Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching Forward

On Friday night, I climbed aboard a bus with dozens of women (and some men), most of whom were strangers to me. Some of the passengers were older, some were younger--there was even a mother with her nine-year-old daughter. We drove overnight to our nation's capital to lend our bodies and voices to the Women's March on Washington--which, as it turns out, was very likely the largest protest in United States history.

From the moment we started our journey, the mood was friendly and generous. Everyone had brought snacks and drinks to share. One woman knitted extra pussy hats the whole ride there for those (like me) who didn't have one. When we offered her money, she told us to donate to the ACLU instead. At the few rest stops we made, we pulled into a sea of other buses. The travel centers were completely overrun with marchers. Somewhere in Ohio, a cheer went through the crowd when we took over the men's bathroom.

We still let them use the urinals, obviously. We're benevolent that way.

pussy hat looking fly
When we arrived in Washington early the next morning, the chipper spirit continued--so much so that it seemed surreal, like a fairy-tale world come to life. On our walk from RFK Stadium to the rallying point, people exited their houses to high-five us, blasted happy music out their windows. Churches and schools opened their doors to us so we could use the bathroom. Even the police and the National Guard members who were positioned at various intersections were friendly. Practically every interaction began with "good morning" or "good afternoon" and ended with "thank you."

Of course, I'm aware that the pleasant interactions with law enforcement have a more sinister side. As many articles have already pointed out (such as this one and this one), police don't say "good morning" at Black Lives Matter protests--they just show up in riot gear, ready to fight. White people don't have a contentious history with law enforcement, so the police were always more likely to treat us with respect. And there was probably an element of sexism to it as well--these little ladies wouldn't hurt a fly. If police are indeed less reluctant to antagonize white women, it's extremely important that we get involved with POC causes (which doesn't mean it wasn't important already). If we march with Black Lives Matter protestors, for example, we can not only support their cause in general, but simultaneously help guarantee their safety. Speaking of which, you can find your local BLM chapter here.*

This is not to say that there were no POC marching in Washington. I was a little worried that might be the case, but while the crowd was mostly composed of white women, there was a strong POC presence, as well as a strong LGBTQIA presence. And a pretty strong male presence, for that matter. Despite the somewhat problematic nature of the day's cheerful atmosphere, it was still heartening to see so many people from all walks of life come together.

Especially the older people! I knew there would be plenty of young people there, but I was shocked to see so many older women out there, too, marching and shouting with everyone else. My legs were a mess when I got home, and I'm only 28. Three cheers for badass old women being awesome.

smiling at the women's march
Aside from the bus organizer and her husband, the only other person I knew on my bus was Shayne--the wife of the lead singer of the Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band for whom I used to be a gogo dancer. Ah, the places life takes you. She and I connected with another woman who didn't know anyone else, Jessie, and we were each other's buddies throughout the day. We walked all the way to the rallying point, past the Capitol Building and other famous federal structures--and that's when things got a little weird. There were so many people that we got stuck on Jefferson Avenue. We couldn't get anywhere near the stage, and there were no speakers or screens--or at least not any loud enough to let us know what was going on. So if you're wondering whether I got to see Madonna and all that: not a word, I'm afraid. We arrived in that spot a little before 11 a.m., and the march wasn't supposed to start until 1:15 pm. There were plenty of chants and cheering, but after a while, the crowd around us simply had no idea what to do. Eventually it was past 1:15, and still no one was moving. Kids were climbing the trees, and we asked them if they could see anything, but they had no positive reports.

That's when the crowd decided to take over the streets. All of them.

Later we found out that there were simply too many people already squeezed into the original route, so they had redirected people to a different route. But nobody knew that, so instead we stormed the National Mall, Constitution Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and all the streets in between. My group ended up on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was especially fun because we got to walk past Trump's new hotel and jeer at it vigorously.

My favorite chants of the day:




My favorite signs of the day:




protesting on Pennsylvania Avenue
Eventually we made our way to the White House--or as close as we could to the White House, anyway. You would think that the large fence around the property and the well-trained Secret Service would be enough protection, but unsurprisingly, our Cheeto-in-Chief had them put up extra barricades that kept the dirty commoners far away. Nevertheless, we left our angry signs at those barricades, our special inauguration gift.

The walk back to the bus was just as bizarrely charming as the walk there. D.C.'s residents came out to the sidewalk bearing candy and bottles of water. "You looked great on TV, ladies." Can't thank the city enough for being so hospitable.

Then it was another ten hours back to Chicago. I slept much better on the ride back--my poor little body was tuckered out.

I'm still filled with a kind of spiritual energy from the event, though. I'm determined to cultivate activism in my life, to make it a habit. There are so many small things I can do on a daily basis. I can donate to important causes. I can sign petitions like this one. I can pay close attention to politics and write my Senators and Representatives.

One resource I've been using is It's Time to Fight, which is a site created by liberal political staffer Celeste Pewter (a pseudonym--she doesn't want to be harassed). She updates it regularly with weekly action items, along with email scripts and call scripts so you can contact your representatives more easily. (If, like me, you've already been using her site for a while, you may want to consider throwing a few bucks her way--it's a tremendous labor of love that she does all by herself.) Another site that's recently come to my attention is Swing Left, which will tell you your nearest swing district and send you a weekly email with ways you can help move that district to the left or keep it that way. And those are only two of dozens of tools that make political participation easy. Thank goodness for the internet.

There are bigger things I can do, too. The Women's March is certainly not going to be my last protest. I'm an extraordinarily privileged woman, and a big reason we're in this mess is that extraordinarily privileged women didn't do enough before. I've learned my lesson the hard way, and now I'm going to do everything in my power to move this country forward.

*Going to help POC or LGBTQIA people or disabled people with their causes? Good for you! But please remember to ask how you can best be of help first. Don't just assume you know what's best. 

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