I experienced “Hidden Figures.” I watched the movie at a theater where the audience cheered every time a color or gender barrier was exposed and torn asunder. And I left the theater feeling like I was hurtling down from space — just as the amazing John Glenn did, heat shield notwithstanding.
What an amazing city we live in. What crucial times.
At a moment when a popularity-hungry leader has moved into our White House, our arts and culture headline America’s heritage of fortitude, restraint and grace under bigotry. Why is it that this story has not been told before? Are there other stories like this, and where can we find them?
“Here at NASA, we all pee the same color,” announced Kevin Costner’s character, causing the audience to erupt in applause. I’m seized by the idea of disparity; the idea that the color of urine doesn’t fragment equitably into divisions of skin color. It’s about yellow, amber, brown, orange, pink. There’s no black or white — even though the entire movie is framed by the black-and-white argument.
“Hidden Figures” reveals how change can be fostered. It is rarely through violence, rarely through belligerence, rarely through interference and mostly through conviction. And in many cases, the change we seek comes in small incremental doses.
This weekend, as I marched in solidarity with my sisters and brothers down Market Street in San Francisco, I felt the thrilling, throbbing energy of collective dissent, an expression of our conviction.
I asked those who marched alongside me why they had come, what they had to say:
Francoise: I march to save the planet; for our children and for animals.
Thomas Chan: I march in support of women’s rights and to express my displeasure at the outcome of the recent elections. To Trump, I say, “Reconsider some of your rhetoric and be more presidential!”
Janine: Basically, I don’t want to be negative. I’m marching today for women’s rights and justice for all. And thank God, it’s raining! (Discomfort is validating.)
Zach: I’m angry at the direction the country is going.
Mike: I march to express that the country does not agree with his [President Donald Trump’s] agenda. That something has to change. To wake up the Republicans. And to stand up for actual American values: values that show that we are stronger together, stronger when united; that we respect minorities, and targeting minorities and groups is offensive.
Antonio: I’d like to tell Trump that Black Lives Matter.
Kavya: I march not just for myself, but for all those people who could not be here because they felt threatened for their own safety. For the next four years, I will continue to march and to fight not just for a better leader, but for a more inclusive America.
But what of those who did not march? Maybe they believe that marches are futile. Maybe they believe Trump, now that he has taken the oath of office, will change and be able to unite our country. Maybe they believe that our country is headed in the right direction with Trump’s leadership. Maybe they believe that women do have equal rights. Maybe they were busy. Maybe their jobs prevented them from expressing themselves in public protests. Maybe they were single mothers with young kids. Maybe they were homeless. Maybe they were too tired. Maybe they were too busy. Maybe they overslept. Maybe they hated crowds. Maybe they were sick. Maybe they hated to get wet. Maybe they were scared.
Or maybe they silently marched in place.
“Hidden Figures” shows us how to do exactly that. Day after day, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn carry on doing what they have to do to live, to survive. They don’t spend their lives actively protesting, or resisting or marching, but proving that how you live your life can be framed as a protest when it goes against the grain of popular biases or harmful stereotypes and clichés.
Many people are urging the weekend’s marchers to continue to sustain the energy of their weekend voice. The march on Jan. 21 was one-of-a-kind and historic. That kind of collective statement may never be made again. And that’s OK, too.
The point of the march was a warning, a clarion call to the leader of America just as he takes office to do the right thing and to pay attention to our voices, that of women, people of color, minority religious groups, immigrants, DREAMers, Democrats, academics, statisticians, scientists, writers, journalists and artists. The timing was critical.
Yes, it makes sense to be more engaged. But we must judiciously exercise our right of revolution. It might even be disruptive to protest every small infraction and aggravation, and no doubt there will be many to come.
Perhaps, we should consider volunteering, helping advocacy agencies, attending City Hall meetings, reading books and articles to inform ourselves, donating to causes we value, writing letters and making phone calls to our elected officials and debating issues with folks we disagree with. Most importantly, we should make ourselves less hidden as we carry on doing what we do in the pursuit of our lives.
As Henry David Thoreau famously once said in his speech posthumously titled “Civil Disobedience”: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” And choose the kind and shape of friction that works for you.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.