I drove down to DC last Friday night with a couple of friends, through fog on highways that were surprisingly quiet even near the city. Saturday morning, we took the Metro in from an outlying station around 7am. There was a trickle of other pink-hatted riders, and scattered others on the sidewalks around Farragut Square, but the streets were as subdued as I have ever seen them in the district. We were heading for a pre-march coffee meetup at the Association for Women in Science, but were early, so we walked a loop down to Lafayette Square, still blockaded with fences and stands from inauguration, to glimpse the White House. Other than the security fences and the leftover concrete barriers shuffled awkwardly to the side of the street, there were few signs of the activities the day before.
By the time we left the AWIS offices at 9, the streams were full with a steady stream converging on the Mall. Our group – marked by “I Support Women In STEM” buttons and a higher percentage of climate change signs – headed along Independence Ave until we ran into the back of the crowd near the Hirshorn museum (and, thankfully, one of the telecast screens). When the rally started, there was no getting pumped up – the crowd was in full throated fury from the start. The biggest names at the rally have gotten a lot of press – and there were many great speeches with fiery rhetoric – but the pieces that struck the deepest and felt the realest were performances like Aja Monet’s poem “My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter:” “Spitting on her thumb, she smeared shame from her children’s cheek.” Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor and founder of Rise, a group that is campaigning for the passage of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (which just became law in Massachusetts), refer to her work and ours as “the endless pursuit of a more perfect union.” And if you need an antidote to the Dumpster-in-Chief’s apocalyptic and infantile speech patterns, Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old immigration activist, stood on stage with her family and spoke simply and beautifully about immigrants: “We are here together making a chain of love, to protect our families…Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed.” At the end of her speech, repeated in English and Spanish, the crowd chanted her name, and “Si se puede.”
The march was meant to start around 1pm, and by 2pm, with no sign of movement on Independence Ave, chants of “March! March!” were starting, interrupting even speakers like Angela Davis. Without an overhead view and with no cell coverage to follow the news, it was hard to tell just how many people were there – I didn’t realize until later when things did start to move that the whole Mall had filled. It was clear from the way the organizers talked that they were stalling for time; the sheer number that showed up meant that it was impossible to march along the planned route, and we found out later that there was a lot of back and forth between the organizers and the officials about what to do. As people got more antsy, the rally organizers brought out the big guns – Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae, and eventually Madonna. Janelle Monae’s back and forth with the Mothers of the Movement – mothers of those killed by police- and the audience, chanting Say Her/His Name was one of the strongest moments of the day.
Eventually, the announcement was made to head to the White House, by any way that you could find across the Mall and to 14th Street. Inside the stream of people, we pooled onto the Ellipse, gave another round of chants, and were ushered aside to disperse so that the next wave of marchers could get close to the fence. As energizing and electric as it felt to be gathered there however many hundreds of thousands strong, something about the format felt backwards – shouldn’t the march be first, and then the rally, with the fiery speeches laying out a list of demands? A lot has been said about what the March might have actually accomplished, especially as an intersectional event that folded many causes into its tent. It’s true that it wasn’t an event with a single concrete goal to accomplish, fueled as it was by opposition to every perverse priority of the current Republican government. It functions most clearly as both a call to arms and a shot across the bows to the new administration; the chant that I liked the best was this one: “Welcome to your first day. We won’t go away.” It felt amazing to be part of such historic display of strength and numbers and anger, but everything depends on what comes next and whether that sense of thwarted momentum puts itself to work birthing a real movement and fueling real resistance.
Part of what comes next appears to be another march, as the March for Science gets off the ground in the wake of this week’s avalanche of censorship for federal scientific agencies. Things move fast in strange times. Keeping on top of a constant flow of new fights and urgent actions is nearly impossible right now, but here are some resources I’m trying to follow:
- There are local Indivisible groups all around the country, including one for the NY23 district: https://www.indivisibleguide.com/. There, you can coordinate with others to contact your representatives and organize rallies, phone calls, and letter campaigns.
- My Civic Workout (https://www.mycivicworkout.com/) will send you a weekly newsletter with 5 min, 10 min, 30 min, and “marathon” actions.
- I’ve also followed or subscribed to email updates from my county and district Democratic Party committees as well as groups like the Democratic Women of the Southern Tier and the local chapter of the Progressive Action Network (NYPAN of the Southern Finger Lakes). Between them all, there’s a regular schedule of meetings tackling the need to get Dems into local and state offices in the next few years.
HANDS TOO SMALL, CAN’T BUILD A WALL. HANDS TOO SMALL, CAN’T BUILD A WALL.