Monday, January 23, 2017

I Mourned, and Then I Marched

The last time I wrote a post on my blog it was three days after the election.  I was depressed and angry and in a general funk and it was rainy all damn week.  I stopped watching the news.  I drank too much wine.  And I broke down crying in a Whole Foods parking lot for no apparent reason other than the depressing state of the world.

And then life returned to normal, with school pick ups and swim practices and the holidays.  I subscribed to all sorts of Facebook pages that gave me numbers to call, movements to join, and checklists to go through to take a stand, send a message, and affect some kind of change.  And I did do some of those things, which made me feel better.  My depression lifted and turned to a solemn acceptance.  I still refused to watch the news, but would click on the occasional news clip on my Facebook feed, in between reading narratives from Pantsuit Nation.  Watching Saturday Night Live each week became a religious, cathartic experience (and it still is - did you see Aziz Ansari's monologue this week?).

I had heard about the Women's March from its inception, and I always had plans to attend.  It seemed like a simple thing to do to get more involved, and it happens to be in the city I call home. But as the march approached, and I started thinking about logistics, I have to say I had some second thoughts.  I worried about the crowds.  I worried about how I would get downtown, and how I would get home.  I worried about terrorism.  I wondered if it was worth any kind of risk to go, because after all, I am only one person.  What difference would it make if I went or not?

Ultimately I put those fears aside and on Saturday morning, I dressed up in my gear.  Maybe it was because of peer pressure, or of shame of not going.  Maybe it was because my father still glows with pride when he recalls when he participated in the March on Washington in 1963. But mostly, it's because I wanted my children to know that I went.  That there are things bigger than us, and that there are times in life where we have to take a stand.  They don't yet understand what is going on in our country right now, but when they do, I want them to remember that their mother knew that is was not okay.

I had made plans to meet up with a few friends as part of the Moms Demand Action Group, a group that advocates for gun sense and gun control.  We met at the Woodley Park Metro at 8:30 am, and I could tell already that this was going to be a big day.  There was a buzz, a sense of excitement, and I even got a cool hat that made me look a bit like Waldo.

There was also a crowd.  A huge crowd.  So huge, that by the time we got downstairs to get on the metro, it was closed.  It was at full capacity.  At that point, we started weighing our options.  Bus? Uber? Walk?  We did a combination, and ultimately made it downtown by around 10am when the speakers were scheduled to start.

I don't know what I expected.  I truly don't.  I guess I thought it would be similar to an outdoor concert venue?

It wasn't.

It. Was. Jam. Packed.

This was my view when we first joined the crowd, and it doesn't do it justice:

So let me poach from CNN for a much better photo:

It was so crowded it was hard to orient myself.  What street was I on (still not sure)?  Where was the stage (I never saw it)?  Where was the screen (I managed to see the smallest slice of one eventually, obstructed by a tree)?  Where were the porta potties (I never used one)?  Where was the exit, should I want to get out (good luck with that)?

I'm not going to lie - I had an internal fight with my mild claustrophobia for a few minutes there.

But then I relaxed into it, and took it all in.  And I started to get intermittent chills - not from the cold, but from the energy, the love, and the power of it all.

One thing that struck me almost immediately was how nice everyone was.  Everyone was so nice. If this was a concert or sports event or any other crowd, and people were trying to weave in and out, stepping on toes and rubbing elbows, you can bet that there would be curse words flying around. Or at least some dirty looks.  But not so - people were kind, helpful, and friendly.  We struck up conversations with people around us in each corner we ended up in, and learned that most people came from far away. We met people that flew in from California, from Ohio, from New York, from Florida.

There were old people and young people.  There were women and men.  There were black people and transgendered people and Muslims and people in wheelchairs and privileged white women like myself and we all just hung there together.  We all applauded for the same things - for acceptance, for Planned Parenthood, for immigrants, for our environment, for black lives, for health care, for religious freedom, for free speech, and for each other.

There was such a camaraderie, and it wasn't about anger.  Sure, there were some boo's when our current President, and his policy agenda, were mentioned.  But it was more about love.  About cheering.  About a movement of people who are going to look out for each other.  About peaceful protest - I never once felt unsafe, not once.  And how incredible that with all of those people - estimates are at over 500,000 people at the DC march- not a single person was arrested.

Saying that this is what democracy is all about is a cliche, but I felt it, especially at the most surreal moment of the day.  After not eating or drinking for about 6 hours (note to self, pack lunch next time), my friends and I stopped in the Willard Hotel hoping to get something to eat and a glass of bubbly.  Unfortunately it was packed to capacity and they weren't allowing anyone into the restaurant, so my friends and I found a couch to sit on in the lobby to rest for a brief moment. Sitting with us on the couch was an older man with a "Make America Great Again" hat.

Until that moment, I had forgotten that there had actually been an inauguration the day before, and that many people staying at the Willard Hotel were there for the event.  This particular man was waiting for a car to arrive to take him to the airport to go home.  We exchanged some niceties ("Do you mind if we sit here?"  "How is it outside?"), and then we were on our way.

I didn't feel any hostility towards that man, and I didn't feel any coming from him, notwithstanding how differently we felt about the state of our country.  He cared enough to fly into town for the inauguration.  And I cared enough to spend my day in a massive crowd on the National Mall.

But at the end of the day, don't we have more in common than not?  Don't we all just want to be happy, to be healthy, to be respected, to protect our families, and to live in peace?  We disagree on how to get there.  But I have to believe that if we can come together with an open mind, we can all march together with a unified goal.

One of best speakers of the day was Van Jones (can someone please convince him to run for office?).  When talking about reconciling our differences, he said:

When it gets harder to love, let's love harder.

And that's what the march left me with - a whole lot of love.  And hope.  I watched the news yesterday, albeit briefly.  And I didn't get angry.  I looked at the aerial views of the hundreds of cities around the world participating in the march, and I felt a solidarity with strangers, which is a pretty awesome feeling.

In the meantime, I return to my normal suburban life, but I'm spicing it up a bit and getting more involved.  The People's Climate March is on April 29th here in DC.  Who's with me?

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