Something incredible happened yesterday.
Without any centralized organization, millions of people around the world took to the streets to peacefully and nonviolently voice their concerns about the disparaging rhetoric issuing from the mouth of the man holding America’s highest office and to advocate for basic decency and informed policy making that addresses the needs of constituents and is based on the reality of people’s lives.
This was not a protest. This was a call to action. Yes, there were crocheted pink uterus hats, paintings of vaginas with teeth, and signs comparing our president to a toupee’d cheeto, but this was not a radical feminist rally or a riot against this president; it was a resounding vocalization of what we the people–all of us–need from our leader. And while depending on who we are we do need some different things, the unifying demand was for human decency and for basing policy and governance in comprehensive information, not in rationalizing biased opinions or on fabricated statistics presented as facts.
The march started as a reaction to President Trump’s degrading language used against women in his campaign, specifically his comments about grabbing women by the pussy, raping women, ranking women on a numeric scale of attractiveness, restricting reproductive rights and access to feminine health care, and identifying a woman’s place as a silent ornament to a man.
The march was not conceived as a “fuck you” anti-Trump manifestation, but as a strong resistance to that kind of language and attitude, as a unified response saying, “We shall not be spoken to with disrespect. We shall not tolerate rhetoric that demeans women based on their gender and absolutely will not sit passively while this level of disrespect issues from the office of the president of the United States.”
The march was a resolute demand that the President’s hateful words never be solidified into laws that permit his attitude towards women turn into deeds. Personally, I can allow generous leeway in locker room talk and boys will be boys dismissals. I know the bravado of the board room and country club leads men to posture and chest puff and if sometimes that self-inflation involves disrespecting women as a category, I can forgive the big talk because I know that most men don’t really feel and act congruous with that bravura.
But women marched on Washington and around the world yesterday to remind President Trump that by assuming the Oval Office he has forfeited his access to board rooms, locker rooms, and country clubs. He no longer speaks from an elite bubble where rude language is excusable or overlooked. He speaks as President, and during his first day on the job the nation rose up to tell him that his words speak loudly. People marched to hold him accountable to his new office, to demand that his actions as President speak louder than those words, and that those actions respect all people as full humans who have fundamental and universal rights to make their own decisions about their bodies.
But something else incredible happened yesterday. A march conceived as a vocalization of women’s rights thickened into a march advocating for the new administration’s awareness of the issues that the President has yet to acknowledge as essential to America’s survival.
Millions of people in small towns and big cities across the United States collectively applied our democratic right to peacefully voice our opinions and tell our government what we expect of it. People used the nonviolent march to remind the president of our unwillingness to endure to hateful language from his office and to offer an alternative: a leadership of common sense and awareness of life’s complexity, a leadership where love Trumps hate.
The people participating in the marches did not fight hate with hate; we responded to hate with compassion and dignity. We put on our warm coats and walking shoes, boarded buses, and painted poster board to exercise our right to freedom to speech, our constitutional right to participate in democracy beyond the ballot box and to use our physical presence to send a message: we will not stand for hate at the center of our government and we will stand with each other until each of us experiences the rights we all inherently have as humans.
Something even more incredible happened yesterday. The communication waves were jammed. Cell phone carrier service was beyond capacity and all our means for wireless communication went dark. Internet and cell phone access was unavailable. We were obligated to be present and pay attention to the now. Marching yesterday was like marching must have been in decades past: we didn’t know what the news was saying. We didn’t know what (or if) politicians were saying. We had no idea if what was happening around us was being accurately represented to the rest of the world. So we watched, listened, talked to each other. We soaked in the details so that if, later, anyone tries to say it didn’t happen or that it happened differently, we can (and will) correct them. Because what we were a part of was incredible. It was like getting to slice open a cross-section of the nation’s heart, soul, and brain and see and hear what the country is thinking and feeling right now.
We weren’t learning about each other through media-filtered sound bytes or reductionist social blurbs. Four friends and I stood on a barricade around a lamp post for over two hours and watched we the people flow past us in a stream of signs, posters, banners, t shirts, balloons, and endless variations of pink hats. We didn’t have to rely on a Gallup pole or a Facebook trending arrow to take the national temperature and find out what issues and debates are most important to the people of the country. The country was marching all over Washington, a literal sea of people because, like water, we did not follow a prescribed path, we flowed in all directions, merging, splitting, receding, surging.
Everyone carried or wore our own responses to the question, “Why are you here? What are you marching for?”
The responses were as diverse as the country:
Because “make America kind again”
Because “make America gay again”
Because “make America think again”
Because “make America smart again”
Because “ice caps aren’t political they just melt”
Beacuse “sea levels aren’t political they just rise”
Because “my body my choice”
Because “a woman’s place is in the resistance”
Because “love Trumps hate”
Because “love makes America great”
Because “I’m too worried to be funny”
Because “My parents did not leave the USSR for this”
Because “dissent is patriotic”
Because “black lives matter”
Because “we want a leader, not an angry tweeter”
Because “I got up at 6:30 on a Saturday because it’s important”
Because “stay woke”
Because “we will not go back”
Because “feminist AF”
Because “I’m too worried to be funny”
Because “I’m with all of her”
Because “I won’t give hate a chance”
Because “None of this is normal”
Because “They buried us but they did not know we were seeds”
Because “Women’s rights are human rights”
Because “Nature and people over profit”
Because “Stop racial profiling”
Because “This pussy grabs back”
Because “Abort patriarchy, reproduce dignity”
Because “Sometimes love is fierce”
Because “Together we rise”
Because “Everybody loves everybody”
Because “I love my Latina wife”
Because “We can’t afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only”
Because “Rise up”
Because “No guns in our schools”
Because “Black women matter”
Because “Gun violence is a women’s issue”
Because “United we rise”
Because “I’m with them”
Because “Hear our voices”
Because “We teach we love we care we vote”
Because “Soy testigo de la justicia!”
Because “Resist hate”
Because “Nasty women unite”
Because “We are the noisy majority”
Because “I thought we settled this…women are people”
Because “Que tuani respetar a las mujeres”
Because “Wake up Mr. Trump not everything is up for grabs”
Because “Immigrants we get the job done”
Because “Keep your laws off my body”
Because “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”
Because “Our destiny is not written for us, but by us”
Because “We hold these truths to be self evident”
Because “Expect to give and receive respect”
Because “Consent is everything”
Because “How a society treats its disabled is the true measure of a civilization”
Because “If my uterus was a corporation would you stop regulating it?”
Because “Hope will never be silent”
Because “Resist white supremacy”
Because “Hate will not make us great”
Because “Raise your voices not sea levels”
Because “Viva la mujer”
Because “United we stand”
Because “Not my president”
Because “We are the majority and will not be silent”
Because “Donny, you are out of your element. Sad. #womenwillwin”
Because “Hell no.”
Because “Build a wall around Trump I’ll pay for it. People aren’t illegal”
Because “I’m part of the resistance”
Because “Water is life”
Because “Trans people against Trump”
Because “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”
Because “Wake up whole world is watching – Take Note small hand off public schools”
Because “Let love rule”
Because “Freedom to speak love”
Because “Jersey girls grow up to be nasty women”
Because “Pussies for peace”
Because “Ok ladies now let’s get in formation”
Because “Ok ladies now let’s get INFORMATION”
Because “No tax returns your Putin me on”
Because “A just America is a great America”
Because “We the people have work to do”
Because “If we give him a chance we won’t have one”
Because “You can’t combover racism”
Because “Let hope not hurt shape our future”
Because “Listen to women”
Because “We will never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it”
Because “We will not go quietly into the night we will not vanish without a fight we will fight for all women’s rights”
Because “Nasty and proud”
Because “Keep your filthy laws of my silky drawers”
Because “Trust women”
Because “Disability rights are human rights”
Because “My body my choice. #lgbtquia #black #woman #muslim”
Because “Respect our existence or expect our resistance”
Because “Women are the wall and Trump will pay”
Because “We the people deserve better”
Because “When they go low we go high”
Because “Show up dive in persevere”
Because “The future is nasty”
Because “Mad as hell”
Because “Why am I worth less than him?”
Because “Rebellions are built on hope”
Because “Protect our climate and community”
Because “The rights should never stop coming”
Because “We too, sing America”
Because “Don’t take away my mom’s healthcare”
Because “Stay aware, always dare, never despair”
Because “Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights”
Because “Liberty and justice for all”
Because “When was the last time someone was hurt by equality?”
Because “The status quo is rigged”
Because “Strong women: love them be them raise them”
Because “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided”
Because “Never be a spectator of stupidity or injustice”
Because “Stop sexism”
Because “My favorite position is CEO”
Because “You’re so vain, you probably think this protest is about you”
Because “Everyone deserves freedom from poverty”
Because “A racist mind is a wasteland”
Because “Imagine justice”
Because “This is hell”
Because “This is very bad”
Because “Today is a good start. Let’s get to work my pantsuit sisters!”
Because “We will not be brainwashed”
Because “We soar”
Because “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power”
Because “It takes a global village to conquer hate”
Because “Our democracy will survive you”
I wore a t shirt that said “America is greater than 140 characters.” Trump’s use of the word “great” has always bothered me. Great doesn’t just mean super-duper. It also means vast and expansive, like America is, in its land and in its diversity. The size of the nation is masssive, and so is the variety of people who live in it. No nation, particularly not one as great as America, can be reduced to quips of 140 characters. To lead a nation of 300 million across 50 states (and one outspoken district) is to understand complexity and nuance and the intricacy of cause and effect. 140 characters is not enough space to express anything meaningful about serving a whole country. It is plenty of room to rant and brag and taunt and instigate and whine and lie, but it is not enough room to express the greatness of America.
There are too many cultures and values and landscapes and economies and families and educations and bodies and borders in our country to reduce it down anything other than the whole that it is.
The march showed the complexity of our national fabric, how the categories we occupy overlap and we will not be simplified to the point of invisibility. DC’s marchers were mostly white women, but they were marching as, yes, women but mostly as people. With great privilege comes great responsibility. Privilege is problematic when it’s hoarded and selfishly guarded. That same privilege is powerful when used to advocate for people whose voices are more likely to be ignored.
White women carried signs saying, “Black lives matter” and “respect women of color.” Men carried signs saying, “the future is female.” Gay couples carried signs saying, “today’s weather is brought to you by global warming.” We have never been a a binary nation of black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor. Yesterday was unprecedented because we the people of America demonstrated that we know where we live and who we are; we are a beautifully diverse people who live next door to each other, who visit the same hospitals and send our kids to the same schools. We defy categorization into convenient groups and we are writing a narrative where the language we use to describe ourselves no longer includes the polarizing and misrepresentative terminology of the past. We don’t just want things for ourselves, we demand that our home country is a place where everyone is respected equally and has access to the same rights and opportunities. Yesterday’s was a march where people demanded rights and respect for themselves and for everyone. Our rationale was the common sense understanding that hate accomplishes nothing other than inciting reactionary violence and rage.
That was another incredible thing that happened yesterday: no one got angry. In a crowd of over one million people all it takes is a single spark of agitation to ignite a mob. But that didn’t happen. It never felt like it was about to happen. The energy was calm, almost spiritual. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters walked together. People pushed babies in strollers and carried children on their shoulders. Here was a gathering that started with women but as it unfolded transcended any single group or identity and united Americans as people. Like carving a tattoo in the national skin or spraying a tag on America’s national wall, the masses turned up not to fight but to leave an impression. We are here. We have bodies and minds and here we are, using them.
Because this was not an anti- protest, there was not the sense of outrage or desperation that characterizes so many marches organized in response to injustice. Yesterday was incredible because it was organic and spontaneously and infinitely more massive than expected. More than that, though, it was anticipatory. It was a march to tell the president we will not let you get away with hate-in-office for even a day. No one was out for blood. This was the day after the inauguration. Everyone allowed a peaceful transition of power and did not obstruct the ceremonies swearing in the new president. But in his first full day at work, we the people came to say that President Trump has the opportunity to be better than his campaign slurs and to unify and improve the nation that belongs to all of us.
Through my personal experience as a recent college graduate, freelance professional, and public school teacher over the last eight years, I know that Obamacare was dysfunctional to the point of being useless, deportations and archaic immigration laws have severed families, schools are unraveling under the Common Core strictures, social services like food stamps and public housing are strained beyond capacity and at the point of imploding, and there is plenty that still needs attention in America. Obama was not perfect, but he was not an asshole. He was respectful, intelligent, and knew how to admit when he was wrong. He was a leader. Policy making is one part of being president, but a larger part is speaking, addressing the nation and the world and acknowledging what we the people are living through every day.
But then, at 5:30 in the evening, the most incredible thing happened: White House press secretary Spicer came on TV for his first live address and defensively corrected a minor journalist’s tweet and harped on comparative inauguration statistics. He huffed and puffed and lost his place on the TelePrompTer and sputtered his way through a sentence or two about the President’s meeting with the CIA. Then he walked away.
This is how dictatorships start, with leadership refusing to acknowledge what is happening among the people leadership represents. When leadership starts using the power of the presidential podium to actively talk around events happening in front of the nation, they erode the connection between official discourse and reality. Once there is no longer a connection between the irrelevant mush spoken by representatives of the government and the actions they take in response to what is happening on the ground, then they have succeed in creating a double narrative, one where words are meaningless filler and there is no official language left to talk about what is really going on.
I wanted to tear out my hair. Has anyone read Orwell or the history of any nation under a dictator? This is how is starts, with leadership actively ignoring its people and refusing to engage with reality. Yesterday, millions of people created a very loud, yet very calm, resistance to hate and irresponsible, despotic, nepotistic, and self-serving government.
This morning something terrifying predictable happened. Our President reacted like a pouty child. He could not admit that people find fault with what he says and will hold him accountable for everything he does.
Mr. President, we did vote in the election, and our votes alone were not enough to keep ignorance and bigotry from the highest national office. So yesterday we appealed to you, as the 45th holder of that office, to use your position with wisdom and humility. Show us your taxes, hand over your businesses, and prove that you are not as selfish and narrow-minded as you sound. Show us that you understand that America’s greatness, its vastness, means that it is filled with people who are not all like you, and we expect you to respect us, all of us, in spite of what we don’t have in common. Because we all want our home to be great, great as in super-duper, that is what we do all share.
But disregard for reasonable expressions of concern is not super-duper. I didn’t come from any remarkable family background of wealth or power, but I acknowledge the privilege I enjoy as a white woman with a job, apartment, and no major health issues. What I worried about today, though, was my grandma who told my mother, “I can’t march so tell Rachel she’s marching for me,” about my former students who have pending legal and immigration cases, about all the people who are jobless or homeless or starving or desperate who cast their hope vote for Trump because they believed he would shake up politics as usual and rebuild the decaying infrastructure that has left huge sections of America rusted and broken. If the President will not acknowledge the voices in his front yard, what is he going to do for you?
Looking out at the gray day pimpled with hundreds of thousands of handmade flamingo-pink lady-parts hats, I thought about the people who weren’t marching. I said a prayer for the people in small, almost-foreclosed homes in sleepy rural towns like the one where I grew up. How will our new president hear you when he cannot hear the millions in front of him? How will he communicate with we the people in anything greater than an incomplete sentence?
Yesterday’s march was peaceful, family-friendly, and the most potent weapon used was a crocheted hat. My fear, and I so greatly hope that I am incorrect, is that, if the President and his government continue to act as they have during their first forty-eight hours in power, the next march will not be so passive, it will not be so pink, and its weapons will not be made of fuzzy yarn.