76: Road Trip for Rights

76: Road Trip for Rights

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Road Trip for Rights

We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is that we have a uniting movement.

~Emma Watson

Hearing my name called, I stepped timidly up on stage. Steadying my trembling hands on the podium, I looked out at the sea of people and wanted to run away. I swallowed hard to settle the knot of nerves in my stomach. Just remember all it took to get here, I thought. With an audible quiver in my voice, I dived into the speech that I had practiced diligently, nervous but determined to make my voice heard.

It all started with an impassioned essay I had written in response to a radio host’s slanderous comments about women’s rights. I had stayed up for days researching information to discount his claims. Content with the final product, I submitted it to my boss for publication. Later, I received a text stating that he chose not to publish it because the subject matter was “too controversial.” Hurt, I replied impulsively with my two weeks’ notice.

In a blind fury, I began submitting my story to others. Someone had to be willing to get it out while the subject was still topical. After days of “thanks, but no thanks” responses, I felt disheartened. No one was interested in a no-name writer with a strong opinion that opposed that of a celebrity. Had my boss been right?

Finally, I received a resounding “YES!” from a small, yet powerful online blog that was controlled by and focused on women. The editor explained apologetically that they could not pay me. Not concerned about compensation, I felt validated.

“Mom, have you seen this?” My daughter woke me up. “You’ve gone viral,” she yelled, hugging me. Confused about what that even meant, I sat up and turned on my computer.

My story had thousands of views. Women (and like-minded men) were sharing it everywhere, from all over the country and the world. People I didn’t know were touting me as the “voice of the next feminist generation.” My e-mail was flooded with responses, including death threats. I was bombarded with “congratulations” and “I loved your story” texts from friends. In less than a day, my world had changed. Life became a blur of activity. People were listening.

“Hello, Ms. Thomas. I am with the grassroots ‘We Are Women’ movement. I was lucky enough to see your speech in Tallahassee. I would like to know if you would be interested in speaking at a rally that we are planning in D.C.”

My eyes teared up in disbelief. The e-mail went on to explain details, but all I could focus on were those first few sentences. Me? A middle-aged single mother from Florida with only a high school education? What did I have to say that could change the world? Who would even want to listen? Not willing to give up such an opportunity, I agreed hastily.

Then reality sunk in. It was just me, the unemployed writer who had just typed out her opinion. Who was I to tell anyone what to think and feel? What on earth did I have to say that would be worthy of such an event? More importantly, how would I pay for the trip? And I really needed to find gainful employment, not focus on a rally that was hundreds of miles away. Similarly disheartening were the reactions of friends, excuses for why they couldn’t go to the rallies in their own areas much less Washington, D.C. The general “we need to stand up but can we really change anything” ambivalence was depressing. For weeks, I fought with myself, ready to reply with the myriad reasons why I could not attend their rally. My inner dialogue sounded like the justifications of those who had been frustrating me.

Still unsure of what to do, I called my kindergarten teacher. She had taken on the mother-figure role after mine had passed away. As always, her advice was the pep talk I needed.

How was I going to get there? “You could hitchhike,” she joked. Not a safe way, but it did plant the idea in my head. I was going to do this trip! And I wasn’t going to spend a cent — a huge ideal that I was determined to make happen. There was a point to be made. If we put our minds to something, we can accomplish anything. Fervently, I began contacting everyone I knew on the path from my house to D.C., explaining what I was doing and that I needed a ride. I set up a website for my “Road Trip for Rights.” Small donations for my trip started rolling in. The resounding enthusiasm from my friends and strangers gave me hope.

Armed only with my computer, phone and a backpack of essentials, I began my adventure. A friend drove me to be picked up by an ex-boyfriend. He then drove me to a one-time roommate who then drove me to stay with a man I had befriended because I had written a story about him. And so on. As usual, the best-laid plans often go awry. Stranded, I frantically turned to social media. Eight hours later, a woman I had never met who had been watching on the website pulled up. She and her disabled daughter were heading to the rally themselves and were kind enough to take a four-hour detour to save me. Back on track, we arrived safely in our nation’s capital. She dropped me off at my hotel (I was staying with the woman running the event), and I was finally able to relax before the big day.

After the most amazing day of my life, I returned to my hotel.

Not looking forward to facing the pilgrimage home in reverse, I had begun to doze off when the front desk informed me that I had a package delivered. Not expecting anything, I shuffled downstairs to be handed an envelope with my name written on it. Inside were a train ticket and a note that read, “Thank you for being a voice for those of us who cannot speak.” Tears welled as I searched for some clue to the identity of my anonymous benefactor. Realizing that I had done what I had set out to do, I boarded the train, grateful and exhausted.

Since then, I have been to many rallies and marches. Each time, I did it on my own terms. In 2017, I made the trip back to D.C. to march with my best friend, my kindergarten teacher and 500,000 of our closest friends. This year, the three of us reunited to attend the march in our hometown.

The magazine and the blog that agreed to publish that story may no longer be in existence, but the journey of self-discovery they both led me toward will never be forgotten. And I will always be thankful for that blow-hard radio host whose vitriol ignited a passion in me to find my voice.

~Jodi Renee Thomas

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