Some of my favorite signs from the Women’s March.
(The bulk of this post was written at the end of January, but my anxiety and ennui grabbed me by the throat before I was able to finish up the fine details like street names. Please to forgive any weird verb tense mismatches.)
We went to the Women’s March in D.C. It was my first time ever in the capital city of my country. I wish we could have met under better circumstances.
The charter bus we were on was started by a knitter in Cannon Falls. I talked Kadi and Teresa into going, and Michael was in. Another knitter dropped off a pile of Pussyhats since she couldn’t take the trip. We caught the bus in Cannon Falls at 12:30 on Friday and drove straight through the night (with bathroom breaks).
There were fifty passengers on the bus and Michael was one of only two guys. At least half the passengers were women over fifty. It was a quiet but friendly energy. There was less chatter on the bus than I had expected. I’d forgotten to factor in the general Minnesotan reticence, as well as Bus Malaise – a nineteen hour bus ride is no joke, you guys. The whole thing started to feel unreal around hour four. By midnight we were all just powered by a beautiful quiet rage, and it carried us through.
Some of us had ordered Metro cards before the deadline, but they didn’t arrive in time, so we had to get in line to buy cards at the Metro. Our bus parked at the Shady Grove stop, thinking that as the first stop, lines might be shorter. We had to wait two hours in line there, but we had a good time with each other. (We learned that the line there got up to four hours long, later in the day). We passed out all of the extra Pussy Hats within ten minutes, a friendly woman from Islamic Relief USA was offering water bottles, and we started getting a look at some of the great signs people were carrying.
None of the police we interacted with were disrespectful. None were especially friendly, but I suspect facing crowds of our size would heighten the stress level of even he most experienced officers.
I’d say one in eight marchers were wearing Pussyhats.
Michael dealt with the card machine for us, and then we piled on a crowded train car – you can just append the adjective “crowded” to everything for the next twenty hours. Michael was chatting with some people from our bus and they decided to follow his alternate route to get to the march. He’s good at alternate routes (and just bravely trying things in general). We all left the Red line at Metro Center and moved to the Blue, intending to disembark at L’Enfant. We had to wait for a second train there and cramming onto it was super stressful – our group got separated a bit so we were calling out to each other to confirm our next stop. At which point, DC’s reputation for consideration of tourists proved true.
Michael confirmed that we’d be getting off at L’Enfant, and there was a beat of quiet, then, “Just so you know…” A dapper young man (who was on the train with his older mother) informed us that, contrary to the information Michael got from a cop on the platform, L’Enfant station was closed. (We found out later it was closed because of the crowd – there was just no space for human bodies to get off the train.) He told us where he was getting off and Michael was able to refigure our destination on the fly. (I highly recommend his services as travel companion, but only if I get to come, too.)
We resurfaced at Smithsonian station, seven blocks from the “main stage” of the protest. It was madness. It looked like we were already in the middle of a march. With our game faces on, we headed in the direction of 3rd & Independence, but we were quickly stopped by a solid wall of humanity. We couldn’t even get within three blocks of the starting point. We aimed in another direction, intending to try and pick up the route a few blocks from the start. Almost immediately, we were stuck in another mass of citizens, but this one was at least moving in a direction. Soon there was a convergence and we were on the route proper. There were so many of us, it wasn’t a march but a fierce ooze in the direction of the Ellipse.
I saw the Washington Monument, and eventually a bit of the White House, but I don’t have a real sense of D.C. at all. It’s hard to observe a space when you can only see two feet in any direction. What I *could* see was thousands of people who have been shocked out of complacency, an infinite variety of humans who are finally Paying Attention. So many clever signs, so many of us standing firm in our rights to have our voices heard. Random chants springing up over and over. Two of my favorites: Near 14th and Madison, call and response, men and women, “HER BODY, HER CHOICE” “MY BODY MY CHOICE” – deeper voices balancing the higher, supporting each other. Then later, near 15th and Pennsylvania, someone started calling out “Show me what democracy looks like” “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE…” That was the one that gave me chills. I’m not a public chanter, it always takes me so long to push through the anxiety that by the time I jump in everyone is already done. But THAT ONE had me shouting at the top of my lungs. Because in the dark, scary part of my soul, where I’m afraid that there’s nothing we can really do and this is the beginning of the dystopian future, from that rotten part of me, my real reason for being at this march is so that three hundred years from now, when humanity is rebuilding itself, there will be pictures, there will be proof that we tried. We didn’t stand by silently. We may have failed, but they had to drag us down kicking and screaming.
I think it took us two and a half, maybe three hours to make it the mile from 12th & Jefferson to the Ellipse. We didn’t have time for any sightseeing, but I’m glad of that, really. I’m not feeling the most patriotic at the moment, and I don’t want to have Trump behind my eyes while I’m trying to admire the MLK Memorial. Standing on the lawn in front of the White House, after the main part of the march, we were discussing where to go next. There was maybe time to stick our heads in one museum, but I voted no. I wanted this visit to be just what it was. No recreation, just shouting.
From the Ellipse to the Metro Center station took another hour and a half or so. Turning from 15th onto F, we heard the first police sirens, and came face to face with some counter protestors, on an illegal float in the middle of the street. There was no actual violence, but the air was thick with anger and fear. The latter was not helped by the police cruisers who pulled onto the street and started using their sirens as crowd control weapons. The pulsing shock waves bounced back and forth between the high buildings and I can still feel my blood pressure climbing as I think of it three and a half months later. Michael was our Fezzik again as we all grabbed hands and slithered between people and buildings and away, away, away — I am not brave. I should not be your choice of companion in an actual conflict, as clearly I will fold like a paper fan.
I do owe my brain a debt of gratitude however, for preserving me one final shining memory in the midst of that shock and paralysis. I threw a glance over my shoulder, down 12th Street as we crossed, and there were just. So. Many. People. A haze of pink over a dense profusion of human beings literally as far as my eyes could see. We tried, we tried, we’re trying.
I definitely touched more strangers on Saturday than I did in all of 2016. Getting back on the train was terrifying. The crowd was seven layers deep on the platform. We didn’t even try to get on the first train that came up, but when the second arrived, we waded into the fray. The four of us were holding on to each other and I assumed we’d get closer to the front and then wait for a third train to come by, but the crowd started pushing and control was lost. I have a visceral understanding now of how people get crushed to death. Michael had to shout at one point to slow the push. It was enough to keep us alive, and we got squeezed into the train car. Once inside I couldn’t reach any handholds, but we were so crushed up against each other there was no real danger of falling. One hand on the ceiling, the other gripping Michael’s pants, the four of us holding each other up, laughing with exhaustion every time the momentum pushed us into strangers as well as each other.
From there it was a fairly unremarkable trip home, familiar to anyone who has ever gone on a high school band trip. I enjoyed the company, helped Kadi with her knitting, slept and read and ate too many doughnuts. I’m glad I went. If nothing else, it was good practice for future marching, a good example to everyone that we can get out there and make ourselves annoying. Annoying the forces of evil is a good start, at least.
I marched in D.C. so my nieces and other girls like them can see that there is a critical mass of support for their rights and their health care. I marched so people who don’t feel safe to get out there themselves can see that there are thousands of people who are willing to fight for their safety. I marched so that future generations can see, no matter what happens next, even if we were too late – we stood up and we fought.