My husband asked me a grating, but valid question the other day:
Why do you want to go to the Women’s March in protest of the Inauguration, anyway? What do you think you’re accomplishing?
Yesterday, pre-march, my answer would have been vastly different. In my heart, I didn’t really believe that marching WOULD make a difference, and therefore, maybe the whole day would be a waste. Nothing more than a little fun in the streets of Portland, Oregon. Something like doing a 5K. Today, I believe that maybe you have to DO something to find out its real purpose.
Today, I went into the streets of Portland by myself. By that, I just mean sans family and friends, because in reality I was anything BUT alone. Walking by myself in the city always feels liberating, with just a hint of danger. That feeling in itself reminded me of why I was marching. Women shouldn’t have to think about what they have on their person that would be an effective weapon in the event of an attack….and yet how many of us have thoughts like that running through our heads every. single. time?
I joined a crowd heading toward the Morrison Bridge, when suddenly I found myself hit a wall of humanity. Well, humanity and umbrellas…and signs…and one awesome vagina dentata (google it, you’ll be happy you did!) that smelled like rosemary. I took a deep breath, and tried gently weaving my way through tiny openings to try to get closer to the heart of the rally. As it started to rain, the wall became a tiny sardine can prison. Thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic. I put my hood over my head, looked down, and moved with the waves. I made it about 20 feet in 45 minutes before people started chanting “start the march! Start the march!” One guy tried to start the crowd chanting “Dump Trump!” But somehow, it never caught on.
At one point, the vagina dentata took off her mask, and asked “does anyone have an extra hair tie?” Milliseconds later, there were three hands reaching in their pockets, “yep!” “Sure do!” “Will this work?” V.D. expressed her thanks, and asked the woman next to her if she’d hold her sign while she pulled her thick hair out of her damp face. The woman actually said, “I would be honored to.” At that moment, I felt like I had thousands of allies. Even if only for something as simple as a hair tie.
I had planned to meet up with one friend from work and a couple of relatives who had come from the other side of the bridge. Unfortunately for most of the march, cell service was down, presumably because everyone was trying to reach their marching partners all at the same time. I heard a ton of people around me with the same problem.
A helicopter flew overhead, and I imagined myself at home, watching footage from the aerial cameras, wishing that I could be part of the news story. I felt so proud and lucky to be on the streets instead of my couch. One hundred thousand people joined the march in Portland, Oregon. ONE SIXTH of the population of the city spilled out together to join their voices and hearts in a collective experience of democratic dissent. I felt pride, love, and an indescribable energy flowing through us all.
When the march finally began, it spanned the breadth of two streets. Both Naito Parkway and 1st were chock full of people marching north. I read sign after sign. Tiny manifestos. Little mission statements. Statements of purpose, each supporting a different cause. Most of them were anti-Trump sentiments, but they each came with their own spin, identifying a group, a race, a cause, a system of beliefs threatened by the newly crowned president. LGBTQ people, people of various physical and cognitive abilities, Asian drummers, Latinx sex workers, Native American water protectors, scientists, and women… so many women in pink pussy hats. Lots, and lots of pussy hats.
At one point, I was marching beside a whole group of drummers and bell-tappers. Snares and bass drum beats coursed through our bodies in waves, amplifying the energy of the crowd. Our steps fell into rhythm, bouncing along with the beat. People in balconies, rooftops, and car garages overhead waved, some with signs of their own, cheering for the crowd below. I followed along with the drummers for as long as I could. There’s nothing like percussion to make you feel more alive!
At the end of the march, I was finally able to find my friend from work. Even without exchanging the words, even though we’d spent most of the day apart, I felt like we’d had the same experience, and were thinking similar thoughts, and feeling the same energy. The collective consciousness is real.
We found a place near the stage at Tom McCall park for the post-march rally. A few speakers came onto the stage. There were two that stuck out in my mind. One of them wanted to talk about listening to marginalized groups. She started with a disclaimer that her words would be difficult to hear. She called out straight, cisgendered, able-bodied white women. “It’s amazing to see a crowd of this size, but it makes me want to ask you, ‘WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?’ Where were you when we marched for transgendered people, or for the homeless, for redlining?” A few white women shouted from the crowd, “We’re here now!” The speaker shook her head. “No! It’s not your turn to talk. It’s not your turn to shift the dialogue. You need to listen, and if I sound offensive, feel free to leave.” Some did. The rest of us listened. It’s important. Listen.
I’m going to digress for just a moment, because I know a lot of people WOULD feel offended by how that woman addressed the crowd….but every time I see conversations of race, disabilities, or other marginalized populations online, it gets warped and misappropriated. I was in this large, closed Facebook group a few weeks ago, when someone tried an experiment. She asked all the white people to refrain from posting on this ONE thread, and JUST listen, so that people of color could tell their stories and experiences. What followed was about 900 posts of “I’m listening,” and 100 posts of “It’s reverse racism to ask white people not to talk.” I scanned the thread for a good 5 minutes and couldn’t find ONE story from a person of color. Instead, it was totally usurped by people who felt like no one had the right to restrict their privilege for one fake Facebook minute.
I’m also a follower of a group of autistic adults who help educate parents on how to better understand their autistic children. Many of those parents also chime in with their experiences and advice. Once in awhile the admins post a question that is ONLY for the Autistic population. Mostly, it will request insight about their experiences or the unique perspective that comes with being autistic. Non-autistic or “neurotypical” people are NOT allowed to respond. Despite the fact that moderators explicitly warn that violating this rule may result in banning you from the group, there are always one or two parents who feel like they can speak for their children. The moderator will usually give them a warning, reminding them that their experience as a parent does not mean that they can understand the complex neurology of someone ACTUALLY experiencing autism. Often, the parent fights back, claims to be silenced unfairly, and gets banned from the group. What these people fail to realize is that by violating this rule, they are invalidating the voices of the autistic, stomping all over their safe space with hostility, and then try to tell the moderators how they should run their own group. Listen. For heaven’s sake, listen.
Ever since the election, I have felt so much anger, rage, disappointment, emptiness, and apathy. Ever since Trump’s numbers slowly overtook Hillary’s, while my jaw dropped and my heart fell, I have had screams pent up, waiting to be loosed on humanity. Ever since I walked into work, seeing the silence and mourning on the faces of my co-workers, my soul has cried out for catharsis, for a release, for something to make me hope again and feel like my words aren’t fruitless. Ever since the “disenfranchised’ conservative white population took over our futures, I have been craving the companionship of like-minded progressives who understand that steps forward for minorities don’t mean the rest of us are left behind. For heaven’s sake, they’re just asking for shoes to run the same race we’ve been winning for centuries.
Today, I feel like a fraction of my hope has been restored. Today I feel ready to raise my voice again in blogs, in calls to my senators, and in conversations with my friends and family–my small corner of influence. I encourage you to do the same. Call your senators. Call out racism. Call for equality. Call for basic decency, and listen. Listen to someone whose story is nothing like yours. Listen even when you feel uncomfortable. Recognize your privilege. Use it. Put your money in places that will make a difference. Be a good human being. Practice kindness. Be the best version of yourself.
So no, I don’t think going to the march changed much of anything. Trump won’t be impeached tomorrow, no one will overthrow the government, and we probably won’t even get a bigger voter turnout the next time we elect our senators and congressmen and women. But today, *I* am different, which means all 100,000 people at that march today feel a little different too. Many people watching the rallies all over the globe felt a glimmer of hope and solidarity with a movement that celebrates love and rejects fear. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good place to start.