Becoming

Last weekend I, and about three million of my friends, marched.

Tessa and I flew across the country to attend the Women’s March in D.C.  This was no small decision on my part: we haven’t flown anywhere in three years because, well, flying is expensive.  For the past few years, our vacations have involved camping, not hotels and restaurants and flights.  I looked at my bank account and thought I’d lost my mind to take this on….but I could not get past the feeling that if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

We flew a red eye from SeaTac on Thursday night, nervous but excited.  As soon as we got to the airport, Tessa pulled out her pussyhat, made by a friend, and proudly wore it.  At 13, she is full of bravery and has no concern about being “nice” or pleasing everyone around her; at 47, I feel decades of training tugging at me not to make waves, and my heart beat a little faster to see her put it on.  How would people respond?  Would we hear snarky comments?  I knew enough not to let her see my discomfort, so I put my hat on too, stubbornly refusing to let anybody see how this tiny act made my heart beat faster.

(Note: thank you to the creators of our hats.  Our neighbor Katie sent me a Facebook message at least a month ago saying, “Do you have a pussyhat?” and I had to say “A what?” – but once I learned what they were, I was excited to wear one.  She made two for us, but then friend Bethany – who has MS and couldn’t march because of it – made one for Tessa, and I vowed to bring Bethany with us in spirit, too, and so we gave the third hat to Diane to wear.  Katie and Bethany, you were with us EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.  You were part of this, too.  Thank you!)

As we walked through the TSA lines, two pink hats in a sea of neutrals, people changed all around us.  There were high fives, smiles, thumbs’ up.  Eyes locked, and those eyes said, “YES.”  People passing us said,”The women’s march?” and then “Thank you.”  I felt a swell of solidarity, and with it, hope.  The hats were a very good idea, a unifying force.

By the time we got on the plane, we’d talked to a more than a dozen people and received smiles and gestures of support from at least a hundred more, and women all around us had put their hats on, too.  We were not alone, and my young daughter’s fearlessness had brought out the fearlessness in countless women, not hiding their affiliations but showing them off.

***

We arrived in DC at the crack of dawn, exhausted and slightly cranky…but ready to move.  After a breakfast with friends (who were already in DC for the march), we walked the back streets north of the White House towards Georgetown, hoping to see some sights but avoid the inauguration crowds.

We were on a quiet street, no other pedestrians, when suddenly there was a group of about 20 motorcycle cops, followed by about five police cars, followed by a big black limo, followed by another group of police cars, followed by another big group of motorcycle cops.  We stood there, still wearing our pink pussyhats, and burst out laughing.  How was it possible that in our effort to avoid all things Trump the we had just stood 20 feet away from him?!  While we couldn’t see in the windows of the limo, the timing is such that it was very likely the President Elect, leaving the White House and heading to the Capitol for his swearing in.

Well then.  We may have been among the first pussyhats that he saw, so that’s our claim to fame, a little burr under his skin to send him off.  (I try not to be petty, really, but….well, I’m human.)

 

**Edit: It occurs to me – is it possible that what we really saw was President Obama?  Oh, please let it be President Obama.  Please let me believe that we were there for the last moments of his presidency, that we were in his presence.

***

While Tessa and I wanted to avoid the inaugural activities, we also wanted to see some of the big sights in DC….all of which were down near the inaugural activities.  We knew that the inaugural parade was supposed to end at 3, so around 3pm we left our location north of the White House to walk the 15 or so blocks down to the mall with the hope of visiting some monuments and at least stepping foot into a Smithsonian for a few minutes.  What we did not know is that the parade had run two hours late, and was still underway…..and blocking exactly where we wanted to go.

As we approached, looking for paths through the fences where we could cross to the Mall, we realized with some discomfort that we were deep into Trump territory.  We were surrounded by tourists wearing Trump scarves and hats and t-shirts, all available cheaply from street vendors.  Those tourists who weren’t dressed in the made-in-China Trump gear (we checked, and yes, it was really made in China) were dressed in what looked like a uniform: the women were in black dresses, stilletto heels, wool coats; the men in dark suits and long dark wool coats as well.  Tessa and I, wearing puffy coats and pink pussyhats and walking shoes, stood out in a glaringly obvious way, and I felt slightly anxious and nervous: earlier in the day there had been riots just two blocks from our hotel, and I had no desire for a confrontation.  We got some dirty looks and I considered turning back, but Tessa said, “No way!” so we went on.

We came to a security gate manned by the Secret Service, and I felt that we were entering the belly of the beast.  The Secret Service woman assigned to search us glared at us – I was pretty sure I knew who she voted for! – and went through our small backpacks with painstaking detail, going so far as to open my lipsticks to make sure that they were really lipsticks, flipping through my wallet, and so on.  We got pat downs from every angle (hello!), and Tessa and I were each being searched for a couple of minutes and so I couldn’t keep my eyes on Tessa, and I felt panicky for a moment….and then we were released.

I’m not used to feeling panicky.  I have walked down a hallway and climbed on a metal table and thanked a woman who was about to remove my breast with a knife; I have talked down a grizzly bear in the middle of nowhere (true story) on a trail with my daughter.  I am not a fearful person.  Still, I felt afraid.  The tensions in the US are palpable, and so many ugly things are being said, and here we were, at the heart of that tension.

Fortunately, the crowd mostly just ignored us; while they weren’t friendly, they weren’t mean, either, and that was a relief.

We bumped into another small group of pink hats amidst the Trump supporters, and Tessa and I quietly talked to them for a moment, grateful to have some solidarity.  In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, it turned out that they too were from West Seattle.  Laughing, we posed for a picture together and submitted it to the West Seattle blog.  (That’s me on the right, in the red scarf.)  This is really close to the inaugural parade, as it was wrapping up.  You’ll notice how empty it was – that wasn’t the media being nasty, there just weren’t that many people there.  Those fences were between us and the Smithsonians – so near and yet so far!

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Link to Pic in West Seattle Blog

There really is comfort in numbers.  That brief conversation made us feel much better.

We watched the parade for a little before heading back to the hotel; exhausted, having seen nothing we set out to see, but having seen a great deal anyway.  For better or for worse, this was history in the making, and we were there for it.

***

The morning of the march we started out early: I did not fly across the country, spending far too much money, taking vacation time, and making a big statement, to be at the back of the crowd!  We met up with friends Morgan and Kari from Seattle, and again made the walk down to the mall.

As we got close to the march, a woman with a stack of clipboards and a Planned Parenthood name tag approached us.  “Will you help us gather contact info to support Planned Parenthood?” she cheerfully asked.  Like the people in front of me, I smiled, shook my head no, and walked a few steps away….but stopped.  Wasn’t I here because I believe in activism?  Doesn’t the new President believe in defunding Planned Parenthood, and with it, removing many women’s only access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and information about safe sex?  Don’t I believe in a woman’s right to her own body, that what she does with her body is between herself, her doctor, and the Universe?  I do.  I turned around, and said, “Okay, tell me what you need.”  Tessa raised her eyebrows at me, and I said, “This is me learning how to be an activist.”  It wasn’t comfortable, it’s not what I’m used to doing….but it felt right, and true.

This time, we could get through the mall, although by the time we navigated the crowds to get there, we couldn’t connect with Shawna and Christi (also from Seattle), who had gotten there just before us: cell service was spotty, and the crowds were so tight that there was no way to find one another.  At first I thought “oh no, we’re back too far!” but in reality, we were really close: we could see the stage, although the people on it were merely dots.  There were screens and speakers and we could see those and hear clearly: we were in position.  It wasn’t until later, after the march when I realized the immensity of the crowds, that I saw just how close we really were, how lucky we were.

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Our view.  See the stage to the left of the photo, and then we were two screens back.  In a crowd of 470,000, that’s practically front row center!

We waited for well over an hour for the program to begin, and our hearts were light.  We were packed so tightly that it felt like there was someone pushed up against me on every single side, but we were all in it together, and instead of feeling oppressive (I’m not really a crowds person), it felt safe, beautiful, and full of sisterhood.  I took my clipboard and called out “Are you getting emails from Planned Parenthood yet?  Sign up here!” and, lo and behold, I gathered signatures.  LOTS of signatures.  Some folks said, “I donate, but I can sign up again if you like” (no need!), and lots of people said, “Wait!  Me!  I need to sign up!”  I quickly gathered pages and pages of signatures, until I’d spoken to every person within earshot.  It was a pretty easy introduction to that type of activism: it was a friendly crowd.  Still, I was proud of myself: I’d stepped outside my comfort zone, my daughter was seeing me make change, and it was a tiny little leadership role.  My presence made an impact on Planned Parenthood, and I’m proud of that.

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These pictures do no justice, but I held my camera phone up high and tried to capture a shot of the crowd behind me.  It was impossible to accurately portray how many people were there – but you can look at aerial photos from the news agencies, this is truly a “feet on the ground” post.

I say sisterhood because it was a women’s march, but make no mistake: there were plenty of men, too.  There were people from every walk of life, and that was part of the beauty of it.  To one side was a group of Sikhs (men and women) in white turbans; just in front of us was a UCC minister in her robes; she was chatting with the Sikhs.  Young and old, and every color of skin.  Directly behind us there was a group of  young sorority sisters (four white, one black).  I had a lovely long talk with a woman who asked if I’d ever marched in DC; when I told her “no” I asked if she had, and she said, “Yes.  I marched for women’s rights in 1967, but this is bigger….this is more….” and I hoped with every fiber of my being that she was right, that this was the beginning of a new chapter in history.

We stood in place from before 9am to after 3pm, barely able to move.  Speaker, after speaker, after speaker, came out to share their visions.  Some were people I have long admired – like Cecile Richards and Gloria Steinem – and some were celebrities with whom I had varying degrees of familiarity.

Hearing Gloria Steinem speak gave me chills.  How good, and true, and right, that a woman who has long been considered the face of the women’s movement was co-chairing this event.  I had seen her speak in Seattle a few years ago at Benaroya Hall, but seeing her in this setting brought home to me who she REALLY was, and the importance of the work that she has done and continues to do.

My favorite speaker of the day wasn’t famous, though.  She was little Sophie, seven years old, and an undocumented immigrant.  Many of the speakers didn’t know how to work the crowd, and let nerves or something else get in the way of their charisma, and the crowd was restless from standing so long in such uncomfortably tight quarters, and talked over them.  But Sophie?  Sophie got it, and she held us rapt, and she demanded our attention not with her words but with this incredibly bright light that shone from within her.  She knew when to speak up, and when to pause, and I was transfixed.  She was clear, direct, and incredibly articulate, and I fell in love with her before two sentences were out of her mouth.  When she finished speaking, the crowd went wild…..but then she paused, smiled, and did her entire speech again in Spanish.  I cried, because it was so beautiful.  I had been feeling so fearful about our nation, about my daughter’s future, about so many things, and here was a little girl telling me that she was unafraid….despite the fact that she has a great deal to be afraid of.  If Sophie can be brave, then so can I.  When she was done speaking in Spanish, the crowd went nuts, chanting “SOPHIE! SOPHIE! SOPHIE!” for a long time.

I found a YouTube video of her: do yourself a favor and watch.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being a bit starstruck when one of my favorite singers, Alicia Keys, came out.  She really is on fire, with love and light and grace, and I admire her as a human being as well as loving her voice and lyrics.  I had someone behind me take a picture “with” Alicia Keys.  Okay, so it’s me, a few hundred feet away from Alicia Keys, with a screen of Alicia Keys behind me….but it counts! (Award me Dork of the Year.  I don’t care.  That’s ME with ALICIA KEYS!)

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After standing outside for six hours without moving, and with the speakers running two hours late, it was finally time to march.  It felt a little anticlimactic at that point, but hey, I came to march, and it was time to march, so off we went.

It was not anticlimactic.

Because we were up front, and because the front of the march was on a street surrounded by buildings that blocked our view from seeing very far, I had no idea how many people were actually there until we started marching, until we realized that in every direction, no matter where we went, the streets were filled, packed, JAMMED with people in silly pink hats.  Everywhere I looked were signs, pink hats, and marchers.

It was extraordinary.

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We wound our way through historic buildings, with chants like “Tell me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like!”

Readers, I was so proud to be a part of it.  I hope that you were a part of it, too, in your hometowns or in one of the big marches around the country.  I hope that you, too, care about women’s issues: the right to be free from violence, the right to own our own bodies, the right to get equal pay for equal work.  I hope that you, too, realize that none of us is free unless we are all free, and that while Hispanic women get $0.54 on every dollar that a white man earns, we are not living in a a society that promotes or values equality, and that this must change.  This march stood up against racism, sexism, and xenophobia.  We stood up for healthcare, for immigrants, for GBLTQ rights.

There was so much goodness in this crowd, with people from all over the world come to say “I CARE!” that it felt like beams of light were shining from every single person.

Eventually, we reached the end of the march, and needed to walk the 15 blocks back to our hotel.  There were so many people that it felt like we were STILL in the march all the way to our hotel, not far from Dupont Circle.  It was a sea of pink all the way back to the front door.  I have never seen so many people at once, and I’ve never experienced anything like it.

We did it.

***

I am terrified of President Trump and his cabinet, and the work that they are doing.  I see direct parallels to his attempts to silence the press, create a Muslim registry, and promote xenophobia, to the rise of Hitler.  I feel fear all the time now, creeping in at the edges of my nice little middle class life.  I can say the word “pussy” in public now without turning bright red, because it is the only way to take it back from a man in power who is teaching America that boys will be boys and powerful men can take whatever they want from whomever they want without repercussion.  I fear that my daughter will not have access to birth control when she needs it.  I am terrified that in 2018 I won’t have health insurance because breast cancer is a preexisting condition and because I’ve already exceeded insurance caps from my treatment.  My fear is real, and personal, but it is also fear for those around me less fortunate than myself.

So I marched.

And from this march, here is what I learned: we are just getting started.  A new wave in feminism is rising, and we are bigger, stronger, and bolder than ever before.  There are many of us, and our courage is bigger than our fear.  My non-political friends are becoming political.  There are secret Facebook groups popping up left and right, and they’re doing letter writing parties to share viewpoints with our government officials, they’re making phone calls to protest cabinet appointees, and they are getting informed and making their voices heard.  They’re giving more money than before to progressive causes.  They’re buying “real” news. They are speaking up.

There are a LOT of us.  We won the popular vote, and we’re madder than hell that we lost on technicalities, but we are not going to just wait this out.  Our lives, our children’s lives, and the life of our planet are all at stake.

The time to speak up is now, and this march was the kick-off party.

I am becoming who I am meant to be; at only 47 years old, it’s most certainly not too late.  America is young, and it is not too late for her to become who she is meant to be, either. There is no going back to greatness, no “again,” for when I was born women couldn’t have a credit card without their husband’s signature, and women were expected to become secretaries or teachers or nurses and then quit to have babies, and women made even less on the dollar, and women died in attempts to reclaim their bodies with the use of a coat hanger.  No, I don’t want to go back.  Black boys are shot in the street because of their skin color, still, to this day, and I’m not okay with it.  I don’t want to go back to an era of lynchings, and  Mad Men makes for good TV, but I don’t want to live it. No, I won’t go back.  Never again: it is time to move forward.

Viva la Resistance!

One thought on “Becoming

  1. I marched in DC too and I agree little Sophie was great. My group started to chant Sophie Cruz for President. Thank you for sharing your experience. We’re stronger together!

    Like

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