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The Meaning of Marching

I was at the Women’s March in DC Saturday with my 31 year old daughter. Initially she came out of filial duty. She figured her attendance would earn her a year’s worth of good daughter brownie points. At the end of the day though, she thanked me for getting her to come. It was downright exhilarating to see so many good people peaceably and passionately assembled to exercise their first amendment rights. She quipped, “I never knew there were so many Canadians living here.” It was true. In an uncommonly crowded environment—we were packed from one end of the mall to other like commuters on a Japanese subway car—almost everyone was civil and just plain nice. People still managed to allow others to pass, asked if a stranger needed water, found and tried to return lost objects, warned of high curbs or stray tree roots that might trip. We all delighted in the signs, t-shirts, costumes and many ingenious ways our fellow citizens had devised to convey their messages of presence and protest.

They ran the gamut from denying the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency to specific agenda issues like LGBTQ rights, climate change, immigration, women’s rights, to more global expressions of concern for all civil rights at this moment in our history. (That was my message). What was most striking given some of the advance press and concern about the rancor between progressive factions and potential violence was the buoyancy in the air. You had to be there to feel this. The weather was damp and unpleasant and the space was ridiculously crowded but the mood was infectiously uplifting. It was a civics lesson in action to be with so many fellow citizens of all ages and sizes, genders, colors and backgrounds and yes, political diversity too—from hard core labor organizers, to religious groups, teen groups and college kids There wasn’t a hint of menace or conflict, it was celebratory— a mayday fair in January.

There was security on rooftops (if you looked up you could see them around) and plainclothesmen and police and security in uniform in evidence everywhere but we didn’t pass through any security checkpoints. There were no metal detectors. People came with strollers and in wheelchairs. With canes and on walkers (these were the truly valiant participants). Mostly people abided by the guidelines but I did see the occasional backpack, shoulder bag, and sign on a pole and anyone could have been wired with a suicide bomb. There was a strange little hut that was totally accessible in the middle of the mall area opposite the Air and Space museum. Josie and I saw that it was crammed with gardening supplies (next to a dormant gardening plot) but it could just have easily held other things.

This experience and the dozens of others like it here in the US and around the world exceeded every pre-event attendance estimate. They became magnets for citizens who finally understand what is at stake. Decades of work to achieve hard won legislative gains for minorities, women and the environment are all at risk. A lumbering, ungainly giant has awoken and it will not return obediently to its den. It was important to have speakers and entertainment but for me that wasn’t the real point. The real point was literally on the ground with the people who were getting a taste of our collective power and sending a message to our just installed president and his administration that we WILL protect those gains and our rights and expect our president to do the same. “This is what democracy looks like!” It’s messy in its generosity and determination to assure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. That is a fact. Jobs are essential but not at the expense of rights.

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