The Women’s March that happened in over sixty countries all over the world a weekend or two ago was the best thing to happen in 2017 yet. Women and men in every state in America and in countries around the world gathered to protest the Trump administration’s high-handed and retrogressive policies governing the rights of women, of the LGBT community, of Muslims, of immigrants and people of colour. All over the world millions of people came together to sing and chant and walk together in a huge outpouring of solidarity and power and love. It was incredibly uplifting, something that made one feel like the world is perhaps not such a bleak and terrible place, that there are still people who will fight for what is right and decent. It also made me feel incredibly frustrated and, frankly, jealous. Where are our people? Where is our positive outpouring of support and solidarity for anyone in the world, or anyone in the country—anyone, really, anything at all (grasping at straws here)? Where’s the support for the women, the minorities, the vulnerable?
It’s amazing how America is rallying. Trump signs a temporary ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the United States, lawyers are sitting on the floor at JFK (New York’s primary international airport) drafting petitions—for free—for people stranded at the airport because they haven’t been allowed permission to enter the country. Social media is being flooded with graphs and charts and evidence of how and why the ban is unfair and discriminatory and has no grounding in any real fact. People are protesting “No Ban” on the streets. The American people have a problem with the way the government does things, and the beauty of a democracy is that you get to speak up when you don’t like what’s going on. But a democracy only works when everyone is invested in it, and it’s outcome. When there is a critical mass of people who can agree to unite not because they like each other, or they’re friends with someone who is banned or any other personal reason other than it’s the right thing to do.
How lucky to know what the right thing is. How fortunate America is to have a populace that can agree that minorities’ rights should not be curtailed. That women’s health and safety matters. That different people might make you uncomfortable, or you can disapprove of someone’s lifestyle but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated like scum. It makes me wonder why we can’t think like that. What’s stopping us? Why don’t people think it’s important to march to support women and minorities and immigrants? What is our middle and upper middle class up to that’s so necessary and distracting that we can’t be vocal and undeterred in defending what’s right?
One argument that gets trotted out a lot to explain our political apathy is that in the third world if you have a roof over your head and food to eat then you better stop complaining, because people are starving, homeless and dirt poor in Pakistan. We have Worse Problems than marching to support a woman’s right to have access to an education or safe public transport. Except that isn’t true, entirely. There are homeless people in America. There are plenty of families that are living below the poverty line in America, who are surviving on federal aid and the kindness of strangers. There are scores of American kids that go to bed hungry, who go to their awful, run-down schools in dangerous neighbourhoods hungry. And yet in America there are thousands of people taking to the streets, thousands of people camping out at pipelines in Dakota to protect the water, thousands of people phoning their senators to protest the administration. Have any of us ever called our tehsil nazim? Do we even know who is the representative for our zila? Do you know what a zila even is?
If you go by the poverty argument, then if you aren’t starving to death then you are privileged, and that privilege isn’t meant to be taken lightly. If you go by the religion argument, then you might think X or Y is a Bad Person but your faith enjoins you to stand by the weak and to condemn injustice. So where does that leave you, the citizen? It a place of responsibility, that’s where. In a new permutation of the word, “woke” is used these days to describe someone who is aware of racism and social injustice, literally someone who has woken up from their ignorance. There is no other way left to be now. Ignorance is no excuse, ignorance is for the pathetic and stupid. “I didn’t know” is the worst phrase in existence—why don’t you know? Go and find out, if you don’t. Go into the world and be real and realise the immense power we all have to change things if only we can join forces, and be a force to reckoned with. God helps those who help themselves, what else is ‘khudi’ all about? It’s being woke.