Catholic women give different perspectives on local Women’s March

| January 27, 2017 | 2 Comments

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, parishioner of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul and Ascension in Minneapolis, holds a sign on her way to the local Women’s March Jan. 21. Courtesy Borgmann-Kiemde

For Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, the Women’s March in St. Paul Jan. 21 was an unexpected reunion of sorts.

After she was unable to take a Metro bus to the State Capitol because it was packed, she decided to depend on the kindness of strangers and knocked on the window of a van stopped at a stoplight.

She asked if they were going to the March, and if she could have a ride. They were, and offered her the only open seat. After a short conversation, she discovered one of the passengers was the daughter of a neighbor she had met earlier that day, and with whom she had discussed the march. As they headed to the march, they found they shared common ground in sending their kids to St. Paul Catholic schools, Nativity of Our Lord and St. Thomas More, respectively.

That connection was the first of many Borgmann-Kiemde, 48, experienced en route to the Capitol Mall. Although she went alone, she ran into her goddaughter, friends and a former colleague from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul.

“There were just a lot of very powerful moments along the way,” said Borgmann-Kiemde, who attends Ascension in Minneapolis and Nativity in St. Paul.

She found the local march unifying and hopeful, a stark contrast to the perception that compelled other Catholic pro-life women not to attend.

Organizers planned the national Women’s March on Washington in response to the November election of President Donald Trump and his campaign rhetoric that they described as insulting and threatening. The event reportedly drew at least 470,000 people to the National Mall, and hundreds of thousands of others participated in “sister marches” in cities across the U.S. and around the world.

When Emily Zinos, 38, first heard of the march, she was interested. But then she read the march’s “unity principles” and changed her mind.

“It was obvious to me that the march was primarily about abortion rights, which is incredibly ironic considering how many baby girls are lost to abortion, not to mention the harm abortion causes to women,” said Zinos, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park. “I just couldn’t add myself physically to a march that held abortion up as the most important right of women in this country.”

The march’s unity principles listed ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, disability rights and immigrant rights. It stated its support for “affordable abortion … for all people.” Planned Parenthood was one of two organizations in the national march’s top sponsorship tier, and it was a sponsor for the Minnesota march. Other local sponsors include National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.

The national march’s leaders underscored their pro-choice platform after an article in The Atlantic revealed that pro-life women’s groups planned to march in Washington, and that one — the Texas-based New Wave Feminists — had gained partner status. National leaders swiftly revoked their status, calling it an error, and published a statement Jan. 16 that “the Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one. … We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.”

The stance disappointed Zinos, and she thinks the leaders missed an important opportunity to build bridges across political chasms.

“Women are amazing at uniting across divides to fight for great causes, and I think the Women’s March could have been an example of that unity,” she said. “Unfortunately, the March organizers chose to favor one group of women over another, and it ended up being a partisan spectacle that further divided our country.”

As executive director of a nonprofit that addresses gender-related public policy, Zinos said she works with “a coalition of women who come from all walks of life — lesbians, feminists, conservatives, Protestants and Catholics — and I’m constantly impressed with our ability to rise above our differences.”

While she didn’t march in the Women’s March, Zinos attended Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life’s annual March for Life at the State Capitol the day after, which the organization said drew about 5,000 people.

“The Women’s March could have been an example of collaboration on a massive scale, but all it really did was exclude and divide,” she said.

Anne Attea, pastoral associate at Ascension, marched in the local Women’s March because she feels the country is so divided, in part, because of Trump.

“I was infuriated by the rhetoric of the campaign, disagree with the majority of current cabinet choices and am deeply troubled and concerned for our country’s immigrant communities who are living in greater fear than ever before,” she said. “For me, Sunday was about a march for human rights, and I felt incredibly buoyed by the sense of solidarity and conviction from fellow marchers.”

She said it was reminiscent of a 2006 march for immigrants that began on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul, and that she marched for people “who are hurting so deeply due to hate speech, unjust laws and policies, and all the ‘isms’ that separate us.”

Borgmann-Kiemde initially considered not marching because friends were skeptical of racial bias among organizers, perceiving them as “a lot of white women complaining [that] they didn’t get their way when their candidate wasn’t elected.” Then, a week before the local march, she heard a Minneapolis Black Lives Matter leader voice support on the radio for finding common ground through the march. She decided to go to hold a Black Lives Matter sign painted in pink.

Borgmann-Kiemde is white, but her husband, Francois, is West African. She marched with him and their African American 6-year-old daughter, Marguerite, in mind, she said. Her family’s heritage, her experience teaching at North High School in Minneapolis, and her role as a companion — or lay associate — of the Visitation Sisters in north Minneapolis motivate her activism for racial justice.

“I know my own responsibility as a white woman is to use some of my privilege to draw attention to the way Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism has been a sin in this country towards perpetuating injustices for my brown brothers and sisters, my daughter, my husband — systemically lots of people,” she said.

For her, the event organizers’ support for abortion didn’t affect her purpose for marching. She listed a litany of friends for whom she marched — some fellow members of Ascension — who are undocumented immigrants and fear deportation.

She said her pro-life convictions also compelled her to march, adding that she sees being pro-life as broader than being anti-abortion. She said her sister-in-law warned her about the “anti-pro-life” aspect of the march, but she didn’t see it that way.

“This is so pro-life, because I am standing as a Catholic for our future,” she said. “If I’m truly going to stand on the side of life, then I need to engage creatively and actively around health care, around housing, around supporting that life when it gets here. I don’t support anyone saying I’m ‘anti-pro-life’ by marching.”

Borgmann-Kiemde said not subscribing to the entire national platform didn’t make her an “inauthentic marcher,” but rather an “authentic Catholic.”

She said she also marched with hope for President Trump, whose descriptions during the campaign of marginalized people and women’s body parts disturbed her.

“I think about where his hate comes from, or his diminishment of women comes from … . That’s part of our sin, and I don’t want to say ‘yes’ to that. My prayer is daily for him and his seeing me, [and] my daughter as more than objects,” she said. “I am called to resist any internalization that I’m not beloved by God, that I could be reduced to this rhetoric of our president, [and] that he could be reduced to this speech.”

She also said that Trump, because of his human dignity, doesn’t deserve to be belittled by other people’s rhetoric. She prays the new president might use his gifts for good.

She said she went to stand up for “the beauty, the sanctity and the reverence of life — and that means Donald Trump, too.”

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