to step into his own power, just as others had held that space for me some 40 years before.

It is never easy to say goodbye when I leave my children, not knowing when I will see them again. But there was something different that morning. A rite of passage had happened. As I got out of the car at the airport, we looked at each other and he knew. We hugged and he said, “I am proud of you mom.” We smiled and with all the love in a mother’s heart, I said, “Thank you.” And as I walked through the door into the terminal, all I could think of was how blessed I was that we had these past two days together and how lucky I am that he chose me to be his mom.

• Roxanne Erdahl is a personal and professional empowerment life coach through her business Erdahl Coaching. Comments: rmerdahl@gmail.com

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