Anxiously Engaged

Verily, I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28).

Before I met him, my husband had never been to a protest. It’s fair to say he never even thought about protesting. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about people. It’s just that the world mostly functioned for him. 

But that isn’t true for the majority of people in the world. Most people face discrimination or oppression at some point in their lives simply because of how God made them.

So here we are, my husband and I, after 27 years of marriage, raising a generation of activists. Each of our children has engaged politically, sometimes by canvassing for votes, sometimes by writing letters or testifying before the state legislature.

For me, activism is a holy calling. I’ve prayed and fasted to know what direction God wants me to take, and I always come back to his statement: 

Cry aloud, do not hold back; Lift up your voice like a trumpet

(Isaiah 58:1)

I’ve felt God’s presence in the most unusual places: the state capital while lobbying for queer youth; listening to asylum seekers talking about escaping violence; holding rainbow umbrellas to protect Black youth while they call for racial justice. I know it’s God because it feels like the temple: joy, and peace, and God’s arm around me even when the activism is hard.

In my distress I called to the Lord;

I cried to my God for help.

From his temple he heard my voice;

my cry came before him, into his ears.

(Psalm 18: 6)


Me with the co-founders of Parasol Patrol, at the state capital as we advocate for pro-LGBTQ legislation.

Sometimes, our whole family protests together. Protesting brings awareness to issues, builds solidarity, and lifts voices that would otherwise be relegated to a footnote in some obscure history book. Mostly, protests are tame. For example, when protesting the antifeminist and anti-LGBTQ policies of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, children made up the majority of our group of roughly 200 people. We marched from the state capital to the hotel hosting DeVos. Chanting my favorite call and response, “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” we circled the block for roughly an hour. Afterward we got ice cream because protesting can be hot work.

Set up a banner on the bare mountain! Lift up your voice to them!

(Isaiah 13:2)


Protesting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

In your associations one with another, build and strengthen one another. ‘No man is an island; no man stands alone.’ We so need help and encouragement and strength, one from another . . . . It is a responsibility divinely laid upon us to bear one another’s burdens, to strengthen one another, to encourage one another, to lift one another. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 45). 

Because oppression of one person affects all of us, we can be found at protests that, at first glance, don’t appear to be our personal issue. When the federal government’s zero tolerance policies separated thousands of children from their families, we added our voices and our presence to the protests organized by local Latiné advocacy groups. Previously, we had met with a broad range of communities, from Syrian refugees to Nigerian asylum seekers, to celebrate immigration on National Immigration Day. This time, we held signs that conveyed our belief that immigration is a fundamental human right. My husband’s sign echoed what many of us were thinking at the time.

Protesting ICE immigrant separation policies.

Some activists have a strict nonviolence policy. They reason that honey catches more flies than vinegar, and if we want to attract the complacent middle, we have to be respectable. Certainly, images showing State violence in the face of active nonviolence can change hearts. The black and white photos of the National Guard opening fire on peaceful Kent State students proved a turning point in US engagement in Vietnam.

The Kent State Massacre included students on their way to classes.

Likewise, many of us remember the single student standing in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Pro-democracy protestor blocking tanks in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

Even more of us remember the video of Buffalo Police shoving a 75 year old man to the ground, fracturing his skull and causing a brain injury. Mr. Gugino was a member of the Western New York Peace Center and a lifelong peace activist who was left lying, bleeding, on the ground as the police marched around him.

Police shoved a protestor to the ground when he attempted to return a helmet that had fallen off of one of the police.

There is a time and place for more disruptive measures. The fight for disability rights made little movement until 100 people spent weeks occupying the Health, Education and Welfare offices in San Francisco. In Denver, 19 disabled people laid down in front of a bus in the middle of a busy street, stopping traffic, to protest public transit inaccessibility. In 1990, Congress refused to move forward with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In response hundreds of demonstrators left their wheelchairs and crutches to crawl up the marble steps on the Capitol. Many of the protestors were arrested, including Anita Cameron who has been arrested over 125 times while advocating for the Disabled community.

Anita Cameron of ADAPT

Water protectors stand in the way of heavy machinery, facing off against water cannons in the middle of winter. Their activism involves great personal risk and we are all the beneficiaries.

Water protectors advocate for safe water and protection of sacred land.

There comes a point when we’ve swallowed all the oppression we can hold. My own community engages in disruptive protests that sometimes turn violent. Stonewall was not the first time the trans community, led by trans people of color, protested police violence. The Compton Cafeteria protests arguably ignited the fire, Stonewall fanned the flames, but we’re still fighting for basic protections for trans people. Those in power never voluntarily relinquish power, and sometimes it takes a few pennies thrown at oppressors to get our point across.

Solidarity comes full circle. During the summer of 2020, my oldest child joined others calling for an end to the ongoing state sanctioned murder of the Black community. Just as Black trans people literally fought for my queer child’s right to live safely, my child added their voice to millions of others calling for systemic change. Oppressions, and solidarities, work together. The question is, what side do we stand on?  

While I would like to say that marching against DeVos altered the landscape, it was really just one small drop in the tide of change that will take thousands of such drops across the nation, around the world. I would like to report that the summer of 2020 led to the implementation of transformative justice practices, but it did not. Change happens slowly, and it takes multitudes of people, thousands of chants and hundreds of signs, petitions, votes, letters, phone calls, and editorials, to move those who are complacent. But I think we can get there.

Audre Lorde said, “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focussed with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak for change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”

Protesting doesn’t always feel good. I’ve had things thrown at me, been flipped off, shouted at, threatened, and mocked. When that happens, I remember all the gall I’ve had to swallow, the bitter taste of oppression my siblings around the world are still being fed, and I let the anger work in me. We desperately need a radical alteration in the assumptions that underline systemic oppression, not just for one community, but for all of us who live with the cruelty of a repressive system.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes


  1. Me, too. Protesting things that don’t affect me personally because I see the injustices and evil corruption of pretty much all large organizations. I clearly see the damage that they do to us common folk. The question isn’t why are we so angry, it is why aren’t more people angry? And that anger isn’t what is divisive or dangerous. It is those who work to maintain the patriarchal status quo who are happy to keep people “othered”, so that they themselves can feel superior and safe. I no longer feel truly safe or hopeful in the LDS, and certainly not from it’s leaders, BUT I see all hope in the young people and their wisdon and activity. Blessings to you and your protesting family.

    • “The question isn’t why are we so angry, it is why aren’t more people angry?” This should be on billboards everywhere. Thank you for that—I’m going to make it my motto.

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