Women’s March on Washington: Intoxicating!
It was about 9:00 PM on November 8, 2016 when CNN’s Magic Wall was beginning to seem like the Wailing Wall. I went to bed with hopes that some miracle would happen over night to keep us from an impending nightmare. The morning brought no relief, just despair and anger towards who or what made this happen. But as the chant called out over and over at the Women’s March on Washington: “Show Me What Democracy Looks Like… This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” Even if we don’t like the outcome.
So what now? I wasn’t really going to Canada- I threatened that during Viet Nam as well. I began to hear about the Million Women March on Washington (the initial name for the march). It wasn’t being positioned as a protest, saying it would happen regardless of the outcome of the election. This was to be about women’s rights.
I thought back to other marches on Washington. On August 28, 1963 I was not quite seventeen years old. It’s hard to remember what I was thinking about in those days- I suspect nothing terribly profound. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held on that day. Two to three hundred thousand people heard the "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I look back with amazement at the image of the sea of humanity gathered between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. This event became the catalyst for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Very profound indeed.
Perhaps more profound is that over fifty years later we are still talking about discrimination. Is that because discrimination is woven into our DNA? The current political and societal climate just keeps pushing that same peddle: the top 1% vs. the bottom 99%, people of color vs. whites, immigrants vs. those who “belong” here, and the new targets: the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual), Muslims, and of course the dreaded left vs. right. It’s certainly not as bad as it could be and a lot has improved since 1963. Much of the country is open to people who are different and who want different things. But there are still those who would seek to block people from entry, expel those who don’t fit the mold, and take away people’s human rights. It reminds me of Einstein’s purported definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Oppressed people will take it only so long and then push back in protest. And that’s what we see today as exemplified by the Women’s March as well as the election of Donald J. Trump.
So, would the Women’s March on Washington have real impact or would it just be symbolic? I had no idea, but maybe I could find a story, and perhaps even a story within the story. On November 26th with tickets running out, I booked Amtrak, and I’m so glad I did. This march was intoxicating!
The week of January 16th, 2017 was an extraordinary time in the United States. We celebrated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 16th with a day of service and protest marches, inaugurated Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on January 20th, and witnessed the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st.
It’s a remarkable confluence of events, all made possible by the Constitution of the United States. How one feels about any or all of these events depends on who you are and what you believe. But the fact that all of this is possible is remarkable.
I went to the Philadelphia MLK D.A.R.E. (Day of Action, Resistance & Empowerment) March for a Better America. This was a protest against the lack of justice for people of color and the poor. I skipped watching the inauguration for the first time since that of President Kennedy. And I went to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March.
One of the messages that rang out at the MLK march was the notion that “everything is about me” and that we have to break that way of thinking. So despite my biases, I realized that I need to think about the supporters of the new administration. Can I open myself up to their point of view even if it’s antithetical to my own? And if I can, how different would the other view have to be before I would say “no” to any empathy. For example, I could never be open to bigotry or anyone’s justification. But if I can't budge at all in our political climate, then I’m doomed to live a divided life- like our government has been in recent years. If only we could find some common ground in the United States that everyone could agree on as core principles. To get there, we have to listen generously to others. That would at least be a starting point and maybe we could drink a beer together. If not, Einstein’s quote will remain the law of the land.
As I boarded the train for Washington I tried to clear my mind of all this chatter and of my bias so that I could be truly open at the march. My goal was to capture this event through pictures and words, and then present it in a photo essay.
Note: Some of the imagery and language used at the march and presented in this photo essay may be offensive to some readers.
I can only describe the crowd as crushing. I spent much of the time in a very small space unable to move. Marchers would call out the latest estimates of size from news reports: “Half million.”; “Biggest march on Washington ever.”; “It’s happening all over the world- there’s even a demonstration in China.”… Clearly none of these metrics came from the Administration!
The following pictures show what the crowd looked like to me from ground level. Areal views from others show the real magnitude.
I arrived on a train from New York to Washington. It was totally packed with marchers as can be seen upon arrival at Union Station (10:00 AM).
Pushing for the exit in a sea of pink.
Rushing towards the Capitol.
The massive convergence began at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. (10:40 AM)
Arrival near the National Museum of the American Indian for the rally. It was like being in a river. I could only go with the current. (11:00 AM)
I made it as far as the side of the museum and then the crowd ground to a halt. This is where I stayed for three hours until 2:00 PM. We were too far away from the speakers to hear anything. Occasionally there was spontaneous cheering but it didn't seem to be about anything in particular. At one point a group moved towards us from the opposite direction saying that the march was cancelled because the route was totally filled. That apparently was not correct- there was a march that ended at the White House, though I never got there. I spent my time talking to people around me: “What brought you here today?”
Finally there was movement in the crowd which released a mad dash to the Porta Potties of which there were too few- this was a women’s march! The long line gave me more time to talk to people.
I made my way to 4th Avenue to watch the march. This line of people had no end in sight. (2:45 PM)
Facing West towards the Washington Monument.
Facing East towards the Capitol: This Is What Democracy Looks Like!
Finally heading back to Union Station after a long, amazing and intoxicating day. (5:00 PM)
Signs of the Times
The best gauge of the mood and purpose of the march were the signs people carried. I’ve segmented these into four categories:
- Women’s Rights/Reproductive Rights- the main theme
- General Human Rights
- Pussy Power
- Everything Trump
To get into the spirit of the march, sing these chants that played constantly in the crowd:
- Show Me What Democracy Looks Like... This Is What Democracy Looks Like.
- Hey Hey, Ho Ho… Donald Trump Has Got To Go.
- No Hate, No Fear… Immigrants Are Welcome Here.
- Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay… Donald Trump Go Away.
- We Want A Good Leader… Not A Creepy Tweeter.
- If We Don't Get Justice... You Won't Get Peace.
- Respect Existence… Or Expect Resistance. (a real tongue twister)
Women’s Rights/Reproductive Rights
I am woman, hear me roar. The women at this march gave a clear message: see me, hear me, respect me, value me, support me, protect me, pay me…. but don’t mess with me.
Feminism is not a dirty word for women.
Or even for a man who is taller than the Washington Monument.
This message is clear in English.
And in any language.
Stop the war on women- protect and defend them.
My body is mine.
A message to those men who don’t get it.
It’s simple- Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
And one more thing.
General Human Rights
A wide range of human rights were on the mind’s of marchers:
- Right to Dignity and Respect for Everyone
- Voting Rights
- LGBTQIA Rights
- Right to Education
- Immigrant's Rights
- Right to a Safe Environment
- Right to Healthcare
- Right to Equal Pay
Human rights cannot coexist with discrimination.
The celebration that might have been.
Aretha Franklin was there, at least in the word she made famous: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
This is the real power, unless we get hacked.
Perhaps all the best efforts just get sucked into one of Einstein’s black holes of insanity.
Powerful women start young.
And grow with the dream of doing powerful things.
There’s no question that Donald Trump will be a consequential president, whether for the good or the bad. He proved his ability to bring about change by transforming a word so reviled by women into a movement and a badge of honor- Pussy Power. Pussyhats were everywhere. If the march were to be defined by a single color, it would most certainly be pink.
United they were.
She wore the badge of honor.
Let’s not forget who is the king, or maybe the queen, of the jungle.
Be careful what you grab.
You might just get grabbed back.
Most men don’t spend time in Trump’s locker room.
Real men are on the women’s team.
The early statements about the march were that this was not meant as a protest against the president. But from my vantage point, Trump repudiation was pervasive. There were signs, jokes, and chants. At a deeper lever, people seemed frightened about what might happen to the country and the world over the next four years and beyond. Many people said they wouldn’t have attended if Hillary had won the election, or they might have come for a celebration.
Some of the following signs are aimed directly at Trump the man, while others are about the his positions and allies.
“He's a traitor- my worst nightmare has been put in office. I thought we were going to become socialist. I never expected that we would become a fascist society.”
OOPS… like it or not, the election of Donald Trump IS what democracy looks like.
Does she look happy to you?
Beautiful young man speaks out against xenophobia.
It was heartening to see the number of marchers who surrounded these two people.
Fear has taken over reason.
The new Cabinet didn't escape scrutiny.
And neither did the war on the environment.
From Russia with LOVE.
No large event would be complete without Porta Potties. Our president is Donald John Trump and the facilities were provided by Don’s Johns!
Bikers for Trump- The Story Within the Story
Late in the afternoon as I walked around looking for something different, I spotted a man holding a Trump/Pence sign. That seemed a bit risky in this crowd. But he wasn’t alone. A few hundred feet behind him was a large banner: “Bikers for Trump”. I wasn’t sure if that was a safe place to go, but I had to see what was going on.
This became, at least for me, the most amazing part of the day. Quite simply, both the Trump and anti-Trump factions came together in very close quarters showing their signs and nothing untoward happened. While I read that at other times there was tension, that’s not what I saw. That this peaceful coexistence could happen at all in the midst of a such anti-Trump sentiment was quite amazing and encouraging. And that is the story within the story.
Bikers for Trump had their own stage. There were perhaps twenty Bikers. Much of this crowd were marchers. Unfortunately the Bikers were playing such loud music that it was impossible for people to communicate.
Occasionally the Bikers went to the stage to show their signs. There were no speeches while I was there. Based on news coverage, the second man from the left is Chris Cox, Bikers for Trump founder and leader.
Bikers mingled with the crowd holding their signs.
Including- Women for TRUMP.
On an opposite stage were some very serious protesters.
But the mood was light and marchers seemed to enjoy taking pictures of the Bikers.
And the Bikers were happy to oblige.
Competitive signs moved into the same space.
No holding back.
When it seemed like it might be getting heated, a marcher and a Biker stood shoulder to shoulder, both happy to be in the same photo.
At that moment, a Biker came to the stage: “Peaceful- that's what we want!!”
Then there seemed to be trouble brewing between the man wearing the Confederate Flag hat and the marchers.
But within seconds the crowd dispersed and this man was just focused on his phone. What a relief.
Like any large event, what’s left after the crowds leave is trash, and this march was no exception. But the trash sculptures at the march were different. Along with the discards, every trash can had its share of signs whose time had come to an end.
While carried proudly just hours before, this protest was now covered with footprints.
It made me wonder if this was just a one day event, or was something more going to follow, whether about women’s rights or about anti-Trump, or both.
While it will take time to answer the question, perhaps the words of marchers will give an indication of their commitment. I simply asked: “What brought you here today?” Here are examples of what people said:
- I just can't believe this country elected somebody who is so negative.
- We spent $1000 getting here. That's how important this is. We just had to so do something.
- We want to put the new administration on notice that we will not allow social advances to be reversed, and that we march in solidarity with women, minorities, and those whose lives have been marginalized… We are watching.
- I’m concerned about my daughter’s reproductive rights. My son is gay and I’m concerned about him. I hate that Trump is against all other religions, is a sexist and a misogynist. I never marched for anything before.
- For our group this is a positive thing, not a protest. We’re all for inclusion in the world.
- I'm worried about the proposed secretary Secretary of Education who wants to bring guns into school just in case some grizzly bears get inside.
- I'm very concerned about Planned Parenthood. If Hillary had won this would've been a celebration.
- I'm afraid of fascism.
- I'm afraid we're going to lose our healthcare.
- What made this day great is that there were so many people representing different human rights. The global solidarity is unprecedented.
- I don't understand people who support Trump. But I do understand that when you don't have a job, that's all that matters.
- We can't just walk away from this… We have to act.
Perhaps it’s the unifying themes of this march will keep the momentum going. I heard three:
- Just being there, to be part of the movement, to let our voices be heard.
- Loss of human rights that we hold dear.
- Our disdain for Donald Trump.
The Women’s March on Washington was intoxicating. I was among hundreds of thousands of people who think just like I do. I could strike up a conversation with just about anyone and find we were perfectly in sync. No stress at all, just kumbaya! Like with any drug, being intoxicated keeps people from seeing reality. Yes there were hundreds of thousands of people in Washington and hundreds of thousands of people in other parts of the country and around the world. But there is a larger reality. On November 8th, 2016, almost 130,000,000 people voted for president, with just less than half voting for Donald Trump. His support was in full view of his persona and promises for the future of the United States and the world. And unless these supporters have changed their minds as of the march, there are still massive numbers of people who support the views of the new president and the Republican dominated congress. Most of the rights focused on at the march are under siege by this group.
The small presence of the Bikers for Trump was a reminder that must not be overlooked. Not everyone thinks the same. Every group values their human rights as they see them, and every person has one vote that must be respected. Overlooking this keeps us at odds and prevents healthy dialog. People’s needs aren't heard and we keep repeating the process (remember Einstein’s quote). Elections become protests with the result resembling a pendulum at the extreme of its swing. Just look at the last four presidential cycles: Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump. The Tea Party was the vanguard of things to come. Many people didn't listen. Some may have thought if we ignore them, they will go away… but they didn’t.
Consider trying a different approach. Reach out to people who think differently and listen generously to their views, and hopefully they will listen generously to your views. Look for any areas of agreement that might keep the conversation going, and have a beer together.
This marcher’s “ululation” was a call that could be heard for miles. Her sign reads: “Hand In Hand, United We Stand.” Hopefully she means everyone.
And one more pink thing…
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Published January 28, 2017