Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yes, We Can!

On January 21 I felt hope and optimism for the first time since November 9.  Like many liberal, progressive Democrats, I had been complacent in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.  Whether we elected Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, I would have been happy and content.  (For personal reasons, I supported Hillary and still consider her one of the greatest women I have known and, in my professional role, worked for.  A European socialist at heart, I loved Bernie's call to the progressive Left.)  What was absolutely clear was that a narcissistic demagogue with an authoritarian streak could not possibly become President of the United States.  Love does trump hate, and we could not elect as our President a man who denigrates women and call out all the worst traits from the dark reaches of the soul.

Except we did.  As I have already written and as many a better observer has written more eloquently, we awoke on November 8 to find out faith in an inclusive, progressive America shaken to the core.  Getting a grip on ourselves in the midst of our shock, I and others wrote that Resistance Is Not Futile!  Over the coming weeks we grasped at straws, hoping against hope that the Electoral College would deny the Presidency to a demagogue.  We watched as the hours separating us from the fate we wanted to deny dwindled to a precious few.  We had tears in our eyes as we listened to President Obama's farewell speech and heard his call not to lose faith in the power of working together to achieve a future to believe in.  Then it happened,  On January 20 at noon, our country turned a page and swore in as President a man who is the antithesis of all I and, as witnessed in the popular vote, over half of the voting public believe in.

January 20, Waiting at Checkpoint
January 20 found me in line at 7:30am to pass through the 7th and C Street, NW, checkpoint to join the one permitted protest along the inauguration parade route.  It took over four and a half hours to inch forward and pass through the checkpoint.  I made friends with my line neighbors.  The young woman next to me had flown in from California for the protest and gave me her second sign to carry.  We broke into chants and cheers, drowning out the few Trump supporters who, likely not knowing that this was the main checkpoint for protesters, were also in the line.  Once in, I met up with a friend from a sister agency and her partner.  We sat in the raw weather under occasional drizzle, using a transgender flag to warm ourselves.  Sometime between 3 and 4pm, we moved as close to Pennsylvania Ave. as we could and jeered and taunted  loudly as the Presidential motorcade passed by.  Then we turned and went home.  Our protest may not have changed anything, but at least we had shown up.  Sometimes “just showing up” to make a statement is important.  This was one of those times.

The next day was different.  I felt the difference as soon as I arrived at the New Carrollton Metro station.  The line for fare cards extended out of the station into the kiss-and-ride area.  Even those of us who already had fare cards had to wait patiently in line to pass through the turnstiles.  The train was full, and pink and red pussy hats were in evidence everywhere.  At each stop, more and more women and many men joined us.

I got off at Eastern Market.  I still had a walk to the Hirschorn, the designated meeting point for the marchers from my home state of Maine, but I wanted to get a feel for the day.  The streets were already heavy with foot traffic, everyone headed for the Mall, people saying “Hello!” and waving to each other.  Smiles were everywhere, people asking each other where they were from.  By the time I got to the Mall, it was clear the women's march was going to be the largest protest event I had ever participated in.  Then I saw the Hirschorn and a woman in blaze orange, the chosen color for marchers from Maine, on the corner giving directions.  I joined the group behind our banner as we cheered the Maine motto Dirigo! We Lead!  The group leader called the roll call of Maine counties, and I proudly shouted out when Penobscot was called.  Then we marched as a group to the rally site.

For four hours we stood.  It was already clear that far more people had turned out than anyone had expected.  I could not hear the speakers where I stood, but we could see them on the projection screen.  I could see Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Janet Mock, and the many other heroines and heroes who had come to speak to and join us.  (Later I listened to many of the speeches on YouTube.)

Around 2:00 pm the crowd began to move.  We marched at a snail's pace across the Mall, holding our signs high and chanting.

“We're the popular vote!”

“What does democracy look like?  This is what democracy looks like!”

“We're not going away.  Welcome to your first day!”

“We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”

“This land is your land, this land is my land!”

“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”

The mood was at once defiant and joyous.  We were the popular vote majority of the U.S. population who had rejected hate, and we had found our voice in a sea of pink and red pussy hats, the newly minted symbol of our progressive revolution.  As we passed the Old Post Office, now a Trump hotel, we raised our fists and yelled “Shame!”  Our voices reverberated off the buildings surrounding Freedom Square.  Never will Pennsylvania Ave. look the same to me after that day.  I doubt it will look the same to anyone who was there that day.  Together we made history.

I now sit in a United flight ready to take off for Europe.  In a week, after visiting friends in Romania, I'll be back on the job in Astana.  But life has changed.  I am now with Mainers for Accountable Leadership and began my day with calls to the offices of Representative Poliquin and Senators Collins and King.  Complacency is over.  My life as an activist has begun.

As President Obama said, “Yes, we can!”  And so we will.

No comments:

Post a Comment