I decided to go to the March on Washington, as a promise to myself that I would never let hopelessness define me again.
This past Election Day I woke up, literally and figuratively, to the realization that as a 53-year-old woman, I've never truly believed I could be or do whatever I set my mind to-- that my insecurities and fears, which have followed me since childhood, were driving the train, not me. I woke up, and for one blue-skied, incredible day, I felt a giddy sense of hope, which had become foreign to me. By the end of the day, those feelings seemed crushed beneath the shocking outcome of an election that blindsided so many. For the record, I'd spent weeks believing Donald Trump would win-- not because I'm smarter than pollsters and experts, but because I sensed, on a very deep level, that this horrible man, in all of his offensive behavior and arrogant rhetoric, had tapped into something Hillary Clinton could not defeat, with all of the competence, grace and intellect she demonstrated. So many people told me I was wrong-- I didn't understand polls and stats, and it would be a landslide victory for Clinton. I allowed those voices to lull me into the incredible, but brief thrill, of believing she would win. Election day morning, I woke up, took a hard look in the mirror, and grabbed on to that hope. It was humbling; thrilling, and then hurt so much more, when it all came tumbling down, twelve hours later.
On November 9th, my hopelessness felt validated. It was tempting to give in to old feelings and believe hope was foolish; we will never really have equality in this country, and I was right to hold on tightly to my fears. Feminism is for other women, not me. If you learn as a young child that disappointment and loss are inevitable, it's hard to believe in miracles and possibility. However, I also felt empowered by those twelve amazing hours, when the most wondrous things seemed viable. I felt empowered by all of the incredible women around me, who had truly believed. While I'd been talking the talk, while (unknowingly) quietly holding on to my fears, they had boldly walked the walk. Within a week of the Election, I knew that I couldn't go back to these feeling I've had all of my life. I wanted to walk too, and when I saw a chance to March, I plugged in.
A simple Facebook post reminded me that there were others who were reeling from this horrible wake-up call, and there was a place to funnel my passion, shock, and angst. The word angst is exactly what I've felt since November 8th, but that Facebook post, and talk about a March pulled me out of those dark feelings. I was excited, and inspired do more than just complain. I'd already booked a trip to Israel, to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson, so when the date for the March was announced for January 21st (halfway into my trip), I waited to see if it would pan out. I wasn't willing to leave the lights of my life, without certainty this would happen. But once the idea became reality, I changed my ticket, and put all my eggs in one incredible basket.
I wasn't invested in this as a singular battle cry against Donald Trump alone, or because I think he's is a horrible person--I do, with no hesitation or doubt. Far more troubling has been the realization there are so many Americans who don't care about the vile and scary things he's says and does, and who have willingly added fuel to his fire. For months, each time Trump said something I believe crossed a clear and shocking line, that would require an accounting: suggesting all Mexicans are criminals and rapists, and more incredibly, we should build a wall to divide us; that women can be judged as fat, ugly, or there for the taking- grabbed, for his pleasure; that all of the brilliant scientists who have committed their lives to studying our fragile planet, are wrong, and this arrogant man knows better than them-- Each time I thought "well this will wake people up," things went back to usual, leaving another piece of my faith shaken. These things have made it hard to sleep since November.
I changed my tickets, and I began to anticipate Marching beside other people who stand for a different message. I wanted to be part of something bigger than that angst, and feel the power of people who are willing to stand and say: NO! This is not acceptable! This is not who we are, as people or a Nation! There were countless delays coming back from Israel; I missed flight connections, and several times it looked like I wouldn't make it at all. The entire flight from Israel I felt waves of grief wash over me-- knowing I'd left the people I love but would likely miss the March. Feeling the reality of Inauguration day sink in, as I sat on a plane full of people where no one said a word about what was happening, moving toward events in a time zone behind and ahead of us, was surreal and lonely. In Toronto I'd been rebooked for a flight Saturday-- too late. I dug in and battled the airlines, and finally got them to book me on a late flight to DC. I may have said: "I write for Huffington Post; I must be at that March--" two truths, that equal a white lie, but it worked. The two Canadian agents urged me help fight "that man," as they urged me to hurry. After a 12-hour flight, with no sleep, I had to run through customs, get my luggage and go back through departures; I was determined not to miss this one flight out. I tacked on 5.5 miles on my Fitbit, and arrived at the gate sweaty and exhausted. Then, at the waiting area, I saw a women wearing a pink pussy hat and knitting another, and I my heart swelled with the hope and excitement I'd been holding back for months. All around that departures lounge I recognized the faces of other women, headed to the same destination, with the same determination on their faces, and I began to believe that we could really make something of all this pain.
Much has been written about the March already; it's taken me days to digest my thoughts, to process all of the incredible moments that came out of months of shock, then grief, anger, and planning. In the massive crowds, I was unable to reach my high school friends, who had driven from Boston to meet me. Texts failed, with cell towers strained to the limit, and it was obvious from the moment my group got off the train, and were crushed by the massive crowd trying to get out of the station, that this was going to be something much bigger than anyone had anticipated. But they carried a picture of me with them, and we reunited later. We're Boston strong; we carry on! Luckily I was with four fantastic, young people, who I love-- the children of old friends, who stayed with me all day. The sea of pink "pussy hats" as we came out of the station was staggering; the energy was electric. Becky made each of us a pink hat to wear, and I instantly felt a part of something enormous. We arrived very early, and were fortunate to get within three blocks of the stage, on Independence Avenue, and right beside a giant screen. Everywhere I looked were passionate faces, determined women and men, and an energy that seeped into us all. It's taken me days to get home, process all of this, and write something-- knowing, that no one can truly express what it was like to be there.
The protest and March opened with stirring a Native American song and drumming by Norine Hill (Oneida Nation) in an Indigenous language. It was haunting, empowering and ran right through our bodies! Then, America Ferrera shared passionate words about the March. From then on it was one amazing moment after another: Gloria Steinem- eloquent, wry and brilliant as ever; Alicia Keys- with her anthem of fire; Scarlette Johannson- passionately defended Planned Parenthood and every woman's right to manage their own body; Michael Moore urged us to not stop with a March and to make phone calls; Ashley Judd electrified with her challenge to remain "Nasty" and her spotlight on President Obama's successor's hypocritically nasty behaviors; the iconic Dr. Angela Davis shared her wisdom on indigenous lands and people, women's rights, the environment and more; Madonna was Madonna and stirred things up, on a day we were all stirring things up; and so many other inspiring women spoke about things that matter. They spoke until the crowd began to chant "Let us March, let us March!"
The two most electric moments for me, were when Janelle Monái brought the "Mothers of the Movement--" the mothers of slain Black men: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Mohamed Bah, and Dontre Hamilton on stage. She had us all sing "Hell You Talmbout" and then shout "Say their names, say their names!" Each mother then shouted their dead child's name to the crowd, in what was by far one of the most powerful moments of the day. The March embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and this was one of many incredible moments, when the issues that Black Americans have painfully fought against, were finally embraced and supported by masses. It's long overdue. Hearing those mothers cry their baby's names, and the crowd call them back-- hundreds of thousands of voices joined in grief, will be with me forever.
The other incredible moment was when six year-old Sophie Cruz stood on stage, faced a sea of faces, and with confidence and love spoke for the rights of immigrants. Her words were simple and sincere: "We are here today, creating a chain of love, to protect our families!" When she addressed the children, there was not a dry eye: "I want to tell the children, not to be afraid, because we are not a alone! There are still many people who have their hearts filled with love and tenders, to snuggle in this path of life." She then said the entire speech again in Spanish, without missing a beat.
Despite the fact that there were so many people that we filled the March route, making it slow and challenging, we finally Marched-- an endless sea of mostly women, but men and children as well. Our legs and feet hurt from standing for hours, and no one knew where to go, but we all felt so fired up; the energy was palpable, contagious and consistently positive! We moved slowly; it was disorganized for the challenging move to Constitution Avenue. Police and National Guard had blocked parts of our path, but were good natured and supportive. Four separate police officers told us, in very authoritative and firm tones that they "were dealing with 1.2 million people!" While we heard many other numbers later, and the familiar whining of Trump that the Inauguration crowds were bigger, that is not what we heard from so many DC natives, who saw both events. Storekeepers, restaurant people, bus drivers, and others told me over and over, that the March surpassed Friday's numbers by a huge gap. While I can't give numbers with authority, or even "alternative facts," I can say that I've never seen anything like this incredible sea of positivity! Whatever figure is finally settled on, there wasn't a single arrest!
People wore their battle cries on their clothing, carried them in signs, and shouted them for miles through the city. There was a constant roar as we sang (for chills, watch this) out our messages in sing-song and syncopated rhythms: "Tell me what Democracy looks like- This is what Democracy looks like!" "My body, my choice; HER body Her choice!" "Black Lives Matter!" "We will not go away, welcome to your first day!" "We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!" "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!" "A movement united, will not be divided!" "Education, not deportation!" And the old standby "hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!" We sang, "If I had a hammer," the Civil Rights song. The signs people carried were a true highlight of the March. They ranged from simple statements apparently thrown together last minute, on cardboard or paper, to spectacular works of art; they were every where! The next day, thousands of signs were left abandoned around the city-- lined up at the White House, around memorials, and walls of them left outside Trump's new hotel.
On Monday, I won a golden ticket and gained entrance to the National Museum of African American History; it was one of my goals for this trip. I spent nearly five hours there, and didn't see the entire museum! It was a powerful reminder that Black Americans have been fighting this fight for 300+ years in America, and so many of the messages in the museum echoed the ones we shared in the March. Near closing, I met a dynamic woman, Sondra, who had traveled to the March alone. We got talking and decided to walk to the MLK, Jr. memorial together. Standing there, as dusk set, was sobering and powerful. Sondra said, "I think Dr. King would be really proud of what we all did this weekend," and I believe she's right. Sondra had been right up at the stage, and we compared notes on the energy and inspiration we both felt, her feelings as a Black woman, mine as a White one, and those that were universally shared in the experience. At dinner, we agreed that in the end, the energy and inspiration we both gained is what we are taking home.
I went to the March seeking renewal and healing, to move forward and hold onto the new hope I feel. I went there to March with other Americans who do not accept the America that Donald Trump has put forth. I went to be part of something bigger and bolder than I have known. I went there to own the word feminist, activist, and human with an open heart. I came home with everything I went for... and so much more.
If you were unable to attend a March, but want to help, please get involved! These are important things you can do to fight discrimination, the attack on our environment, support women, fight for health care coverage for so many Americans who can't afford it, and much more: Follow Michael Moore's lead and call your Representative or Senator (just give your zip code) 202-225-3121. Support freedom of the press, by subscribing to paper or online news; more than ever, it's vital! Donate to Planned Parenthood and JOIN them. Donald Trump has already promised to defund them, and so many lives depend on their incredible services; it is not just about abortion rights! Donate money to the NAACP, ACLU, Souther Poverty Law Center, and the many environmental organizations who are under attack right now. Help these incredible organizations combat change that will impact us all.
Any photos which are not my own are used with permission; thanks to: Becky Salomon, Emily Salomon, Kim Stoloski, Marjorie McGilvray & special thanks to Sondra Brown- a sassy woman, who I'm glad I met! All of the close-up photos of speakers/celebrities, are hers.
Were you at the March on Washington? Or did you March in another city? What was the best part? Why were you Marching? Please leave a comment; I'm listening.