I was feeling guilty and proud over the last couple days. Guilty that I hadn’t marched, didn’t check and hadn’t even realised that sister marches were organised in British cities until too late. And proud that so many of my family and friends in the United States did march in big cities and small towns around the country.
I’ve slightly assuaged the guilt by writing to my senator, as per the first action suggested by the #WomensMarch movement. And I’ve had a thought that has helped me regain my own sense of pride on this issue. Namely, that I march almost every day.
Or rather, I walk almost every day, and although I’ve written in the past about many of the benefits of walking, I’m not sure I’ve written that those benefits include social justice, community cohesion and generally making a place and its people more civilised.
Because when you walk, you connect to your community. You say hello to people you see regularly, even if they are not part of your social circle. If you live in a diverse community, people with different faces become familiar. People with different views become familiar.
I live in a very split area in terms of the Brexit vote – Bracknell Forest district went slightly to Leave, but it was closer even than the national results. I thought that the reason I find those who voted Leave more understandable than those who voted for Trump, even if I disagree with both, was because perhaps Leave has more persuasive and less extreme arguments. Now I wonder if the reason I understand them is simply because I know them. I know Leave voters in my neighbourhood because I’ve walked around and been in conversations with them.
Mind you, I may never see how Trump as an individual could be seen as anything but repulsive and unrepresentative of the people who voted him in. Yet the real reason I can’t understand why those individuals did what they did is because I don’t know them walking down the street. I don’t live in the United States and unsurprisingly know no one who voted for Trump personally. Yet the state where I am registered to vote, New Hampshire, is as divided as Bracknell Forest and went to Hillary Clinton by the narrowest of margins.
So if I still lived there, presumably walking would have resulted in expanding my horizons and theirs. And even if no one ever changed their minds by such encounters, being on foot and able to see and interact with people around you would still be a way to break through those ominous social media bubbles, put faces to views and improve familiarity with the ‘other’ until perhaps they weren’t so ‘other’ anymore.
Thus, it is important to realise that walking is not only good for your health, your wallet and the environment. It is also good for solidarity, not only on marches with people you agree with, but around your neighbourhood with people you don’t. If we can walk together, we can work together to fight the politics of fear and division, no matter who is peddling them in the future.