Did you see me among the throngs of people standing on Independence Avenue last Saturday? You didn’t? Well darn it all. Maybe an “I still have to protest this s&^%?!?!” sign made it hard to spot me. Or a “Dissent is patriotic” sign, or one of the hundreds of “Love Trumps Hate” signs. If you didn’t see me, then you probably didn’t see Mom, either. But both of us were at the Women’s March in DC, forming a foursome with my friends Tricia and LC.
I wouldn’t describe the four of us as March People under normal circumstances –LC and I both prefer parties that involve food over ones that involve donkeys and elephants, Tricia has a serious aversion to crowds, and most people of Mom’s generation did their demonstrating forty years ago — but these are not normal circumstances. The electoral college gave us a president who manufactures enemies and enmity, two commodities that most assuredly do not make America great. The four of us decided to stand for what does make America great — tolerance, equality, science, freedom of religion, and diversity in its many forms –and to stand against an agenda that threatens those things.
I hatched a plan to meet at my house at 8 a.m., drive to Arlington Cemetery, park, and then hoof it another two-and-a-half miles to the march site. Better than relying on public transportation, I thought, so I announced my plan with great confidence despite having no idea whether it would work. The event website had advised participants to ensure they brought food and water but not to bring backpacks or large bags. Having taken that advice to heart, all four of us showed up wearing the most pocket-intensive clothing we owned and with protein bars sticking out from under our jackets like tumors.
We climbed into my car and set off for a great unknown. I breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled into Arlington Cemetery fifteen minutes later and found parking with ease.
As we started walking in the direction of the March, Tricia asked, “What time do you think we’ll be back?” and then mentioned she had a commitment at 5 p.m.
With speeches slated to start at 10 a.m. and the March itself at 1:30, I said, “Two, maybe three o’clock,” and I felt like I’d built plenty of padding into my answer.
As we strolled down the Mall, not wearing pink hats or carrying signs –the protein bars were all we could handle– we passed National Park Service employees, every one of whom wished us a good day. We passed uniformed police officers who gave us the thumbs-up. We passed a Wonder Woman, men and women in pink hats, lab coat-wearing scientists, and sign after glorious sign.
We paused at the Washington Monument to take advantage of what looked like a last chance at indoor plumbing for a few hours. It turned out to be a brilliant move because, on reaching Independence Avenue and Sixth Street well in advance of the March’s 10 a.m. kickoff, we ran into a wall of people. The three blocks between us and the main stage were absolutely packed with marchers, so we weren’t going anywhere. Not only did this not bother us one bit– we could see the stage in the distance and up-close on a big screen, and we could hear the speakers–but it energized us. This thing was gonna be big. Yuuuuuuuuuuuge, even.
As the official program got underway at 10 a.m., we listened to America Ferrara, who said, “We march today for the moral core of this nation against which our new president is waging a war…He would like us to forget the words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ and instead take up a credo of hate, fear, and suspicion of one another. But we are gathered here and across the country and around the world today to say, Mr. Trump, we refuse.”
We listened to Michael Moore, who gave a concrete “how to resist” to-do list to a crowd that thirsted for it.
We listened to Gloria Steinem, who pointed out that the March required 1,000 more buses than the Inauguration –size matters, you know– and that the president is not the people.
We listened as six year-old Sophie Cruz, who last spring gave a letter to Pope Francis imploring him to help save her undocumented immigrant parents from deportation, told us in two languages to fight with love, faith and courage. “God is with us,” Sophie said. I don’t doubt that He was, and so were millions of demonstrators around the world. (Sophie for Prez…just sayin’…)
The speeches continued for hours, stretching well beyond 2:00 p.m. and with no end, or march start, in sight. So much for my 2, or even 3 p.m. return prediction. We weren’t even sure the march part would happen because the mile-long route was jammed with demonstrators. Shortly after Alicia Keys made a surprise appearance to sing “Girl on Fire,” we decided to start making our way back to the car. And by making our way, I mean goose-stepping. It took us 45 minutes of daisy-chained shuffling to get close to the revised route on Constitution Avenue, where we were able to break free.
As we walked back to the car, we declared Mom our March MVP. I know Mom didn’t agree with the platform of every special interest group represented at the March –neither did I, for that matter — but she didn’t let that stop her from seizing humongous common ground. There’s a lesson for all of us in that. And the same woman who hiked the Cinque Terre with me in May topped that feat by logging in six miles on the Mall, with six hours of standing in between, and never once did she lose her smile.
Would I say the march was perfect? Of course not, because no gathering so enormous could hope to be. But it got a lot of things pretty darned right, including striking a chord that inspired millions of people to march in similar gatherings all over the world. Here are a few things that stuck with me:
- Rising up starts with showing up and standing up;
- It’s useful to see who’s standing with you;
- Small, local acts make a difference;
- Following up is as important as standing up;
I choose to treat the follow-up as a marathon, not a sprint. That means consistent action every day –calling my elected officials, doing outreach, and making donations to fund important lawsuits –focusing my energy on what matters (hint: not Twitter), taking breaks when I need to, and persevering even if I hit the wall. That last one’s easy: I’ll just make Mexico pay for it.
Ultimately, I agree with Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective.” Had Teddy been alive to see how easy scoffing has gotten, what with “alternative facts” and all, I bet he’d have put on a pink hat, too.