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Stepping forward

My sign had gone limp, the victim of another misty day in the Pacific Northwest.

A savvier Oregonian speared her laminated poster into the damp sky.

“THIS PUSSY GRABS BACK”, it screamed. It was impenetrable.

A chorus of lively women started chanting behind me.

“This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

I listened. My voice was shy. Out of practice.

I scanned the crowd. If there were speakers or leaders, they were too quiet and too buried in the mass of bodies to see or hear. My neighbors pointed in every direction. I watched, waited.

Eventually, we started to move. I was smothered by marchers. Blind to the size of our group. Unaware of how many city blocks we stretched as we crawled through downtown Eugene. Oblivious to our magnitude.

A parking garage rose beside us, stacked with four stories of people cheering. Emotions gargled in my throat as their encouragement showered us from above. Drums announced their presence behind me. My hips responded, waving hello.

A gaggle of grandmothers twisted through the crowd with their conga line. This wasn’t their first rodeo. They were unapologetic, fierce, confident.

I want to be them when I grow up.

An empty speckle of pavement emerged on the street in front of me. I started to step forward.

“Step Forward”.

That was the mantra I adopted on November 10th.

My friend Nick gets credit for motivating me to embrace one of these every year. It’s different from a resolution. It’s actually better established well into the year, when you have a sense of what sentiment could steer you in the best direction.

“Unapologetic as fuck” was the first one I chose, over flat IPAs at the neighborhood dive bar. It wasn’t intended to be quite as callous as it sounds. It was less about being a selfish asshole who never expresses remorse for regrettable behavior, and more of an encouragement to recognize my needs and demand them, so I could be a better version of myself. To practice assertive and candid communication. To appreciate that I couldn’t do it all, and to stop trying. To embrace that I’m an introvert and accept that my sources, and depletion, of energy differ from more outgoing peers, and that’s just fine.

“Step Forward” hit me in the aftermath of the presidential election, when it became clear that our expectations for the future had just been upended. I needed determination to help me overcome the overwhelming defeat. Something to help me remember a lesson I’ve revisited countless times through running: that it’s much more productive to focus on matters you can control, than dwell in things you can’t.

When I had to run 100 miles through the 100 degree sauna of the Arizona desert, cursing the heat wasn’t going to lower the temperature a single degree. But stuffing ice into every inch of my spandex and putting my boobs on the rocks could help me stay cool and finish the race.

That race was yet another reminder that we’re so much better off when we invest our emotional energy and mental fortitude into what can be changed, instead of dwelling in despair and playing a never-ending game of “what if…”.

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Step forward addressed the regret I felt for not doing more to help Donald Trump lose the election. For not doing anything, really. Other than casting a vote for Hillary, 45 minutes before the polls closed.

Step forward rejects this complacency and passive behavior. It answers the call to action. It demands that I participate and not just observe. It invites me to show up. And start there, knowing it will cultivate more.

Step forward recognizes the power of collective action. And acknowledges that meaningful progress isn’t usually the result of one big change, but of many small pieces compounded over time.

It’s standing on a start line and not letting the distance to the finish paralyze you.

In my first 100 miler, everyone asked what I thought about for the 28 hours and 10 minutes, expecting deep thoughts galore and a roadmap to world peace.

“I thought about putting one foot in front of the other,” I told them. Because I knew that was the only thing that was going to get me through all 100 of those miles. One giant leap couldn’t carry me from Applegate to Ashland, but hundreds of thousands of steps could.

Step forward respects every step as a critical one. It’s about moving forward, in life, in this world, in running, one small step at a time, without dismissing any one of them as insignificant. It doesn’t let me feel defeated by an overwhelming amount of work or discouraged by the illusion of useless action.

Step forward is about progress. Through constant action and constant conversations, the momentum builds.

Back in the crowd, I kept stepping, questioning whether I was doing enough with each tentative footfall. Aware that other voices were louder, other hips waved harder, other signs outlasted mine.

I stepped all the way back to my house, where a stream of stories from around the globe greeted me. Broadcasting the millions of women, men, and children who showed up. Stood up. Spoke up. It was so obvious that every one of them mattered. That our collective action on January 21st was immensely powerful. That the world listened because every one of those individuals woke up and said “today, I’m going to march”.

It can be hard to appreciate the value of a single action by itself. The worth of one vote, the significance of one phone call, the power of a dollar, the benefit of an hour of our time, one body in a sea of millions. Especially as we observe peers who are doing more, giving more, saying more.

But every step we take to move forward is one that matters. Every time we show up or speak up, makes a difference.

This feels like another start line, the finish nowhere in sight. The distance, seemingly insurmountable. Saturday was a step forward. Now we keep going. Trusting that our voices will grow louder, our actions, more meaningful. And our steps, always count.

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9 Responses to Stepping forward

  1. Thanks for posting this – I haven’t seen many people from the running blogger community delving into politics. I was in DC last weekend – my sign read “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

    Step forward, indeed.

  2. Love this! I’ve had similar thoughts since the election. And as much as I dislike the direction in which our country seems to be headed, maybe some of us needed a jolt to get more involved. I don’t know if I’d every contacted my Senators before this year, but they’ve heard from me now. And will keep hearing from me every time I have something to say.

  3. Excellent post. It’s hard being in DC right now. While I’m grateful that we’re having a protest every weekend, I’m pissed off at the need for it and fearful of what is happening to this country. I also feel like I should have done more and now, with all of the noise to “Call your Congress members,” I feel even more lost.

  4. Hi Emily. Thanks for posting this. It looks like your efforts to support Hillary is pointless, since Trump won and became the President of USA today. Do you accept defeat Hillary? The reality is most Americans don’t accept defeat and this they call democracy.

  5. “…it’s much more productive to focus on matters you can control, than dwell in things you can’t.” So well said, Emily! And so glad you are back writing again!

  6. Love this piece. A really tough time to live in DC. You really did make the best coast decision.

  7. well said emily!

  8. I really like “step forward”. I think there were a lot of us who were shocked in November because we felt like we had this one in the bag, but there’s nothing we can do about it now except not make the same mistake again.

    I’m training for my first IM in April and it’s consuming my life and I feel crappy I haven’t been able to do more politically, but in February I’ve pledged to start donating some money to charities that ARE doing good work until I do have time.

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