January 21, 2017 THE WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ….
… 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
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)
Do NOT act like this is normal.
Nasty Women Make History
I march for my rights … And yours
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.
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.
February 1: My Proposed Mission Statement. Learn what the future holds for And So It Goes.
February 8: My first guest post for the new year.