Why I Marched in Semi-Slushy, Melting Snow Today in Lexington, Kentucky

I first heard of the ERA when I was about eight years old. I overheard a conversation between my cousin, who was about a year older, and my aunt who had adopted me at age four. There was a seriousness in the air. Perhaps, they thought I wasnʻt old enough to understand, or maybe I was just dawdling behind them in our stroll across the lawn—my cousin with burning questions, my aunt with gentle explanations, and I was just there, listening, a silent observer. It had never crossed my mind that we werenʻt equal. I knew there were boy things and girl things, but as far as I was concerned, I could cross the line anytime I wished. My aunt never said, “thatʻs only for boys.” When I told her I wanted the round, rubber-tip boyʻs tennis shoes, she got them for me without trying to squeeze me into narrow, girl shoes. When I wanted to wear Searsʻ jeans with supportive patches on the knees, in the boy section of the catalog she never batted an eye. After all, I played rough. I climbed trees, crawled under houses in good “Hide-and-Seek” games, and was never afraid to get dirty, and plus, they had pockets. Her only complaint was that all my clothes were stained from rolling in Hawaiian, red dirt when playing “Statue Maker.” She told me I was the “dirtiest kid in the neighborhood,” and I accepted that with a sense of pride.  When a doctor suggested active projects to keep me from terrifying nightmares, she bought me a hammer, a saw, wood, and some nails at age five. For my sixth birthday, I asked for Legos and dolls. It never occurred to me later, at age eight, that I would grow up without equal rights because of my gender. But, I did know that my skin color was different. Often white people thought they were complimenting me, but it just reminded me of how I didnʻt belong to white cousins, and how it would be worse if I were darker. The kids next door called me a bastard, because I was a brown child in a white family. Their words hurtled from their mouths, weapons on the wind, taunting jeers that I couldnʻt respond to, because I didnʻt know what that word meant, but I knew it must be bad.

When I was eleven, old white men stared at me, making me uncomfortable. One, telling me what a nice color I was, how I wasnʻt as dark as some natives were, as he groped me with his eyes, later his hands. And I was silent, ashamed of who I was. Ashamed to speak out, until years later.  I had heard stories, but never thought it would be me. My aunt warning us against strange men, but never about men we knew. Just say “no” they always said. Yet, despite the advise, sometime in my life, I couldnʻt stop the catcalls, couldnʻt stop the sexist remarks. Boys will be boys, people said. And women put up with it. I avoided passing groups of men. But, when something sexually violent happened to someone I cared about, I split wide open; the horror, the pain, unable to breathe, shaking from the devastation that had occurred, anger that I couldnʻt prevent this violence from happening to a loved one, remembering my own trauma. The sense of helplessness, rage, yet afraid to speak out.

When Donald Trump was elected President, I knew that Americans had gone mad. A self-proclaimed rapist, supported, upheld, venerated by mostly white men and women.  Some how it was okay to joke about grabbing women by their “pussies”, okay to grope them, to humiliate them, to treat them as lesser beings. And women voted for him, ignoring the fact that 3/5 of all women are molested or raped in our country. Yes, despite the years of work some women have spent trying to bring equality between sexes into our country, some women still voted for him. A sickening sense of betrayal suffocated me for weeks. Also, some Brown and Black people voted for him despite his support for the KKK, despite his disregard and disgust for people of color, people who have migrated from what he now calls “Shit hole” countries, people brought here through slavery, and people who came here hoping to experience the American Dream. Again, a sense of betrayal. I just canʻt even think…how this is okay in this century, after hundreds of years of destroying native lands and native people for money, a devastation that they are still reeling from through poverty, land loss, cultural loss, and western illnesses, along with the highest rate of suicide, depression, and the disappearance of native women, that no one else seems concerned about. Yet, some people of color still voted for him. My words must be garbled, because how does any of this make sense? All this political talk is just a cover up for rape. Raping the land, raping the people—people of color, women, LGBTQ communities, Dreamers, setting the world on fire, pointing war and death missiles at my children. Every day, another rape of my mind. Every day, a holocaust of ideas. I have tried to stay away from the news, tried to stop posting angry rants on social media, but last Saturday, when I thought my children were dying from a false missile attack in Hawaii, I woke from my fake news slumber. And I want to know, what is really going on? I want to know why some of my own non-white, Hawaiian relatives support him. Why is it okay for “Christians” to elect a rapist to office? Why is it okay for a “Christian” to support a President who thinks the KKK is okay? Because I really donʻt understand. I really donʻt. I think they must be asleep. I think they have lost their minds. And maybe even their souls. For money? Because they have run-up their credit cards? Because they are living pay check-to-pay check? Are they really willing to sell out humanity and compassion for this? We have to do better than this.  It reminds me of the chapter in Elie Wieselʻs Holocaust book, Night, where people were literally killing each other for crumbs of bread, but the real monster was Hitler.

I went to the March alone today, watched people I know give impassioned speeches, clapped and cheered, put on my gloves, took them off, smiled at strangers. It rose to 40 degrees, clumps of snow turned to slush. I was surrounded by smiling faces, children, and dogs. In this Red state of Kentucky, hundreds were out, speaking out for women, speaking out for people of color, speaking out for Dreamers, speaking out for LGBTQ issues, speaking out for a loving God, one that believes in compassion, and not fire and DamNation.  The Government shut down on this rally day. And despite the fact that Republicans have the majority in all three houses of government, relatives are still posting that it is Schumerʻs and Pelosiʻs fault. Amazingly, they are really serious about believing that. Despite this crockery, I believe there is still hope, because here, where slavery was once a booming business, where the auction block was once the norm, here where the KKK have rallied, here where Republican Mitch McConnell calls home, there were hundreds out, who stood up for whatʻs right for all humans. I have to believe that things will get better when the people finally wake up. things will get better when the people wake up.

Winston-Salem Transit

Pepper Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Pepper Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

I searched those streets where you lived

Looking for kernels of inspiration

For elements of human transformation

And found towering remnants

Caught in the web of time

Some broken, twisted, stacked

And restacked like bricks

Still unwavering

Stars and Stripes and Southern Pride

Sweltering in the heat

Of well-kept summer side-walks

Where once powerful men and women

Soft with the lull of southern speech

And hardened by songs sung

In fields of the Tobacco King

Stood strong, Arms linked

In the carving of American history

Now lie silent in the decay of buildings,

in stone sculptures

in designated placards

Of Sit-In Victories


I searched to find your voice

Imprinting the human struggle

In shuffling spaces Shifting spaces

In the Winston-Salem bus terminal

Under the shadow of history

Sketched in the plate-glass window

And found lilting voices and flashing smiles

Of grandmothers squeezing together

Laughing about blueberries and store sales

And a new born grandchild

Dark like the daddy

And pretty like the momma

Was gonna be a big girl

In a shifting world,

And don’t you wanna see her picture though?


Brick by brick.


July 9, 2014


A Woman In Flight












I met a young woman in flight today,

Her long lashes wet with sorrow,

and eyes heavy with the world’s pain,

she bowed her head

to a parade of clouds dancing

‘long a rocky cliff-side,

below the sky,

wild and careless,

and “unaware” she said,

“unaware of me.”


Grey sleeves damp

and stretched in summer’s heat,

Brass ear rings shaped like moons

Shimmering in a pool of endless loneliness,

She asked, “Why me, God, why me?”

Her eyes seeking mine,

A stranger searching to be seen,

A sinking raindrop in an endless sea.

“Only you know,” I said,

“Only you know your truth,

So set it free.”

© Karen K.L. Espaniola, June 8, 2013


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