The day before the Inauguration, I went to the Newseum in Washington, DC., the dynamic interactive museum about the history of news including the printing press that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence after the hand-written original was signed. Among others, it has a fabulous exhibit about the Civil Rights Movement. Widely displayed are photos and news clippings from the 1965 March on Selma, which featured the brutal beating of John Lewis. Lewis almost lost his life that day when a police baton cracked his skull. As I stood there looking at the photos, I felt a sense of vertigo and dread.
At the same moment that I was reading about Bloody Sunday, Donald Trump was tweeting about how the esteemed Congressman, John Lewis, was “all talk talk talk and no action.” John Lewis, who had been fighting for human rights for over 50 years. Lewis had said he could not acknowledge Donald Trump as a legitimate President and Trump was furiously responding to Lewis’s disavowal of him with tweets. My heart dropped at the insanity of the fact that this man, who disparages the heroes of US history was about to become President the next day.
Luckily, two days later was the Women’s March on Washington. As my daughter Heather, granddaughter Ella, and partner Bill waited at the Metro station in Bethseda to travel to DC, I was enthralled by the number, spirit and diversity of my fellow travelers. Many wearing pink pussy hats knitted by friends and family. They came from all over the country and Canada: Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Boston, Maine, Philadelphia, Indiana, Texas, Vancouver. Next to me on the packed train was a young woman from Mt. Holyoke who had made buttons for sale for the march: “I’m with Her”, “Keep your Tiny Hands Off my Rights”, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and many more. With her mother, sister and stepfather, she was crammed in with the rest of us.
When we got off the train there were thousands of men and women carrying hand-made signs of all shapes and sizes: “Keep your Rosaries off my Ovaries;” “This Pussy Grabs Back”; “Keep Abortion Legal,” “Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism”; “I’m Too Old to Learn Russian”; “We will Not be Silenced, We Will Overcomb”; and “I See your Hate and Raise You One Love.”
The atmosphere was electric; everyone excited to come together to express resistance to the hate and divisive nature of Trump and his policies against women and the environment. “Keep your Tiny Hands off my Body” and “Our Voice, Our Choice, Our Planet and Our Children Matter; We are Strong Together” was repeated in sign after sign. In spite of the fact that there were so many of us, no one pushed, shoved or tried to get ahead. At one point, we were packed in like sardines, able to walk only inches at a time but no one complained. We were squeezed in between the Native American Museum and the ponds that encircle it– a claustrophobic situation that tested my endurance. I didn’t know how long I could last. But Bill later remarked that the March was so peaceful because it was organized by women and had galvanized entire families who came to be heard.
Every fifteen minutes or so a roar would erupt from the crowd in exultation and we would laugh at the resounding joy and power in our collective voice. People of every age and every race were there and I was gratified to see the many female Millennials who had come with their mothers and grandmothers who themselves had marched to end the Vietnam War. The young women called the March their “virgin protest” knowing that this one would not be their last.
At one point I found myself being swept along by a New Orleans style marching band quickening the tempo. Each member of the band wore a brick-patterned jumpsuit. The bricks sported derogatory sayings made by Trump during his campaign such as “disgusting animal,” “slob”, “bimbo”, “piece of ass,” “dog”, and “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter I’d be dating her.” The labels were a reminder of Trump’s sexist comments worn to inspire hundreds of women to stand together to create a wall blocking Trump’s misogyny through demonstration and voter registration..
So it was with dismay that I read David Brooks column “After the March” two days later. I usually have great respect for Brooks’ wise commentaries in the NY Times in spite of the fact that he’s a Republican. But he infuriated me when he belittled the March writing that we were marching for the wrong issues. “People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy. . .Marching is a seductive substitute for action in an anti-political era and leaves the field open for a rogue like Trump.”
He missed the point. We were marching to highlight reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change and equal rights for all people regardless of race, gender or sexual identity. We weren’t there to have a group therapy experience but to demand that Trump cease any action to take away our rights, particularly reproductive rights and affordable health care. Brooks would have had us march instead for jobs and to stop immigration. He wrote that most social change does not happen through grass-roots movements but through politics. He criticized the pink hats and the language of identity politics. But he was not there to experience the energy of the people and he too, must have forgotten the marches for Civil Rights in the 60’s that brought about political change.
It was estimated that 1.2 million people were there for the DC march and the Metro counted more than 1 million people on their trains, at least 300,000 more than the number that attended the Inauguration. The stations were jammed; the trains couldn’t open their doors to let people in or out because there were so many people on the platforms. When we were going down an escalator to a train platform filled with thousands of people, the young woman in front of me turned and said, “I’m scared, looking at so many faces.” I was too, but told her they would make room for us. And they did.
Marches were held on 6 continents and there were more than 600 sister marches in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, South Korea, Colombia, Iceland, Nairobi, Antarctica (yes, Antarctica), Bonn, Frankfurt , Berlin and Munich Germany, London and Bristol, UK, Cape Town, South Africa, Barcelona, Bermuda, and throughout the Unites States to name just a few. The Associated Press reported that 4.6 million people worldwide marched in solidarity with the DC March. It is clear that We Are Not Going Backward.