As the plans for the Women’s March on Washington began to coalesce shortly after the election, I kept the whole thing at arm’s length: It’s a huge diversion of energy from the work we have to do. Let’s wait till he does something really outrageous. Oh god, one more thing for feminists and progressives to trash each other about.
And, of course, “been there, done that.” I lived in DC during some of the biggest antiwar marches of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I marched, I marshalled, and/or I was involved in housing and feeding demonstrators coming into town from elsewhere. I marched for the ERA in 1978 and for gay and lesbian rights in 1979. I think my most recent big march was the 1993 national march for lesbian and gay rights. It was huge. I was living on Martha’s Vineyard by then, so this was one of the few mass demonstrations that I had to travel to.
The following weeks kindled my enthusiasm. The Trump administration was shaping up to be every bit as bad as we’d imagined, and in some ways we hadn’t considered. Planning for the D.C. march metastasized into planning for marches and actions across the country and around the world.
Maybe most decisive, in mid-November I attended “We Stand Together / Estamos Juntos,” a rally in Waban Park. Trump’s election, it turned out, had catalyzed an organizing effort right here on Martha’s Vineyard, and it was already having practical results. This was new. And like the prayer vigil I attended in July and the march in support of Black Lives Matter that followed a few days later, it drew in people who hadn’t been publicly involved before, or not for a long time.
I remembered being an 18-year-old college freshman, standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, on November 15, 1969, with my yellow marshal’s armband on, watching a million people come pouring down the avenue from the Capitol, heading for the White House. It took my breath away the way the ocean takes my breath away. This is what “we the people” looks like.
So almost against my will, the determination, the optimism, sucked me further and further in. I followed the emerging plans for a march in Boston. The logistics of getting to Washington were too daunting. Boston could be done in a day. Travvy could stay home alone. On Thursday my neighbor gave me my very own pussyhat. She and her two daughters were leaving for D.C. in the morning.
So yesterday morning I got up at 5. Trav and I went for our usual walk, but in the total pitch-dark. When he started pulling at the leash on the bike path, I hoped there wasn’t a skunk up ahead: If you get skunked, I thought, you’re going to stink all day, but if I get skunked I can’t go to the march.
Neither of us got skunked. I did realize that I need a stronger flashlight.
About 6:40 am, I parked Malvina Forester on Spring Street. Walking down to the ferry terminal I saw several telltale bumper stickers. I wondered if they were going to the march.
Several people waiting in line for boat tickets had signs leaning against their legs and buttons on their jackets. I saw several people I knew.
The 7 am boat was packed with people I knew. So was the 8:05 bus, for which I was very happy to have made a reservation.
I didn’t have a reservation for the march itself, however. Participants were urged to register to help organizers estimate the turnout. I tried, but the process was at least as cumbersome as buying something online and it wasn’t required so I bailed. Besides, the idea of registering for a demonstration stuck in my old-school craw.
Whatever the reason, loads of people didn’t register. Everywhere the turnout seems to have far, far exceeded expectations. DailyKos is keeping track of the numbers as they come in. As I write, the estimate stands around 3.5 million worldwide. Check it out, and notice the incredible range of places where marches and demonstrations took place.
Last I looked, the Boston estimate was 175,000. I believe it. Boston Common wasn’t quite wall-to-wall people, but it came pretty close. It took so long for the throngs to funnel into the beginning of the march route that many of us — including the group I was with — never actually marched. Go online and check out the photos from the various demos. Read some of the signs. The whole thing is amazing.
Neither my digital camera nor my Flip camcorder was working, sad to say. They both got dunked in overflow water from a potted plant. The Flip has recovered. The camera is showing some signs of life but isn’t working yet.
Well, the upshot is that I came home exhilarated and, believe it or not, hopeful about the years to come. Much of my pessimism about the just-commenced Reign of Trump stems from my deep-seated fears that “the left” — basically anyone who’s disgusted by what the Republicans have become in the last three decades — will not be able to get it together to mitigate and undo the damage done and to start moving forward again. So why am I more optimistic now?
- The Women’s March on Everywhere was a huge undertaking. It came together in a relatively short period of time: barely two months. This was the result of goddamn hard work from the bottom up and the top down. Everything from getting permits to organizing buses and mounting and updating websites to keep people informed. Many people were doing this work for the first time, learning by the seat of their pants, working with people they’d never worked with before. This bodes very well for the future.
- The Boston march was more multi-generational than anything I’ve been to before. Stories got shared, of organizing and activism across movements and decades. People of all ages were going to their very first demo. The first one is usually the scariest. When you don’t know what to expect, the what-ifs can be overwhelming. If you’ve done it once, it’s easier to do it again.
- Seeing each other in person, in the flesh, is as exhilarating as it was when 18-year-old me watched all that humanity pouring down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1969. Social media and online communication are wonderful, but there’s nothing like being physically present to each other. One thing I loved: We were pressed shoulder to shoulder all over Boston Common, but when people had to get through, as they often did, the crowd made way, sort of like the Red Sea.
- This is what democracy looks like. #StrongerTogether. Watching the Trump administration roll into office, acting as if it had a real mandate for its terrible agenda, has made me fear that maybe they do have a mandate for their terrible agenda. Now I know in my heart that they don’t.
I’ve been hearing a lot of gloom-and-doomery lately, mostly from white guys. “Democracy is dead” they cry at every outrageous act of the Trump transition team, the Trump administration, and the congressional GOP. “Only if they get away with it,” I’ve been saying, secretly fearing that they will get away with it because we can’t muster the will and the strength to stop them. Now I know better.
Yes we can.