Lessons Learned As I Cross the Sea

January 21, 2017 THE WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON

 

My favorite sign of the entire march. Reads, “Please be nice.”

 

Unlike the Aral, Black, or Caspian, I landed upon this particular sea at Independence Avenue and 4th Street (SW) shortly after I got off the DC Metro at  the Federal Triangle station.

A sea of bodies, people packed together, so tightly.  There were, of course, all the expected comparisons made to a can of sardines.  A very large can of sardines.

 

This video from ABC News gives as good a sense of it as any I’ve found.

 

 

 

The ABC television video posted to Facebook.

STAGE ONE: THE APPROACH

On Friday, heading south from Vermont down the New Jersey Turnpike, Kim (Crady-Smith, owner of my local independent bookstore, Green Mountain Books, which you can read about right here!) and I got a hint of just how big this march was to be. Vermont-licensed cars honked as they passed (or more likely, we passed them).  And pink hats were everywhere.

 

The photo above was taken at the Molly Pitcher rest stop.  That’s Kim peeking out from behind this group, sans cap. The feeling was one of high spirits, adventure. Btw, Kim is now also the proud owner of the Grindstone Cafe. (Let’s give her two websites a little traffic.)

 

STAGE TWO: STILL APPROACHING, ON THE DAY

The next hint of the enormous scope of this Women’s March came as my colleague and long time friend, Vivian Sisskin, and I stepped out of our (and my very first) Uber ride.  (How strange for me to not give the driver any money!)

Giving equal time, here’s Vivian’s website, the Sisskin Stuttering Center. Vivian is, as you might imagine, one of the better SLPs out there. Otherwise I’d not hang out with her.

It would take us over half an hour just to get our SmartTrip cards for our (what is usually) 40-minute ride into DC.  Again, the crowds were jovial.

 

 

But this time, I’ll add, they were patiently determined.

We were all on the same mission: to get to the March and be counted. Be heard. Be seen.

 

 

SmartCards secured, we headed to the platform to board our train.

Our Mission Changes

By this time, about an hour and a half after my last cup of morning tea, nature begins to do what she does best: call attention to herself.  Still, it was a somewhat quiet, soft voice in the background of my awareness. I noticed the Toilet signs just as the loud speaker called that our train was coming in.

“There’s a restroom at L’Enfant Plaza, where we’re getting off,” Vivian informed me.   Good enough.

We were among the first to board, and Vivian steered us quickly to seats at the rear of the car, behind a glass partition; it’d be easy to talk here during our 40-minute ride to DC, which was particularly nice as the crowd grew with each succeeding stop.

Somewhere during the ride, I noticed how “heavy” the air seemed. So many of us exhaling; I wondered how tightly the car was built to keep out the fumes of the motors — it was also keeping in the exhaled carbon dioxide.  I said nothing, for none of us could do a thing about it.

The train stopped often, sometimes inside dark tunnels, sometimes at a station platform, but the doors did not open.  Vivian and I kept talking, a great distraction.

Finally, the train pulled slowly into the L’Enfant plaza station, and continued to roll right on through.

“Too many people,” the conductor announced. “The police told me to keep moving.”

Nature was now calling a bit more loudly, determinedly.  Sitting helped.

At Federal Triangle, where we finally got off, I found no easy-to-access toilets. Up we went to the outside.

 

 

Our mission now became one of finding a toilet; the March would have to wait! 

Banks of Porto-potties lined a few intersections in the Federal Triangle area, but each one had a four-abreast line at least a block long.

“The Air and Space Museum has toilets. Let’s go there.”  I followed Vivian into the crowd, hands clasped together, toward the promised toilets.  I could see the building, just across Independence Avenue, just across the sea of people.

Some called us “swimming up stream,” but this stream was as wide as it was long. It wasn’t like we could just go off to the edge and be free (or would that be “pee free?”).  This sea soon engulfed us on all sides.

Look again at that ABC video above. Here’s it is.  

The speeches were piped over loud speakers and the crowds were listening, attentively — the crowds we’d need to get through, the sea we’d need to part as we sought “relief.”

We pushed through a very diverse collection of young and old, fat and skinny, black and white, male and female, standing and sitting (wheel chairs were common), attentive and not.

I passed a young woman with half her head shaved, “Hands off my body” written onto her scalp.  And I passed establishment-coifed matrons who looked like they’d probably had their nails done before they came to the March. I didn’t stop to take a picture.

I called out, “Coming through.”  “Excuse me.” “So sorry.”  “We’re on a potty mission.”  At one point I asked, “Who’s talking,” and heard back “Janet Mock.”  And, just as it did descending Camel’s Hump so long ago (see my series, beginning with Lesson #1, here) the metaphors were ripe for the picking.

And so, without further ado, here are the Six Lessons I learned about resistance while forging a path through this sea of bodies.

Lesson #1. Physical needs trump cognitive needs. Always. 

The speakers’ words coming through the loud speakers held no appeal. I could focus only on one thing and, in that moment, it was definitely not what these people were saying. Words quickly became background noise.

The metaphor stung me. How much energy have I used in tossing words at people whose physical/survival needs demanded attention first?

They are afraid. I still believe that. They want to arm themselves, take Trump at his word, vote for the “Make America Great Again” candidate, or just believe in something easy to grasp  — all in the hope that it will protect them, make them safe. For those who are in survival mode, mere words will never get through.

I am reminded of what my friend Shirley Showalter posted to her Facebook page, shortly before she left for Washington:

…all people are capable of change when they truly see Love in action. Love that is willing to die but not to kill is the strongest force in the universe. It will trump hate — but only when we who believe have courage.

Lesson #2: It is easier to move through a wall of resistance when it is facing you than when it is going in the same direction.

When the people were standing still, focused (in this case) on the speakers, I could easily look out ahead, find the “vulnerable spots,” and quickly decide how best to maneuver. And the people seemed genuinely accepting of the fact that for the moment, they’d have to step aside.

Again, to face an “enemy” of whatever ilk face-to-face is to know better where we are, what’s up ahead.

Lesson #3: It is much harder to forge ahead when the current is going in the same direction. 

At least it is when the current is filled with like-minded people. When we’re all in the same boat, it’s easier to go along, ride the wave (slow as it may be) than to push ahead, not certain what the hold-up might be.

Lesson #4: Success breeds success.

Unbeknownst to me, Vivian (whose hand I had been holding since the start) was now connected to two more sets of hands. We’d been spotted as successfully parting the sea and two more women, on the same mission, grabbed ahold.

That sense of togetherness bred a sense of HOPE. Together, read many signs; one, I now recall, was written To Get Her. As Woody and I declared as we ended our wedding vows: Together  can do what we cannot do alone.

 

Here we all our, the “After” photo.

Lesson #5: Common goals help bind us together. 

Two women, from Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) as it turned out, were great fun to meet. I wish now that we’d stayed together.  One was Celeste. But no last name.  Are you there, Celeste? I can’t recall the other, but I gave them one of my business cards. Authors do that, you know.

Lesson #6: Achieving a goal brings an enormous sense of relief. 

The photo I posted to Facebook with the words, “We finally found the Porto potties. How happy we are.”

 

STAGE THREE: The March Stroll on Washington DC

Finally, we could attend to what we came to do: March.

It was now after noon. The  March would start in less than an hour.  We were on the back side of the Air and Space Museum (We never did get in.) facing the Mall.  While there were still many people, it was now a crowd we could walk easily through.  We could breath again. We took a few pictures.

 

Our selfie with the Capitol in the background.

 

Our selfie with the obelisk far in the distance, the top hidden behind clouds.

We began to work our way toward the Washington Monument, for that was the direction we knew the March would eventually take.  By now it was nearly one o’clock, the scheduled time for the March to begin.

Large swarms of people, carrying signs, were walking together in that roadway that runs on the north side of the Mall, in front of all the Museums. Sliding together is more descriptive. Strolling along the Avenue. It was a glorious day.

 

 

We joined them, the March on Washington feeling more like the Stroll on Washington. 

I took these photos near Constitution Avenue, where our own personal March had formed.

And the signs!  So many; so creative.

 

Yup, that is just what it looks like.
This is the back side of the same sign. “I’m not ovary-acting!” it reads.

 

I had thought to make a sign and hold it high but poles weren’t allowed and I couldn’t imagine me holding one aloft for an entire day.  My sign would have read

POWER IS NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME

Perhaps someday, I’ll write more about that.

 

I snapped photos of signs that worked better as a photo.

 

 

“Are you a journalist?” Someone marching behind me asked. “I don’t get paid for it, but yes.”  And that’s how I felt. A bit detached from the fervor, observing, understanding, empathizing even. But not able to chant.  Not taking on the “true believer” role that the younger folk had.

 

Most of these signs were just that: signs held in the hands.  Some on large poster board, others on a sheet of copy paper.  AND SOME were held high using those cardboard rolls that wrapping paper comes on.  Now, that was creative.

Here are the signs that made it into my notebook.

[learn_more caption=”Some were directed at the new administration”]

I will not calm down

Show us your taxes

Show us your tax returns

Keep your tiny hands off my ….

… rights

… underpants

… body

… health care

We are watching You and We Vote.

Congress. Ignore us at your peril.

Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.

Not in my locker room[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=”But most of the ones I saw, were directed at fellow marchers; reminders:”]

Make America Think Again

Make America Fair Again

We are All Immigrants

America  need a president who leads, not a billionaire who tweets.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Be Vigilant but Not Afraid

Don’t Panic, breath

Don’t Panic, take action

Don’t Panic, contact your legislator

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds

And then they came for me . . .

Beware the horse Trump rode in on. (With a photo of bare chested Putin and Trump together on horseback).

Action Trumps Fear

Girls Just Wanna have fundamental human rights

I’m with her — (with arrows pointing out in a circle)

No woman left behind

Trust Black Women. Which side are you on?  (Held high by a white woman)

LGBTQIA+

Do NOT act like this is normal.

Nasty Women Make History

I march for my rights … And yours

[/learn_more] [learn_more caption=”And then there were the chants”]

Not the Church Not the State; A Woman should Decide her fate

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho. Baby hands has got to go

Love, not hate, will make America great.

[/learn_more]

A sense of joviality pervaded the crowd.

At one point, I noticed folks had bunched up around a pile of manure left over from the parade. As I got closer, I saw that someone had posted a tiny sign in the middle of it: “product of Fox news.”  I didn’t stop for a photo. But could smile with the rest of them.

This was an amazing day, from so many perspectives.

Later, I’d listen to the speeches I’d missed and to the NPR report about the  “Pro-Life” signs marching alongside the “Reproductive Rights” signs, with the women in each group chatting together amicably, united more by their shared concerns than by their differences.

By mid-day when we realized just how peaceful this rally was, I felt an audible sigh of collective relief.  I had left my wedding rings home and had packed my little fanny pack with “essentials” in case I’d be arrested. (I know; arrested, I’d not have access to the little 1.2 oz travel-size moisturizing cream or toner.)  If nothing else, it gave Vivian a good laugh.

We got to the Washington Monument and waited for the “official” March to catch up to us, then we cut across the Washington Monument hill, up the Ellipse to the White House, and on up to Pennsylvania Avenue and 19th Street where we caught my second Uber ride of my life and headed off to Georgetown for dinner and my first chance to sit down since getting off the Metro some six hours earlier.

How about you? How did you spend Saturday? All points of view are welcome here; I ask only that there be no name-calling, no blaming or pointing fingers. We speak here from our own experience. 

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February 8: My first guest post for the new year.

6 Responses

  1. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Thank you, Janet, for your detailed description of your day at the March on Washington. My experiences in Philadelphia were similar, though on a smaller scale (and without the urgent potty search–though something we had all feared).
    Reading the signs–both there and here on your post–was one of the best things, along with the sense of solidarity and hope. We strolled, too, and everyone was friendly.
    Yesterday, I saw a comment on FB where a young woman said she did not support the women who marched–and she was “ashamed” of them.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I was struck at the march by how creative folks can be. Helps to keep me hopeful. Thanks for tuning in.

  2. Shirley Showalter
    | Reply

    Janet, Thanks for posting your link on my reflections written yesterday. This post is so full of wisdom, humor, the ability to hold it, and the ability to let it fly. 🙂

    I love how you have already found ways to extract principles from the march.

    I think your first one that physical needs trump cognitive needs is the one I will ponder today. I have been toying with the famous Mazlow hierarchy of needs diagram as I teach my class on vocation, and this principle is at the heart of it.

    Thanks. Love your valiant spirit.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Shirley, Thank you for popping over. I was so grateful to have that quote from your facebook page, “Love that is willing to die but not to kill is the strongest force in the universe. It will trump hate — but only when we who believe have courage.” Beautifully expressed. I’m actually quite an accomplished thief of well-written prose. I pride myself. 🙂 For those few here who might not know your blog, here’s the link:
      http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/grandma-power-why-i-marched/

  3. Sharon Lippincott
    | Reply

    Love the lessons. Your perceptions are spot on, as usual.

    I did march in Austin, along with at least 40,000 others ─ twice the expected turnout. We had idyllic weather, and like your walk, ours was a stroll. I did have the foresight to drink only enough morning fluids to remain marginally hydrated, realizing toilets would be hard to find. Had I been in DC, I would have Depended, just in case.

    Perhaps our crowd was a bit less tightly packed, as three of us were able to fairly easily move through it in any direction, but I was in a crowd such as yours in Brasov, Romania last summer at their Oktoberfest. We did maintain physical contact to avoid separation.

    I’m stoked to have marched here along with nearly 4 million other Americans, 1% of our population. Wow. Yowzah. Yee Ha!

    Now to keep the faith and keep the pressure on in tangible ways. Write on ─ to legislators. Even those like Ted Cruz who have called police to evict constituents from his office building.

  4. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hi Sharon, one of the unexpected joys of this March is the knowledge that so many others — over 600 at last count — were going on all over the world. I find so much hope in that, as long as we can maintain it. How easy it is to fall into despair.

    As for your Dependable comments, well, Dependability only last so long, you know; it too has its limits. But I am Poised for future marches, I assure you.

    (My favorite sign: Where shall we meet tomorrow?”)

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