Live Through This

Odd Girl In

My lifelong commitment to my own individuality rendered me incapable of being part of something bigger than myself.

On our first day of marching, I was given a blow horn and a double-sided sheet of chants.

“I’m nervous,” I told Terry. “I don’t have a very loud voice.”

“These women are here every day in the cold,” she said. “This isn’t about us. This is about the entire system: The patients. The doctors. The whole staff. You’re here to get our energy up.”

My stage fright made me feel like a child. But I wanted to grow. How many times had I used fear as an excuse to count myself out, to do nothing? I picked up the horn and shouted, “Are you ready to fight?” For a split second, I thought everyone might ignore me. My heart was beating like mad. Then I heard a couple of voices shout, “Damn right!”

I screamed into the horn, “Are you ready to fight?”

“Damn right!”

“And what do we want?”

“Justice!”

“When do we want it?”

“NOW!”

I looked around and saw that we were all wearing matching United Healthcare Workers West T-shirts. This was our uniform. When the trucks that rolled up daily with scab workers—basically temp workers who fill in for people on strike—we all ran over to them and chanted: “Union bust-ing is disgust-ing! Union bust-ing is disgust-ing!” Our voices swelled in unison, and I was part of that swell. I was wearing my team’s uniform and shouting at the other team.

I had always thought of myself as a coward. I never dared to defend my friends when they were catcalled on the street; I could barely even stand up to a bunch of elementary school bullies nine years younger than me when one of them punched my brother in the stomach at a McDonald’s. But being part of this team made me feel like I could actually fight someone, or at least take a punch without running away screaming.

During week four of the strike, one of the picketers from my line had gotten into some kind of altercation with a burly security guard. Fists were raised, and the next thing I knew, I had stepped between the two of them and gotten up in the guard’s face.

“You’re not touching him,” I said.

“You don’t tell me what to do,” the security guard said.

“I’m telling you’re not touching him.”

“You don’t tell me what to do, and, frankly, if you step over this line, I have full authority to use force on you.”

“You’re not touching any of my members. I’m going to get you fired for threatening a peaceful picketer. You’re a thug and a coward for intimidating someone half your size, and now you’re trying to threaten a 21-year-old woman?”

Maybe it didn’t have to be so life-or-death. Or maybe that feeling that it was life-or-death was precisely the appeal of being part of a group. Having lived my life on the outside, I never knew how much bursting, beaming love was to be found on the inside. I honestly felt like I would lie my body down in the street for my team—and I did. By weeks six and seven, morale was low, and negotiations were at a standstill. A few of the organizers and striking workers decided that we were going to take a stand, so a couple of us lay down in the street to stop the bus full of scabs from entering the hospital grounds. I heard the beeping sound of the bus backing up toward us, and then silence. It was a symbolic gesture in the form on a literal one: We would be run over before we would give up.

We were family, thick as thieves, united in our struggle. Every morning, we huddled in a circle and prayed together. And even though I was (and still am) an atheist who for more than a decade wouldn’t even say “bless you” when someone sneezed because it smacked of “God,” I didn’t mouth the prayers—I said them out loud with everybody else. We had gone through too much together for me to opt out of this ritual. We had formed a human barricade to block the scab trucks from entering. We’d wiped eggshell off each other’s faces after being pelted by angry neighbors. We held one another up, physically and emotionally, during the long, hopeless stretches when negotiations were breaking down and money was running out. We ended up scraping together funds so Bong could make his mortgage payment.

We had so little in common. I knew nothing of what it was like to be a Filipino woman in America. They often wondered why I was there. They didn’t understand why I wasn’t sure about marriage and kids. We listened to different music and watched different TV shows and read different books. But we were on the same team.

We’re building a movement. I heard those words and over and over. And I believed them. I finally saw how pigheaded and judgy my old attitude had been. I was so quick to equate solidarity with intolerant jingoism, I assumed all loyalty was blind. I didn’t see, until those people were kind enough to take me in, that being part of a group could be enlightening or beautiful or good.

~~~~

Today, I still don’t feel moved to cheer at sports games. When my friends watch sports, I sit there with my arms crossed, never moved to cheer when one teams scores or moan when another misses. I don’t feel any sort of nationalistic pride for U.S. teams when the Olympics roll around. And I never did become even a remotely adequate union organizer. I quit my job a month after the strike ended and went back to obsessing about myself and my writing and my love life and my family life and all things me me mememememe. Maybe, in the end, I didn’t learn anything.

But when I see news reports of people demonstrating in cities and rural towns all over Tunisia; when I saw tens of thousands gathered at Tahrir Square last year, calling for the government to step down; when the Arab Spring was happening and I saw its leaders on TV, talking about what they were fighting for—freedom, liberty, dignity, a better life—and supporting their Arab brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, I felt such love and pride swelling inside, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the first time I lost my voice screaming:

THE PEOPLE
UNITED
WILL NEVER BE
DEFEATED!

THE PEOPLE
UNITED
WILL NEVER BE
DEFEATED! ♦

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32 Comments

  • TessAnnesley May 27th, 2014 12:41 AM

    “A-women”

    GOLD

  • maddyr May 27th, 2014 12:48 AM

    This is AMAZING, oh my goodness. Jenny, I really like your writing.

  • red flowers May 27th, 2014 1:18 AM

    I really really like this! Thanks for bringing it into my day! :)

  • clocksheep May 27th, 2014 2:38 AM

    Jenny, I’ve missed your writing for Rookie so much! This is wonderful.

  • ashmado May 27th, 2014 3:02 AM

    This is really powerful and relatable, I almost cried. Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s beautiful!

  • shelley May 27th, 2014 6:05 AM

    Just wow! That was amazing.

  • kimchi May 27th, 2014 6:41 AM

    I always love reading pieces from you Jenny. Our lives have been very different, yet I feel that I can relate your experiences with groups to my own life. In school I liked doing sports because it was a way for me to clear my head, but I never felt like I really belonged with the athletes. I was never going to care about victory as much as them. To some extent I went along with the charade, but the glitz felt meaningless. The thought of groups of people collectively caring about something meaningful felt very foreign. Even though there were many clubs for charities at my school, I found it hard to take the people in them seriously. Everyone was so worried about college applications. Even when they put on the performance of caring, few seemed to genuinely care about anyone besides themselves.

    I remember in elementary school I coughed up a ball of phlegm during the pledge of allegiance. I kept it in my mouth because I knew I wasn’t supposed to move. It was disgusting.

    I like to wear long skirts without underwear too. It is way more comfortable, and it can be very fun for the reasons you mentioned.

    http://glitterous-clitoris.blogspot.com.au/

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      You sound like the raddest person & yr blog is out of this world ♡

  • AnarchyAndrea May 27th, 2014 7:24 AM

    This. I’m supposed to be writing an analysis on Lord of the Flies right now but this. I have tears on my face as i write this because I understand this so well. Growing up mexican-american in a predominantly white small town which I NEVER felt a part of, I completely understand this mindset. Now that I’m going off to college in the fall I can’t begin to describe my frustration on just how to go about translating my passion for social movements, my blind desire to be an activist into a sustainable career. The end of this piece is what got me. Because as soon as I read it, all I could think of was being 9 years old, at a marching rally for immigration reform with my parents and hearing all around me, the ringing of voices resounding, “LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA! LA GENTE UNIDA JAMAS SERA VENCIDA!!”

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:06 PM

      I have tears in my eyes… the thought of you as a kid shouting with the adults at an immigration reform rally. That’s beautiful ♡

  • fluorescentyesterday May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    This was amazing to read. Thank you Jenny, your writings are always my favorites, partially because I’m half Chinese and I feel like I can identify with you in many ways (even though I’m only a high schooler).

  • i-skreeeeam May 27th, 2014 7:30 AM

    Wow jenny ive always been to shy to comment but this has really moved me .. this blew me away. IM so incredibly humbled by your honesty and rawness and talent in everything you write. I can relate to this so so much and it has inspired me in a very big way to get involved in activism. Thankyou thankyou thankyou xo

  • flocha May 27th, 2014 8:20 AM

    my god this is so beautiful. I have trouble relating to stuff and everything you wrote here perfectly describes everything I feel x

  • elliecp May 27th, 2014 8:45 AM

    this is so amazing. It just goes to show that we as individuals can change things if we put our minds to it. so inspirational to read!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • soviet_kitsch May 27th, 2014 9:35 AM

    “You’re not touching any of my members. I’m going to get you fired for threatening a peaceful picketer. You’re a thug and a coward for intimidating someone half your size, and now you’re trying to threaten a 21-year-old woman?”

    “I was so quick to equate solidarity with intolerant jingoism, I assumed all loyalty was blind. I didn’t see, until those people were kind enough to take me in, that being part of a group could be enlightening or beautiful or good.”

    jenny, you continue to be one of my all-time favourite writers anywhere.

  • callie May 27th, 2014 10:17 AM

    THIS IS COOL
    just asking, how did you get that job? i mean im from the uk so its different but id still like to know. thanks!
    callie xoxox

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:07 PM

      I think I actually find it out on idealist.org But at least here in the US, you can just go to any union’s website and look to see if they are hiring under “Employment” or “Job Opportunities.” Labor is always hiring… so it seems.

  • Eileen May 27th, 2014 11:14 AM

    I always love what Jenny has to say. I literally wait around for a Jenny article to pop up. This was really, really cool.

  • obeykid May 27th, 2014 1:01 PM

    This is a really nice depiction of what growing up in the USA is like when you’re immigrant and kinda broke.

    I relate to this a lot. Thank you for this.

    This is great. I can’t even express very well how I feel about this except that it’s great.

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/obeykid

  • Vlada May 27th, 2014 1:24 PM

    Jenny your writing is out of this world as always.
    OMG I really enjoyed today’s articles, I feel like it was one of the best days

  • Maria Clara Santarosa May 27th, 2014 2:39 PM

    This is so good and accurate and meaningful and beautiful. Well done, Jenny. Well done.

  • doikoon May 27th, 2014 2:55 PM

    Jenny, I’m going to tell you something. One time you said something in an interview… you said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I think deep down everyone likes themselves, or else why would we keep doing it”. I Identify that and discovering rookie in general (via Rosianna on youtube) to be imperative to of getting me out of depression. Thank you :)

    • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:08 PM

      Wow, I kinda remember saying that, but I’m so happy you found Rookie and we found each other ♡♡♡

  • Jenny May 27th, 2014 4:09 PM

    Thank you so much for your ^^ comments, it honestly makes me so happy to read em that I feel embarrassed I can’t say more!

  • blueolivia May 27th, 2014 6:25 PM

    jenny, you’re such an excellent writer. this had me breaking down with inexplicable tears at four in the afternoon.

  • spudzine May 27th, 2014 7:53 PM

    Hello! I REALLY loved this piece, because some of it mirrors how I feel about life now. I sincerely hope things get better after high school, because my peers are kind of similar to the peers described above. They don’t care about being racist and misogynistic and bullies, the people in charge of them don’t care, and I do, which makes me feel like a miser. My hope isn’t lost, though! Also, not to be disrespectful, but on the second page there seems to be an error in ‘two things I so sick of thinking about’ on the second page.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Amy Rose May 28th, 2014 1:45 AM

    i mean, holy shit

  • rahima May 28th, 2014 4:05 AM

    I love this story. It was kinda quirky and at the same time, inspiring. Sending my support from half way around the earth. Thanks for thisss <3 :)

  • avisanti May 28th, 2014 9:24 AM

    This is a great piece. I love your work, Jenny! And I’m glad you enjoyed your Pinoy breakfast. :) sending my love and support all the way from the Philippines. <3

  • gentleman honey farmer May 28th, 2014 12:16 PM

    Jenny knocks it out of the park, as always. What a remarkable human being.

  • Jes May 28th, 2014 5:59 PM

    tears