I Just Hope We Don’t See Any Protesters
The Other Washington accommodated a lot of visitors as it shifted into Inauguration gear. Restaurant servers, Metro employees, and police officers displayed exquisite kindness towards ranters, oglers, and ignoramuses of every stripe. My sister, two daughters, eldest granddaughter and I decided to travel from Washington State to Washington, D. C. for the 45th Inauguration and the National Women’s March the following day. Upon boarding the plane at SEATAC the first thing that became clear was that, except for two octogenarians, one in a pink hat with cat ears seated in 26C and one in a red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat seated in Seat 14F, it wasn’t possible to differentiate the people who were on a pilgrimage to the Inauguration from the people who were on a pilgrimage to the March.
On the morning of January 19th, my sis and I climb aboard the Best Western METRO shuttle and sit at the back with a middle-aged man and woman. “Where ya’all come from?” “The State of Washington, how about you?” “Arkansas … Bentonville. We’re Wal-Mart people.” “My daughter lived in Arkansas for six years … I love the music. You folks in D.C. for the inauguration?” “Yep.” “You ever attended an Inauguration before?” “No. this is our first.” “Well, you’ll laugh at us,” I venture, “We bought plane tickets six months ago so we could bring my daughters and granddaughter to witness the inauguration of our first woman president.” They chuckled appreciatively. “Sort of like when you buy Super Bowl tickets and your team doesn’t go.”
The 19th is our only free day in D.C. so we set off for the Museum of American History. On display are Julia Child’s kitchen; all the Inaugural ball gowns worn by first ladies from flapper Lou Hoover to storybook Michelle Obama; even the Howdy Doody puppet that haunted my childhood dreams. We walk across the Mall behind a group of boys and men. I ask one of the men whether they are a Cub Scout troop. “Yes we are.” “Where you all from?” “We’re from the state of Alabama. We petitioned Senator Jeff Sessions for our boys to lead the pledge of allegiance at an Inaugural concert this afternoon.” “How exciting! Is this your first Inauguration?” “Yep.” “Your first time to D.C.?” “Yep,” His voice drops as he says in earnest. “I just hope we don’t see any protestors.” Pause. “Well, to tell the truth, you’re talking to one right now. My sister and I came to D.C. for the Women’s March … We promise to be good.” “Well then, we will, too.” “It’s a deal.”
On the 20th and 21st affiliations are indisputable. Dining tables in our Best Western breakfast room are surrounded by clusters of men wearing red caps or women in pink hats. Inauguration Day is damp. My sister and granddaughter opt for a day at the National Zoo. My daughters and I get ourselves onto the shuttle by 7:30 am. The Mood Meter is reading different than the day before … somewhere in the blue area with a sprinkling of red. I had anticipated yellow (happiness and self-confidence), but instead there is a lot of anxious tittering “….growl, growl…damned Hillary….growl, growl….At least we’ll be rid of Obama….” I ask if there is anyone else on the bus from the great State of Washington. One fellow passenger has lived in Olympia. “…growl, growl…damned blue state.” At the METRO station, a Southern California woman in a full-length mink coat and rubber flip-flops takes a while to disembark the van owing to an injured foot. We mention that we had originally booked a hotel room to witness the Inauguration of the first woman President. She has no interest. I’m not getting this general injured mood. I want to shout, “Hey guys, you WON!”
The METROs are running like an old Detroit assembly line, lots of trains labelled “Special.” It seems an unnecessary expense, since there are few people, no lines and plenty of seats. The three of us emerge from underground onto a downtown Washington street wet with rain. The line to the first gate we encounter is a half block long and a street’s thickness wide. We plant ourselves behind a man my age in a self-propelled wheel chair, wearing his red hat and a jacket with, “VIETNAM VETERAN” embroidered in bright colors on the back. We get to visiting. Gene hails from Cincinnati. “Yes,” he’d served his country in Vietnam. Watched his best buddy get shot in half by the Viet Cong. Suffered many injuries himself and was awarded many medals. Had he ever been to an Inauguration before? “No … this is my first.”
It is a mildly cordial crowd. An occasional, “Not My President” echoed by “Trump, Trump, Trump …” We herd ourselves inch by inch towards the lines that stand at the entrance to the first search point. There are just a few funnels into the tent full of secret service, police, TSA, et al. After one verbal volley, Gene asserts, “I fought for their right to do this.” We express appreciation. My impression of this crowd of 250 people is that only a sprinkling of Inauguration protesters is amongst us. An hour of waiting later, when the “Trump, trump, trump” becomes more provocative, the tiny fire beneath the popcorn of volleys bursts into flame. Protesters are in the majority. Equanimity vanishes. Gene exclaims to my daughter, “I musta killed about 200 Viet Cong. What would it matter if I shot a couple more of these jokers?” A band of authority figures closes down the entrance. We retreat back to the street where we’d emerged from the subway and find another entrance. Police and National Guard and secret service people line the street. The theater continues beside, not within, our contained group of Inauguration goers.
A young man holding a handmade sign with the simple message, “MUSLIM, GAY, and UNAFRAID,” stands boldly beside the metal fence. A teenage boy, looking for all the world like a member of Youth for Hitler, climbs upon a light pole three feet above the crowd and with unremitting enmity, screams, “Trump, trump, trump …” over and over and over again. A big, red-faced street bully wearing loose-fitting shabby jeans lopes towards the fearless gay Muslim and begins to spew the foulest, vilest epithets he can muster. The young man speaks clearly and articulately about what it means to him to be an American. He gives his interpretation of Christ’s message of hospitality. The crowd and police look on, wide-eyed. As the bully draws closer I point to him and scream at the top of my lungs. “You’re making us look bad!” Deep breath. “You’re making us look bad!” Deep breath. “Stop talking. You’re making us look bad!” The bully looks up perplexed as if the thought is sinking in that, instead of being a crowd pleaser, he is bumming out the Trump supporters he is trying to impress. The police step in and with a bit of flailing and a few crude gestures towards my daughters, he swallows his bitter pill and leaves the premises.
We are approaching the tent where abandoned water bottles, backpacks, and whole fruit are strewn. A dozen officials search bags, cameras, and phones, and pat down persons. We quickly slurp our lone (weaponized) orange, transform our backpacks into purse-like objects, and strip off our outer garments. We make it through. At this point, in 2009, we would have been on the Mall. In 2017 this is the first of five more gated, cattle-fenced areas erected to buffer the Inauguration ceremony from street noise. Before we reach the Mall, packs, phones, cameras, and jackets come off one more time. It is 12:04. On the monitor, Melania is sporting a light blue suit. A priest from St. Patrick’s Cathedral is kicking off with the invocation. We stand on big white jointed rubber pads that were laid to protect the Mall grass from non-existent masses.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir teams up with the Marine Band to perform a rousing “America the Beautiful.” A Southern Baptist preacher takes note of the rain that he claims, “must be a sign from God” since it “started just as Donald Trump stepped out.” A bit disingenuous for the several thousand of us who have been standing in the rain since 8 am. He waxes eloquent about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A conservative rabbi prays for the deliverance of Israel. The new president tries valiantly to rouse the crowd. He pronounces in a very excited tone that, for the first time in U.S. history, power will reside in the hands of the People. With gaping distances between People on the Mall, it doesn’t feel that rousing. Applause is barely audible.
Truth be told, it was very hard to bear witness to the speech. As a threesome, we turned our backs to the Capitol Steps. To ground herself my younger daughter knelt down and touched the earth … well, the rubber mat. I, too, bent low and placed my fingers on a tiny patch of grass peeking through one of the mat joints. No one was close enough to judge us rude. So we did as the Spirit moved us. Speech concluded, we resumed standing. My daughter announced with conviction, “Well. That marked the end of the patriarchy.” Cool.
I recall from the 2009 Inauguration that awkward time after the speeches, prayers, and oaths when helicopters land on the Mall. The outgoing President boards the first one, and it chop- chop-chop-chops over the crowd and disappears. The second lands; the incoming President boards, and, chop-chop-chop, off “he” goes. To me, the helicopter part is really creepy, militaristic, scary. Before the arrival of the helicopters, I take off in earnest to interview Inauguration attendees. I strike out for a family of four. Parents are young, father tall and trim, mother flanked by 11- and 7-year old daughters. “Hi, my name is Ann. I am from Washington State, and I am interviewing people here at the Inauguration so I can write an article for my hometown newspaper.” I take a breath. “I wondered if I could interview your family.” The father looks kindly and confidently at his eldest daughter. “What do you say, girls. Shall we do it?” Nods. The family is game. “Where ya’all from?” “Our home is in Nebraska, but we’re Air Force stationed here in D.C.” “OK … well, my first question is ‘Which of President Trump’s promises are you most excited about?’ There is a pregnant pause. Everyone looks at the elder daughter who quietly draws back her wool dress coat to reveal a button pinned to her jumper, I STILL SUPPORT HER. I am caught a bit off guard. “So what do you think is the worst thing going on in America right now?” Again they turn to their eldest. “Discrimination,” she asserts boldly then bursts into tears. I am reminded of my 9-year-old granddaughter on the day after the election. “You feel very strongly about that,” I offer. She sobs audibly. Mother puts an arm around her heaving shoulder. Why didn’t I think to pack Kleenex? “She’s okay,” says her father, lovingly. “She thinks about this a lot.” “Maybe you’ll run for president someday.” I thank the family and take my leave.
I wander across the rubber mats until I find a rowdy multi-family group. Two adult women, three sons between them, one in military uniform, one late high school age, and a pubescent 14-year-old. “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m conducting a survey so I can write an article for my hometown newspaper.” “Where you from, Ann?” “Washington State. I grew up in Lewis County.” “Oh, yah, I’ve heard of that,” says the 14-y-o. His mother eyes him skeptically. “How about you?” “We live in Maryland.” “OK … my first question is, ‘Which of our new President’s ideas are you most excited about?’” “Oh, definitely that he is going to cut taxes for middle class families,” announces the soldier. Heads nod in agreement. “And we agree with his stance on firearms,” contributes a mother. “What is the worst thing going on in America right now?” The soldier resumes the role of multi-family spokesperson. He starts a riff about the Federal Reserve, mortgage loans, banks, currency. As far as I can follow the gist is that banks are never having to actually come up with the money they loan to people. “I’m not sure I follow, but it does sound bad.” “He talks about this a lot,” his mother interjects. Her son shifts gears, “Also, as a country, the United States can’t disrespect Israel. We already left Vietnam before we were finished, and we shouldn’t do that again to our best ally.” I keep the ball rolling. . . “What is the greatest thing that has happened in America in your lifetime?” Without batting an eye, the young teen exclaims, “Starting the Iraq War.” A stunned pause. Jaws drop. “WHAT?” his mother yells. Brother gives him a shove and calls him a “moron.” Everyone groans. Mother offers, “Maybe you mean killing Bin Laden,” and continues, “And in my lifetime there was landing on the Moon. And when the Iron Curtain came down.”
“I know,” the indomitable teen recoups his nerve, “BREXIT!” I glance across the Mall at my little Nebraska family. Mother’s arm still wrapped around daughter’s shoulder, her shoulders still heaving.
With their sons’ opining, the two women are not getting much floor time. They move me into closed women’s-circle formation. “I’m Amy. I’m a social worker for DHHS. I have to say that I felt great hope eight years ago when Obama was elected. I thought he had lots of good ideas. But he wasted his chance. He pretty much sat there and did nothing.” Her friend chimes in, “Yah, and I like Melania better than Michelle. She’ll be a really nice addition to the White House. I don’t exactly dislike Michelle, but, I don’t know, there was just something about her I couldn’t relate to. I think Melania will be very kind to people.” My teeth are bearing down on my tongue so as nearly to draw blood. As if on cue, the outgoing President’s helicopter chops overhead. “Can we pause a second here?” the group petitions. “Sure,” I respond. Each of the five makes a gesture … a thumb on the nose. A “good riddance.” “Finally, it’s over.” My heart is breaking. The soldier exclaims, “Have fun spending all that MONEY, Barack!” Are they referring to the big salary that President Trump won’t need? Or Wall Street speeches?
Amy has an idea. “I know, Ann, what if I ask you the questions? I’m interested in what you would say.” I hand Amy my clipboard with a fresh interview sheet. She reads, “Alright … which of President Trump’s campaign promises are YOU most excited about?” I’m thinking fast on my feet. “Hmmm… I would say that the thing I am most excited about is that he is giving voice to people who feel they have been overlooked.” “What is the greatest accomplishment in the US in your lifetime?” I channel my dear, departed teacher-husband and his teacher-father. “Introducing special education programs so that all children, those who are in wheel chairs, those who are really anxious or disruptive, blind, deaf, hard of hearing, developmentally disabled … all children in our country can have access to public education.” There is a pause. Both women nod. “Yes, that’s important … but don’t get me started on the public schools.” I have struck a raw nerve. “That one over there, in kindergarten they told me he was autistic. By second grade I had to send him to a private Catholic school. And we’re Jewish. The school counselor said my other son, the one in the Army, had ADHD.” “Mine, too,” says her friend. “He was on Adderall and that other drug. Yah, for both of us public schools were a true nightmare.” Now the second helicopter is hovering, and everyone smiles and waves. The soldier salutes. We three hug. Amy writes down her email address and asks me to send her the article. “Nice to meet you, Ann. And … I have to say ….you are really quite adorable.” I grin, “Aw shucks.” As I begin to walk away, they call out, “One more thing, Ann. This is really important. Don’t read newspapers or watch the news on TV. Very misleading. If you want trustworthy news, always go online.”
I take a deep breath. Maybe it is time to interview a person who is standing alone. How about that short man in a wool camel coat with crooked teeth? “Hi, my name is Ann..” He is a friendly sort. “I’m Gary.” I launch into my spiel. “The best thing about Trump … well … there are actually three best things about Trump. The first is that he is going to get people who have lost hope fired up and working again. That will ignite the economy.” I try to keep oxycodone addiction from entering my mind. “And another thing … He comes to Washington free from all the favors most politicians owe to those who have gotten them elected. Trump doesn’t owe anyone a cent.” I try to keep his building crews from entering my mind. “And finally, he’s rich … he’s worth billions. He is the perfect poster child for the American dream. And that will really inspire people to be like him.” I try to imagine 99 percent of Americans as billionaires. “That would be cool,” I say. “And how about you,” Gary queries,” did you vote for Trump?” “No.” “Were you a Hillary fan or a Bernie fan?” “All the above,” I reply. “My daughters were Hillary fans,” Gary offers, “if she’d won, they both would have been here today.”
I take my leave of Gary and return to my daughters who are still standing huddled close together in the middle of an empty field of white rubber. “How’d it go?” they ask. “Good,” I say. Just then a 40-year-old man approaches us. “I’ve been watching you,” he smiles shyly. We grin back sheepishly, anticipating some expression of disapproval for our Inauguration speech behavior. “I just came to say that you three have the most beautiful eyes.” “What a kind thing to say. What brings you to the Inauguration?” my elder daughter asks, relieved. “I’m a music teacher, and I’m here with my high school band. They are marching in the parade this afternoon.” “That’s cool. We’ve come from Washington State.” “Me, too,” he exclaims, “I’m from Tacoma. Are you going to the March tomorrow?” We nod. “I’m going to try to get my band there.” Old home week.
A Personal Response to the Pivotal Events of January 2017
You might be like me: Ever since November 8, I’ve approached the morning news with hesitant steps, eyes half-averted, one hand thrust before me as a shield against what horrors might await me. I squint at the headlines, afraid to commit too fully to new evidence that our president-elect is, indeed, fully as ignorant, unethical, dishonest, graceless, hypocritical, narcissistic, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, and unspeakably dangerous as we feared he might be. And that’s before we read about the Russians.
Am I being too harsh?
I hope so. Like many of you, I hope our leader turns out to be a sane and balanced human being who has just been hiding behind the politically expedient guise of a foul-mouthed hate-monger. Or, if not that, then I hope against hope for the best case scenario – that he may still become distracted from his campaign promises by some new shiny piece of bling, and in this way, save us.
But we can’t count on that. We can’t count on anything – that much was made painfully clear by the results of the election.
Except ourselves. We can count on that. Because we still have us – an older, wiser, more terrified us, perhaps, but still us nonetheless. And we proved that on January 21.
January 21: The day we came out – millions of us, across the country, across the globe – and marched together, sang together, cried together. The day when, collectively, we made our case that even if the election had been propelled by hate, we were not going to allow our lives to be propelled by hate.
We were there for one another – to protect each other’s rights – even the rights of those whose ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, or economic demographics did not match our own. We showed up for our children, for our grandchildren, and for everyone else’s children and grandchildren.
We came carrying placards and chanting slogans – some of which were purely vindictive, yes, but most of which were clever and heartfelt and true. We came to champion specific and important causes, like the preservation of the environment, women’s rights, the arts, LGBT advancements, immigration protections, and healthcare for all, but we also came to spread a broader message: “Make America Think Again,” “Hope Can’t Be Built on Hate,” and the now justifiably ubiquitous “Love Trumps Hate.”
And that’s when something clicked for me. There, on the streets of Los Angeles, sardined into that jostling mass of humanity, slowly inching forward into a common future, I finally found a way out of the despair that had poisoned every one of my days since November 8. We were it. WE, ourselves, were the way out.
Because we were the way in.
And we didn’t have to change ourselves either. We didn’t have to fight hate with hate, or stoop lower, or scream louder. We simply had to be there, together, united in our efforts. Speaking calmly, marching peacefully, modeling the kind of leadership we sought.
And our reach, I saw then, had to extend beyond the borders of our most progressive cities and into the world of middle-American families, so desperate to be heard that they were willing to believe the lies of anyone who pretended to be listening.
This, I suspect, is where Hillary took the wrong turn. Instead of reaching out to the people who were feeling ignored and disenfranchised (and who also, we have to assume, want what’s best for their children), she called them “deplorables.” Even Meryl Streep, for whom I have the deepest respect, shut out the very people who needed to hear her when she (in her “gazillion dollar gown,” as one frustrated citizen put it) spoke of how Hollywood had been “villainized.”
We have to listen better. The “other” is always so easy to condemn and so hard to understand. But anger (rage! fury!) is so often (as we all understand on a visceral level) the unfortunate and wholly destructive byproduct of pain.
It is this pain that needs to be addressed.
And the pain is not going to be addressed by a bully. It is not going to be addressed by an individual who knows only how to deny and deflect blame, never to confront, head-on, the very real issues at stake.
So we need to do it ourselves. Without smashing windows or wielding guns or wounding others with our words. We need to “go high,” as Michelle Obama advised us. And we need to go large. And we need to keep going. We can’t stop. Not for a minute. Because in this shifting and undependable world, all we have is us.
And there are lots of us. We can take comfort in this. We are everywhere. All over the world, as we saw demonstrated on January 21. We are not alone.
This election is our much-needed wake up call. We will rise to it. Even if we have been trained to be “good girls,” trained to be quiet, trained to be fearful of losing the regard of others by saying what we think. We will say what we think. We will rise to the call. We will wake up. And we will take action. We will speak, act, listen, in ways that are not mean, or miserly, or self-serving, but in ways that will continue to make us proud to be ourselves, and proud to be Americans. We will continue on our path – whether impeded by the current administration or not – toward love, understanding, forgiveness, and tolerance. And if turning the other cheek gets us slapped around, so be it.
Because we are all we have. And because our children are watching.
Harbor of Grace
Peering at the night through the rain-smeared windows of the airport bus makes me feel the way I used to feel in the 1970s when I was a girl in my twenties sitting on Greyhound buses, lost and confused, maybe a fledgling feminist but not familiar with the term, a passenger in my own life. This time, I’m on a mission, heading for the Women’s March in Washington, with a rather indirect itinerary: Los Angeles to Charlotte to Albany. From Albany, I’ll drive with my old friend Barbara to Maryland, where friends of hers will host us.
When I first arrive, the weather in Albany is what I recall as vintage upstate New York: a muted palette of gray, brown, and white. Chilly. A woman pulls up in a car in front of a house nearby and steps outside to check her mailbox. She smiles. “Enjoying the nice, mild weather?” It’s all relative, I suppose.
Meanwhile, back home, the rain has finally stopped and there are rainbows arched above green hills. My husband texts me: Sacate Creek is flowing! The campground at El Capitan has washed away in mud. The ocean is the color of chocolate milk and waterfalls have surprised old sandstone contours. The world is many worlds, constantly changing, and reality itself seems fluid and unbound.
But there is a structure of truth and principle, and there are foundations we build upon and cherish, and that’s why I’m marching on Saturday. I’m marching because I care about human rights, and fairness, and dignity, and possibility, and the fate of our poor beleaguered planet. I’m marching because the person about to assume office, and who in fact lost the popular vote by millions, is dangerously unfit to serve. I want him to see that he does not have our support, and I want to help promote and partake of the solidarity and determination that I know we’re going to need to sustain us through the hard times ahead.
“A march? It’s as pointless as a temper tantrum,” I heard someone say mockingly. But I believe, as essayist Rebecca Solnit has written, that symbolic and cultural acts have real power. I am hoping the march will energize us, render visible our national and global community, reinforce the sense of possibility, speak our truths, tell our stories, and mark a beginning rather than defeat and resignation. We march to push back against the affronts being perpetrated upon us and to help launch the resistance.
The next day, we set out for D.C. in Barbara’s car: Barb (at the wheel), her friend (and soon my friend too) Ronda, and me. There’s a percussion of raindrops and windshield wipers, the murmur of conversation, a soundtrack of songs from Hamilton, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne, including one in particular by Jackson (and Carlos Varela) called “Walls and Doors”:
Ever since the world’s existed
There’s one thing that is certain
There are those who build walls
And those who open doors
Barb and I became friends in 1976, not long after my desperado Greyhound bus days. I was belatedly wrapping up a degree at the state university, and she was a newly minted social worker, and we both lived in an old brownstone at the edge of downtown Albany. We would visit each other at the end of the day, de-briefing, listening to records (often Jackson Browne), and coaching one another through what I still refer to as the days of whine and roaches. (You could actually hear those roaches in the night, a sort of tapping-crunching sound, and if you turned on a light, you could see them scurrying across the floor.) We became dear to one another, but life took us in different directions, and forty years happened with no contact between us. We reconnected only recently, and we instantly clicked. It was as though she had just walked back in from across the hallway with a new album for us to hear.
Thank God for friendship, especially among women. I don’t know how I would navigate life without such friends. And oh, how women talk! Our car becomes a sanctuary of stories and warmth and camaraderie, a harbor of grace, it seems. Ronda sets out a bag of nuts, a container of celery sticks and carrots, green grapes, energy bars. We tend to one another. Even in this transition zone, a demonstration has begun, and it sets the tone for what we are about to witness: mutual support, kindness, and resilience.
The inauguration ceremony is taking place as we drive, and we don’t know if we can bear to listen. Ronda, an insightful psychologist, counsels against denial. “If we don’t listen at all, that’s just intentional ignorance,” she says, and we decide to tune in now and then. What we hear sounds militant, ominous, chilling … a dark vision of carnage and fear, a false and eerie patriotism, a rally to total allegiance.
Ronda’s mother, now in her nineties, is a Holocaust survivor who spent two years hidden in a small underground space . . . “the grave” is what she calls it. The family lived in what is now Ukraine, and as the horrors mounted, Ronda’s grandmother sat by the window, planning. One midnight, she bundled up her three children – Ronda’s mother, at ten, was the oldest – and walked to the house of a man she vaguely knew who did “illegal things,” to ask him for his help. They were led to a hole in the dirt beneath a pigsty, with a covering too low to stand up beneath it. It was swarming with vermin and lice. Pig urine rained on their heads.
Ronda’s mother has barely spoken of it, except in fragments of poems in old journals, not in English. Decades later, Ronda went back to the Ukraine with her, and they stopped at the house the family had been forced to abandon. A Ukrainian woman came to the door, and with trepidation let them in. Ronda’s mother recognized the furniture, the parquet floor, and the very window beside which Ronda’s grandmother had sat and stared and schemed. The Ukrainian woman cried. She was only a child then. Her parents had taken her to a ditch where they lined up the Jews, shot them, then hastily covered them with dirt. “The ground was heaving,” she said. The townspeople watched.
“How did everyone allow this?” asks Ronda. “What happens matters. And this is why I’m marching tomorrow.”
In Maryland, where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay, we pass a city called Havre de Grace, and the name assumes a serendipitous significance, as do so many aspects of this journey. I admit that I had some anxiety and skepticism when I first contemplated the trip, but my conviction is growing with every mile.
Barb checks in with her mother, another nonagenarian. “Why are you going to Washington?” her mother says. “I’m looking at the TV, and there’s a big commotion there.“
“Mom, it’s a protest,” Barb explains, to no avail. Commotion is worrisome. Distance is daunting. Daughters are precious. A mother worries.
“A march is when bodies speak by walking,“ writes Rebecca Solnit in Hope in the Dark, “[It’s] when private citizens become that mystery the public, when traversing boulevards of cities becomes a way to travel toward political goals.”
Of what use is the moon if you don’t have the night?
Of what use is a windmill with no Quixote left who’ll fight?
We will not have stood by in silence.
We arrive in Silver Spring as darkness falls, and find our way to the house of our hosts, Jeff and Bonnie, who are easygoing and welcoming and seem immediately familiar to me, even though I have never met them. Maybe it’s our Brooklyn roots, shared sensibilities, a similar perspective on what’s happening. We reminisce about pizza and knishes, the sawdust on the floors of butcher shops and produce markets, lining up at school to have sugar cubes with a drop of Salk vaccine placed upon our tongues. We discuss the old neighborhoods, the public schools we went to, the work and dreams of our fathers, the things we learned to value.
There can be freedom only when nobody owns it…
Ronda’s 21-year-old son Jared, a college student in the area, comes by to visit and bring us his firsthand observations of D.C. on this Inauguration Day. It was crazy, he tells us, but not in a celebratory way. Sitting at the table with a group of slightly fraying sixty-somethings, Jared asks if our participation in tomorrow’s march feels as significant to us as protests of the past. Absolutely. Unequivocally. Even more so. Yes. We all agree on this. The threat is real and profound. The need to resist is crucial, compelling. It’s an historic moment.
I think Jared is proud of his mom. In a nod to Joni Mitchell, he calls the three of us women “Ladies of the Canyon.” I picture the California canyon of my home, then feel the comforting old embrace of East Coast-ness, and for a moment, everything comes full circle.
As soon as we board the Metro the next morning, we can feel that something is happening, and we are part of it. There are groups of friends carrying posters, parents with little girls in pink hats, men and women, boomers and millennials, and certainly those in between. Everyone is pouring into the city, filling up the trains, and the mood is friendly but not festive. We recognize each other.
We disembark at Union Station, and our numbers keep multiplying . . . pink hats ascending escalators, patiently lining up for a pre-march restroom stop, streaming out onto the streets. A policeman at the station tells us that the men’s room is open to women today. He’s good-natured and friendly and admits that this is the happy day. Yesterday? Not so much. More like the twilight zone.
Outside, the air is fresh and the sky a broad white slate of cloud and fog. The pre-march rally has begun, but we are far from it, and we will only see it later in replay at Jeff and Bonnie’s house. Right now we walk in the general direction of the starting point until we abruptly cannot walk, because the street is completely clogged with people. Absolute gridlock. It’s the sort of thing that would usually make me claustrophobic, but this is where the miracle begins.
At one point, a young woman begins to hyperventilate and needs to get through, and the crowd immediately makes a path for her, like Moses parting the Red Sea, many looking on with maternal concern as she passes, offering water, asking if she needs anything. Four Vanderbilt coeds have driven through the night from Nashville to be there, one of them wheelchair-bound due to a broken foot; strangers form a barrier around them to give them a little extra space. In the course of the entire day, there will not be a single episode of violence.
But where is the march? We want to march, and we’ve come a long way to do so, and here we are just inching along or standing still, unable to reach the route! Suddenly we realize: we are the march. The original river has formed a hundred tributaries, the floodgates are open, and we are flowing. All of Washington, D.C. becomes a great, epic march.
Eventually we are marching alongside a small band called brick-by-brick, a public art performance group that builds human “walls” against misogyny. They are wearing brick-patterned jumpsuits, carrying signs in protest of actions that threaten civil and human rights, and making wonderful music. We march along singing “This Land is Your Land,” “Down By the Riverside,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” – traditional songs of protest, hope and yearning. The music really does it to me, along with the sight of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial in the distance, and the messages on the signs that people are carrying, some of them blunt, some witty, collectively a kind of poetry of the people. There is a feeling of extraordinary unity and unshakeable determination.
My eyes fill with tears. My heart fills with hope. Half a million people? A million? Who knows. We are everywhere. We are a harbor. We are the sea.