In the mid-1960s, I desperately wanted to protest the war in Vietnam. But as an obedient, Jewish girl closely watched by a protective brother while we were attending the University of Texas, I was afraid of upsetting my parents, or of finding myself ostracized or, worst of all, branded as unmarriageable by a future husband.
I even transferred to the University of Colorado, which had a reputation as a wild campus offering protest, beer for 18-year-olds and the proverbial “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.” My first night in Boulder, I met my future husband. We married at 20, and there went the protests, drugs and rock and roll.
Today, I am thrilled that I have a ticket on a bus from Minneapolis with other women to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.
I am marching for that disappointed 20-year-old, but I am going for so many others.
I am marching for my parents and sister who escaped from Hitler four months after the Nazis invaded Prague, leaving behind friends and family who did not survive. They knew the danger of unchecked power.
I am marching for my dark-skinned, disabled son. The thought of his being mocked or losing his services terrifies me.
I am marching for Evangeline Herrera, a pig-tailed, shy third-grader, who was periodically taken out of our classroom with the other Hispanic kids to be checked for head lice. The rest of us white students just sat there.
I am marching because I remember my fifth-grade teacher calmly, dispassionately describing the lynching of a black man that she witnessed as a child.
I am marching because I still love Tom Capone, my best friend at Temple High School, who is now married to Paul.
I am marching because I remember the pain on the face of my sorority “Big Sister” as she self-consciously opened her gifts at her baby shower, two weeks after her wedding and a few months before dropping out of college. Finding birth control was a humiliating process in 1966. An unmarried girl needed a fierce case of acne to convince a dermatologist that she needed “the pill” to clear up her skin.
I am marching for the young black man who wrote me a letter after I met him during a weekend sponsored by the Austin, Texas, YMCA to interest black students from small segregated schools to attend a mostly white University of Texas. “You are the first white person who ever talked to me,” he said.
I am marching because I was told at my first two job interviews that no women had ever been hired locally for those positions. The high school social studies teacher had to be able to coach boys’ sports. The newspaper only hired women to type, not to cover news. My typing was lousy.
I am marching because I did not protest when Al Gore won the presidency but lost the election in 2000. If I and most of America had not been so complacent …
I am marching for my daughters, Andrea and Betsy, who cannot leave family obligations and jobs to go. While they worry about my new but imperfect knee, my need to pee often and the threat of deep vein thrombosis from a 17-hour bus ride, they support me.
As does that nice Jewish boy who married me almost 50 years ago.
Most of all, I am marching for my grandchildren. And yours.
Vicki Pieser lives in New Ulm.