MARCHING WITH THE MULTITUDES TO MAKE THE WORLD SANE AGAIN
As the old adage goes, “you had to be there.” There could have been lots of places in the U.S. and abroad because women’s marches took place the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration on every continent and in at least 700 locations around the world. The turnout and global solidarity was unprecedented, and deeply important: It signaled a turning point and a resistance movement that could well save democracy here and internationally.
The idea for a march began a week after Donald Trump shocked the world by winning the presidency, not by popular vote but because of an antiquated Electoral College that has prevailed since the 18th century. A Hawaiian woman named Teresa Shook thought there ought to be a march so she posted the idea on Facebook. The post went viral – and helped make history as it mounted global resistance toward all that a Trump administration represented.
The global marches weren’t just a rebuke of Donald Trump’s agenda or tactics, nor were they a call solely for women’s rights, a point largely missed. In addition to women’s rights as human rights, the marches focused on issues like immigration, climate change, healthcare, economic stability, LBGT rights, education, political representation and safety. As one New Zealand organizer put it, “This movement is about inclusion and solidarity [after an election that] insulted, demonized, and threatened many people. … The marches are an expression of the millions of people around the world who stand up for those who were vilified during [Trump’s] campaign.”
As soon as I learned about the DC march, I knew I had to be there along with the anticipated 250,000 people expected. So did my daughter. We drove to DC from New York. At a stop on the New Jersey Turnpike it was clear that everyone there was on their way too. “Pussy Wagon” one van said. “Nasty Women” and “2017 March on Washington” were scrawled on other vehicles. People high-fived each other and gave thumbs up as they smiled broadly at each other. Traffic was terrible but no one got upset. Instead, they waved at each other from their cars and waited patiently for their turn to pass through toll booths. It was like a block party on an Interstate.
On the morning of the march the excitement for us began as we headed toward the mall amidst a growing stream of knitted pink hats. The atmosphere was one of energy, community, and hope. On the mall, prolific signs, some serious and many hilarious, gave rise to cheers and photo opps. “We Shall Overcomb!” “You can’t comb over climate change!” “I wish my uterus shot bullets so it wouldn’t be regulated!” “Exercise Respect or Expect Resistance!” “Immigrants Make America Great!” “I can’t believe I Have to March Again about this stuff!” “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA!” “Tinkler, Traitor, Groper, Spy.”
People continued arriving, most on foot, some with walkers or in wheelchairs, little ones in strollers, elders in bicycle rickshaws. As more and more people converged, I was reminded of Gandhi’s Salt March in India. Then as now, people flowed like rivers joining a swelling sea of humanity. The crowd grew larger and larger. Strangers hugged each other, laughed together, shared knowing smiles, all of us touched by the kindness and courtesy of the crowd. It felt like one big family reunion.
Many of us gravitated toward 14th Street where the march would continue from Independence Avenue. Soon we heard the sounds and saw the banners. Then they came – and came and came and came -- for hours. By this time an estimated million-plus people were either marching or cheering marchers on. Periodically a chant would rise up or a banner would elicit a collective roar that swept across the city like a tsunami sound wave.
“I hope Trump is looking out his window at the White House and takes a hint,” a man who had come with his young daughter told me. “It’s hard enough to be a teacher, but now?” a young woman said. An older woman stood silently holding a sign that said simply, “Nyet,” the Washington Monument looming large behind her.
At about 3.30 in the afternoon people who’d been on their feet for hours began peeling away from the continuing parade to make their way toward Pennsylvania Avenue where they hoped the march would pass by the White House. Overwhelmed security personnel began trying to clear a path in the road, red lights flashing and sirens wailing. But the street filled again with a river of people after they’d passed. Then police blocked access to Pennsylvania Avenue and began turning people back. Multitudes kept coming, unaware that they would be caught in a morass of marchers. Still, calm prevailed despite the crush of bodies.
At this point, being claustrophobic, the pangs of panic began rising in my chest. My daughter told a benevolent but seemingly befuddled officer that she had to get me out of there, and he allowed us to cross a barrier so that we could move toward the Ellipse and Constitution Avenue. From there we walked until we could hail a cab back to our friend’s house.
The entire day, in a word, was awesome. One of the most amazing things about the largest protest march in U.S. history is that not one arrest occurred and no one was hurt despite the huge turnout. In place of anxiety or unanticipated consequences a palpable spirit of friendship, solidarity, commitment and hope prevailed. Even when the density of the crowd became potentially alarming and an organizer instructed participants through a megaphone not to move, calm prevailed as participants waited patiently for directions on how to leave.
After it was all over we heard some wonderful stories. A woman from Vermont said that when her bus made a pit stop at a Walmart’s en route to Washington, the workers applauded. At the end of the march, a DC Metro driver asked over the loudspeaker, “You ladies have a good day?” A roar of approval went up. Then the driver said, “Thank you for what you are doing for all of us.” And a Southwest Airlines jet had all its interior lights shining pink. We also learned that all the discarded signs from the march would find their way to various museums, this being such an historic event.
My daughter and I had marched together for reproductive rights in 1989. Here we were nearly thirty years later doing it again. I asked her what she thought the real significance of the day was. She hesitated thoughtfully and then said, “Progressivism is the future. Young people know it and want to build and sustain that future. Historically, many others around the world know from experience – or from older relatives – what it’s like to live under dictatorships or autocracies. They look at the US as a beacon of hope, a symbol of democracy and freedom. The US still promises this vision. It’s part of what they were marching for, what we were all marching for. We can’t let go of that.”
I think she hit the nail on the head. Somewhere between the rhetoric and the reality of America resides the hope she spoke of. The multitude of marchers we were part of still believe in that hope and promise, even as they fear it is slipping away.
That’s why we were all there: We can’t, and we won’t, let go of that hope. That was the promise we made to each other, and to the world, on the day of the marches. It’s one we will not break, which is why the marches continue even as I write this piece. We are resilient, resourceful and determined. As women said in Beijing at the 1995 4th World Conference of Women: “We are here. We are there. We are everywhere. And we are not going away!” We are your mothers, your wives, your sisters, your daughters, your granddaughters, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues. We roar and we vote. And we are not going back.
Note: Unable to post pictures with this piece, not sure why!