Show Me What Democracy Looks Like
This post is late and coming, and I am going to refrain from saying anything truly political - just relaying the experience. We'll just say that, as a woman, and a mother of a daughter who has already experienced or witnessed gender and racial problems at 9 years old, I had my reasons for marching and the idea of exposing my preteen to an integral part of democracy felt important. Also, this is my first blog post, so don't want to get too heavy on y'all - just want to remember how it FELT to be there. I'll get to fun cocktails and art and some tomfoolery soon ;)
I *almost* didn't go. I grew up in the DC area and the thought of going anywhere NEAR the city during a major event made me cringe. Also, my husband had to work all weekend, so I knew I'd have to either take our 9 year old with me or find someone for her to hang out with all weekend. The idea of dealing with huge crowds, having a healthy fear of bad things happening, and doing all of this needing to worry about getting separated or harming her weighed heavily on my thoughts, as well as the dread of dealing with a tired, cranky kid that wants to sit down, eat, and pee in a world of not enough portapotties, food truck lines and gross city sidewalks. A local march popped up and I told myself that I should just do that. It would be smaller, our recent local protests were event free and respectful - all around an easier way to introduce my budding do gooder to an important part of democracy. A friend convinced me that I needed to get out of town and you know, the kiddo is old enough to listen and hold her own, and I'd have the support of my friends who were there with us. So I caved and I'm glad I did. The night before, I double checked to make sure the kiddo would be able to deal. I explained that it would be more people than she's ever been around and that things could get dangerous. That more than any other time, she would have to listen, stay close by our sides and do immediately what was asked of her, with no questions asked. That this wasn't going to be our usual fun trip to DC and that things like pretzels, cartwheels on the lawn and clean bathrooms were not really on the agenda. That even though many of her favorite people would be there, we most likely wouldn't see them. Without hesitation, she was still on board.
- The DC area traffic and Metro system is notoriously awful. We had no issues with traffic, and unlike many friends that faced huge waiting and parking issues at the trains, We waited no more than a regular commute. Granted, it took us over an hour on the train to get the 22 minute ride into the city, with a PACKED train. Unlike regular commutes, everyone was pleasant and the mood was celebratory, so it was uncomfortable, but a lot of fun(pretty much a theme for the day) Even the WMATA employees seemed to be having a good time, even though no one expected the volume of people. Goes to show what a little positivity and context can do to change an experience.
- It took us 2 hours to get from the train to the portapotties one block away. This did not go over well with the 9 year old. They were almost full and out of toilet paper. Ladies in line were making sure everyone else had a napkin or tissues prior to going inside.
- Despite the crowd being so large and packed in, everyone was suuuuupppper nice. So many folks saying "excuse me!" and "sorry!" laughing and joking with one another about how uncomfortable but great all this was. The kiddo got high fives and a lot of "Thank you for coming!" A girl near us had a panic attack. People quickly found a way to give her space and a nearby physician came to her aid. The mood started to turn a little as the organizers kept sending out new speakers and it was almost half an hour past march time. Quoth the 9 year old, "Why do they call it a march if we're all going to stand here?" A rumor went round about there being too many people to march and I received a text that there were 500,000 people there, 2.5 times the amount projected. Finally, the announcement "Who's ready to march?" and a wave of cheers went down the streets. No one in our area were able to hear the new route, but a chant of "march to Constitution, then turn left" arose and we were off. Slowly. As a pack. Quoth the 9 year old, "This isn't marching, it's shuffling" Our little group of 5 did a really good job of sticking together the whole way, and eventually there was space to stretch our cramping legs a little better. There was a little bit of confusion, as it appeared that some people were following the original route, but still, everyone with their "excuse me!" I thought of all those feminist bloggers that keep telling women not to say sorry so much. That there is no need to apologize for your existence. While part of me agrees that women need to be more assertive in day to day life, the overwhelming politeness of my fellow marchers was refreshing - and you know? We could use a little more politeness and awareness in the world.
- The hats. I originally wrote off the concept as a little frivolous. Then I thought about it. You know that feeling when you go to a game and everyone around you is wearing team colors? That you are included, no matter what your other views might be, you're all on the same side? All of a sudden, you could be a man, woman, young, old, straight, gay, any shade of peach, brown or black...I felt that. Then a couple of the women in my group showed off theirs. They were knitted by some folks in the midwest that couldn't march, but wanted to be a part of it. So they made the hats and sent them to our friend's mom. Their names were stitched inside - so that at least a little part of them made it to DC. The visual effect of all those pink hats when you saw the crowd was really cool- it made all the varying viewpoints come together as a unified statement. As a crafter, it was really cool to see how different people interpreted the design - with different yarns, stitched and fun embellishments. Individuality within unity.
- We met up with my friend's family that came down from Connecticut before getting back on the Metro. 3 generations of said family. People were gathering and reading the signs outside of the Trump Hotel. Photos were taken, hugs were given. The police rode through and told people to go back to the sidewalks, that the road was going to reopen soon. People respectfully moved to the sidewalks. A few dazed people(dehydrated, hungry, tired, overstimulated people are not the smartest) wandered back out, only to be patiently but firmly told to move back. Trashcans were overflowing, but people still tried to stack as much as they could near the cans. One guy walked around the street, picking things up and moving them to the piles. An escorted motorcade moved through and everyone stopped talking to watch.
- Again the Metro was packed, but we were able to get a good spot. We agreed that if we got separated, we'd meet at the car, but to make sure that if one person got left behind, it wasn't the 9 year old. We did in fact get separated, the kiddo being on the first train with an Aunt and the other 3 of us caught the next train, which wasn't far behind. After us and another, louder lady assured that a wheelchair bound woman and her friend/caretaker made it on before us. Turned out, she was a 75 year old retired doctor who drove down from Cape Cod. She also had joined 2 other generations of family for the march. She had been to every major March on Washington since the Vietnam war. She'd helped treat AIDS patients as a physician in the 80's when the government and mainstream society wrote them off to die. She had a fire about her as she said how proud she was of this group of people that came together - that it was the biggest piece of hope and solidarity she'd experienced.
I genuinely hope that the people who raised their voices on that Saturday continue to raise their voices. AND that if they haven't already, get involved in something ANYTHING that feels important to them. I'm looking at you too, "get a job" folks and "we've got it good compared to other countries" folks. If you feel strongly about something, volunteer. Disgusted by the trash all over your neighborhood? Carry a bag with you to pick up litter. Even a 3 year old can pick up trash and put it in a bag. Worried about the arts? Become a member your local art museum. If the time allows, volunteer to usher at the ballet or opera or local community theater. Go see a local high school's musical and clap loudly, even if everyone's off key. Find any worthy charity and donate time, money or both. Get the kids involved. Older kids can volunteer - many charities have opportunities for kids to help with their parents. Any little action, if everyone does something, a difference will be made. It doesn't matter what your religious or political beliefs are - it's all up to us to come together to make society work again, one community action at a time. Stop calling each other idiots or crazy or lazy for trying or not trying. Think before you act out or say something. Weigh the source before repeating. Fight misinformation or lack of the full story. Just be better than you were yesterday. We've got a lot of work to do to repair and heal.