Ellen Grunblatt reflects on silence at the Women in Black vigil

I dislike the silence. Communication, engagement, dialogue is what I want. I accept the silence as part of the street theater, but it makes me uncomfortable. When I stand there I am aware of feeling silenced, as women have historically been silenced. I am aware of women's silence serving as a blank slate on which others, usually men, have written their fear and sometimes their hate. I am often afraid. I watch the young muscle guys in their hot cars or old junkers, the men my age and the old men who have probably seen war up close, and wonder what they are thinking. The tight-lipped women who stride by us, not looking at us, their own fear showing—they all but bare their teeth. I reach out with a flyer, but I want to ask, "Aren't you curious about us? Don't you see that we are no different from you? What makes you afraid and angry?"

Silence has its gifts—inward listening, receptivity to whatever's happening, not worrying about all the ways in which language fails us. These gifts are personal, not political. I doubt the effectiveness of silence as a political tool, but then again, I often doubt speech when it turns into rhetoric or polemic, as it so often does in the face of difficult issues. Silence is better, but it's no substitute for thoughtful communication, constructive engagement, meaningful dialogue. May our silence eventually create the space where that can happen.

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