The Barkeep Does D.C.

On the night of Thursday, Jan. 19, I worked my regular bar-closing shift, but an impending trip, and actions in our country, were on the mind. I may have been cracking open bottled beer and stirring old-fashioned cocktails, but thoughts of a newly-purchased sweatshirt, imprinted with a uterus, and packing the appropriate shoes were dancing in my head. It was the night of the UofL–Clemson basketball game at the KFC Yum! Center, so it seemed as though a special brood of debauchery was in the air, including drunken political discussions regarding the inauguration of Drumpf, which would transpire the very next day. “What do you think of Trump?” a drunken patron slurred my way, and I felt my eyes roll down my spine.

I wanted to tell this man that, at dawn the next morning, I’d be embarking on a journey to Washington, D.C. with thousands of other women to protest his inauguration and march for progress and equality. I wanted to tell him of my disdain for DT’s every word. I wanted to spout informed rhetoric at this straight white man that was sure to mansplain his way into a drunken stupor argument, yet I knew in that environment, such conversation would not be wise. “Never talk about politics in a bar,” I said with a smile, which is true in my profession, and in so many others. This guy, and what he represents, is a constant reminder that there are so many of us who must remain apolitical on the job, but not in life. And the very next day, apolitical I refused to be.

The next morning, I loaded into a 15-passenger van with 12 other women of various races, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, ages and backgrounds. We ranged from a 17-year-old trans girl, to a 70-year-old straight woman who had protested the Vietnam War in the ‘60s. And we spent our 14-hour, traffic-ridden trek to Washington, D.C., delving into nearly every issue imaginable. Lisa Belkin, senior chief correspondent for Yahoo! News traveled with us, documenting our journey to, and during the march, in D.C. We discussed our frustration over the necessary evil of remaining apolitical on the job. I often feel harassed and frustrated behind the bar stick regarding my political beliefs (for some reason bar guests always want to know whom I voted for, and why), but Katherine, who works as an analyst at a healthcare company, told us that her bosses and coworkers simply don’t understand why she’d want to go to the Women’s March on Washington. Jackie is a lesbian woman of color, active in her almost-all-white church community, and the congregation members are confused as to why she often speaks out and is upset about the current political climate of our country. Karly, a tattoo artist, feels required to remain apolitical even around her family members, who will engage in pro-Trump, even anti-women dialogue.

Herein lies the realization I had, in chatting with these incredible women: Almost all people who come from a marginalized group feel as though they must stifle their political feelings in the workplace. And sure, it’s something we must do, because a business, or a hospital, or an organization commonly, can’t be affiliated with one political party or belief. I get it. But how do we make up for the internal turmoil that comes with staying silent for the sake of our jobs?

If there’s one prominent thing I took away from standing with an estimated 1.2 million women and allies in the streets of Washington D.C., it’s to be a better advocate, speak out more and do more, every single day. So, this is what I propose to myself, and to anyone reading this who struggles to stay Switzerland in the workplace. I may have to stay silent when Joe from northern Alabama, who is attending an RV sales convention, brings up how Trump really “says what he means and is going to make America great again,” or Dana, an affluent white woman sips her chardonnay while discussing how the women who marched “just don’t represent her,” because she’s not a feminist. But I will be able to keep stirring that Manhattan with a quiet knowledge — that I called the offices of U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul earlier that day. The knowledge that I made a donation to Planned Parenthood this month. The knowledge that I may be slinging drinks by night, but I’m doing everything I possibly can to use my privilege to get everyone a seat at the table, every single day.