As we approach International Women’s Day, I cannot help but reflect upon the generations of women who came before me. For centuries, women pioneers have uncovered environmental health concerns, led grassroots campaigns, and fought to protect our air, water, land and species diversity. We’ve worked in government, academia, non-profit organizations and corporations. Women from all walks of life have worked persistently to preserve the world for future generations. As I think of the contributions of women to science and environmental protection, I also ponder the contributions of women within my own family and I am proud to say that I come from a long line of strong women.
My great-grandmother was widowed with five mouths to feed when she was in her early thirties. She came from a small family and had nowhere to turn for support. It was 1939. The Great Depression had recently ended, but the economy was still recovering. Severe dust storms swept through the land, filling the lungs of her children with harmful particles. One of the deadliest conflicts in human history had just begun. The world was at war and it seemed as though every part of her life had just fallen apart. Determined to find work, she left New Mexico, heading to California for a new life, for hope and for a chance to do right by her family. Much like today, life was hard. Her days were filled with uncertainty. She did not know what the future would hold. While I can only imagine the fear that she must’ve felt being alone in the world, I am in awe of her bravery, her courage and her determination.
Her daughter, my grandmother, showed the same kind of courage by joining the workforce. In her day, women were expected to marry and procreate. She was the oldest of five children and the only girl in her family. Alma was a brilliant artist. She could make practically anything. All she needed was an inspiration. Her eyes shone with pride when she was praised for her work. In short, she was brilliant. At the age of 15, she left school and worked full time at the armory so that her brothers could receive an education. While her sacrifice for and her commitment to her family was inspirational, it does not compare to the generosity of her spirit. Any time a friend or neighbor was in need, she would open her house and her heart. As I see the hate and divisiveness in our country, I think of her. I ask what she would do and what action I could take to honor her memory.
Throughout the years, women have endured unbearable hardship, continually striving to take care of themselves, their families, their neighbors and their communities. They have also struggled to obtain an education, to enter the workforce and to make their voices heard. Because of the sacrifices of the women before me, I am privileged. I have the right to vote. I have an education. I can protest. I can decide if I want to marry and have children. I can work. I can even wear pants to work! I can make my voice heard. To pay tribute to the matriarchs of my family and the many, many strong women that came before me, I walked in the Women’s March.
I felt compelled to march because each morning since the election, I wake feeling overwhelmed. It is as though the world is completely turned upside down and everything I value is under attack. Environmental data that we have spent decades collecting is being destroyed. Access to information restricted. Government employees silenced. Regulations that protect our air, our water and our most vulnerable communities are endangered. Our parks and wild spaces as well as our infrastructure may be privatized, limiting our ability to enjoy nature and to ensure our communities are developed sustainably. Funding for the agencies that protect the environment and fight climate change are in jeopardy along with the monies that sustain the National Endowment for the Arts, AmeriCorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As the health of our planet is at risk, the daily headlines are filled with stories about hate crimes, families being torn apart and foreign governments influencing our election. I hear about increased military spending and wonder if there will be anything left to protect. It’s no wonder that I frequently feel like it is pointless to get out of bed! And, yet, I know deep within that I must take action, that now is the time to fight for everything and everyone I love.
Women have a long history of fighting for human rights and for a healthy planet. Women have a long history of fighting for their families and their communities. We long for a new life, for hope and for a chance to do right in the face of an uncertain future. We do not know what the future will hold. We do know that if we fail to protect what we most cherish, we will not survive. Regardless of your politics, I believe that we are stronger together. When we band together for the sake of our family, our community, our country and our planet, we are able to achieve far more than if we were to remain separate, isolated, lonely, angry and afraid. Now, more than ever, it is time to unite and to have our voices be heard.
The Women’s Environmental Network provides a safe space for women to come together, to collaborate and to support one another as we work to make the world a better place. If you are feeling alone in your fight or overwhelmed by the magnitude of the battle, please join our community. Being part of our group can help you stand in your bravery, courage and determination. My wish for you is that someday a child, a grandchild, a great grandchild or even a young girl entirely unrelated to you will learn your story and say that she is proud to come from a long line of strong women.
Happy International Women’s Day!