HillaryOn January 21, I marched with 60,000 people in Atlanta, Georgia.

Why did I march? I marched for lots of complicated personal and political reasons. First (though not foremost), I marched because it is my right as a United States citizen. Our country was founded by protesting against empire and unfair treatment (e.g., the Boston Tea Party and “Taxation Without Representation”). I am deeply grateful for this freedom and I wish I exercised it more than I do.

I marched because I am a Christian who also happens to be a former young adult missionary of The United Methodist Church. As a missionary, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ “for the transformation of the world” meant seeking justice, freedom, peace, and the alleviation of human suffering for persons in my local community. Atlanta is my local community; it has been in pain for a very, very long time, and its most vulnerable members (those suffering from homelessness, persistent mental illnesses, addiction, institutionalized racism, incarceration, etc.) are desperately in need of all these things. As a United Methodist, I believe in the primacy of Scripture, and I take the warnings of Jesus very seriously when it comes to the possession of excessive wealth and power (both of which our current president is freely, and dangerously, displaying).

I marched because, in many senses, I’ve won the “womb lottery”: I’m a white, upper class, well-educated American. I grew up in a safe neighborhood, without the fear of socioeconomic scarcity. Though I had a blended family (which has involved its own share of intense dynamics), I escaped much of my teen angst through the privilege of hobbies: musical theater plays, chorus class, violin lessons, church activities, and even working outdoors with my dad. Not everybody gets to grow up like me. Not everybody has the privilege of feeling safe, or the ability to participate in recreational activities. As someone with power and privilege, it is my duty to advocate for equitable access to resources for all persons, whether they want my kind of childhood or not. It should be their right to choose it.

I marched because I wanted to show that effective civil disobedience doesn’t have to be violent. Even if fringe protestors become violent, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss all protests and protestors. When I think back to the Baltimore protests after Freddie Gray’s murder, I’m saddened that much of the country wrote off 97% of the non-violent protestors because of the 3% violent ones. Perhaps we should pay attention to why the violence is being committed: Is it possible we aren’t hearing the non-violent forms of resistance already being enacted? Are there more insidious forms of violence that contribute to the physical violence? If we look closely, racism, sexism, ableism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, heterosexism, addiction, mental illness, and many other bonds of oppression are the true causes of the physical violence. When we address these issues, I suspect there will be less physical violence.

Finally, I marched because I was ashamed I had not marched before this moment for the rights of all women and men everywhere. Though I’ve been participating in anti-death penalty advocacy, LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC, and farmworkers rights awareness, I did not march when Philando Castille or Alton Sterling were murdered during the summer of 2016. Neither did I march for Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, or any of my other African American brothers and sisters. As I read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this year, I was struck by King’s emphasis on white Christians’ lack of response to social oppression against black people. In King’s day, white Christians would express their disagreement with “Separate But Equal” legislation, but they wouldn’t support the boycotts or marches. King’s dissatisfaction with white Christians could easily be transferred to today’s Movement for Black Lives. Many white Christians deplore the race riots in Ferguson, yet they are not willing to acknowledge the centuries of lynchings, rapings, executions, demoralizing caricatures, and pure terror white Christians have caused black people. We have not adequately wrestled with the injustices we’ve inflicted on our siblings in Christ, and we will not until we can confront our shame with true regret.

In this sea of 60,000 people, I cannot tell you I how grateful I was to be marching with other members of Candler’s student body. I am grateful for colleagues that accept me for who I am, but continue to challenge me to be more a more compassionate, considerate, radically hospitable person of faith. I recognize that because of my demographics, I have “miles to go before I sleep,” as Robert Frost wrote. Participating in this march was an incredible experience of community and solidarity, and I pray that this experience will be the beginning of greater participation with other prophetic voices in the Candler community and beyond.

[Top photo: Hillary Taylor (tan hat) and fellow Candler students prepare to march.]