Friends, you know I have memory issues, so… quick, let me just get down some memories and initial reactions before I forget.
We walked from a friend-of-a-friend’s office building, just a few blocks to the top of the mall. We could see the Washington Monument in one direction, half of it disappearing into a cold mist. In the other direction we could see the Capitol Building. And in between there was just a sea of people, mostly women, and lots of them wearing pink hats and carrying signs. Now and then a cheer would erupt from far away and then grow closer and closer. It reminded me of other marches, but even more than that it reminded me of being at a basketball game or a baseball game. The cheer starts on one side of the crowd and made its way over to you– stretching across city blocks, maybe even the whole city.
My little group of friends and I stuck close together as we dove into the crowd, heading toward what seemed to be the center of the action. As we pressed forward the crowd got tighter and tighter. Soon we were packed together in a street full of people, just like on a rush hour subway, only outdoors. At one point, an ambulance was trying to make its way through. The crowd squeezed tighter and tighter to make way. I was smooshed, but comfortable, until my feet left the ground just for a few seconds. I was suspended a few inches from the earth by the crowd around me. A tall man in front of me said calmly, loudly, not to me personally, “Keep your feet. Don’t lose your feet.” I twisted a bit so that my boots landed squarely on the ground and planted myself, refusing to budge for the next few minutes, until my little group started to move. We found a spot with a bit more space and watched the rest of the march from a damp, grassy median.
If I stood on my tiptoes I could see a screen displaying the speeches. We couldn’t hear the speeches, really. The roar of the crowd drowned out most of it, and the sound was too far away to be able to make out the words, but it didn’t matter. The size of the crowd, the noise of it, the energy. The obvious effort that every. single. person. had made to be there was palpable. This was important. This mattered. This, I hope, will make some sort of difference.
I was with a group of friends I haven’t known very long. I was surprised to realize that it seemed they hadn’t been to very many marches before this one. I was excited for them. And excited in general that this would be the first march for so many. Maybe the beginning of a new era of activism?
For me, being somewhat geeky and always opinionated, this was just one more of a long list of marches beginning as a college student. Too many to list. Examples: marches to protest animal testing, marches (plural) protesting George Bush’s election, to reduce carbon footprints, against the wars in Afganistan and Iraq, standardized testing, against school privatization, gay pride marches, Black Lives Matters. I’ve marched many times before, and I’ll march many times again. But this one was very different.
On the one hand, I felt so hopeful that there were so many people that felt strongly enough to get out and participate. This was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An “I Have A Dream” or Woodstock moment for my generation. I am positive that years from now, my friends and I will say, “Remember the Womens’ March?” Wasn’t it just remarkable how many people came out? (And hopefully we’ll also say We’re so glad THAT’s over.)
On the other hand, I was disappointed that there weren’t more obvious demonstrations on the part of white women in support of diverse groups. To be honest, though I’m relieved at how peaceful everything was, I was a bit disappointed that people weren’t more angry. The crowd was overall happy and peaceful (and mostly white). Almost celebratory at points. The only thing people seemed angry about was the fact that the speeches went on too long. At other demonstrations that I’ve been to people are upset that their sons are dying. Their land is being destroyed. They can’t drink the water. Their schools are segregated. Their sons, daughters, husbands, wives are being sent to fight a pointless war. Compared to all that, the long speeches didn’t bother me much. I was annoyed when the crowd around me began to chant, “Let us march. Let us march.” (No offense if you were one of those people).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m including myself in this criticism–I too was swept away in the moment, wearing my cute pink hat, and totally swept away by the massive scale of it all. I didn’t carry a sign. In retrospect, I think I should have.
I kept thinking back to a march I participated in following 9/11. When the RNC held a conference in NYC, near my apartment I headed out, only to find out I was terrified to be there alone. People were REALLY angry. There were protestors coming from all different perspectives — and they didn’t exactly all get along. All around me people were talking about the police arresting people for no reason, and that it could take days to be “processed” in the New York City jails. It was scary. I was twenty something and alone, so I made my way back to my little apartment.
At this point, I’m a lot older and lot bolder. It’ll take a whole lot more than that to scare me. I won’t be heading home. I am angry. I am tired of this racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic, anti-semite, homophobic, pro-war, corrupt, sh*t. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m still marching for basic dignity and human rights. Honestly, I can’t believe more white women aren’t explicitly standing up for the rights of our black and brown sisters and brothers and their children. But here we go. I’m hopeful. I’m glad there are more people marching this time. I hope they’ll stick it out for the long haul.
I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember from here on in
History has its eyes on you
~ Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton