In the days since the Women’s Marches around the world, I—like so many others—came away inspired and ready to stay engaged. Since then, the horrific Trump travel restrictions and immigration proposals have resulted in more demonstration around the county and more media coverage of Trump’s outrageous takeover of our government. I believe that the Women’s March movement sparked a new era of protest and activism—the likes of which have not been seen since those around ending the war in Vietnam and demands for civil rights and ratification of the ERA.
For the Women’s March, six friends, many of us in the artists’ community, drove from NYC to meet as a group called “We Make America.” Our much-fussed-over plan went awry when we saw thousands of people crowded together—making even crossing streets nearly impossible. Like millions of others, we had an inspirational experience that will be a turning point in our lives forever.
It began when a close friend sent an early-morning text with a photo of a sea of pink “pussyhats” milling about in the gray mist on the mall. I hadn’t been a fan of the pink pussyhat effort until seeing the first few and how clearly and simply they were going to narrate the size and scope of the Women’s March. I had to have one. Ours came from volunteers at a far-away subway station with donations to Martha’s Table to help homeless families.
The subway ride in was an intense joyous squeeze of unimaginable camaraderie, and exiting the subway was a glorious pink version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Pink hats lined the platforms and escalators. Masses of people going through the turnstiles caused symmetrical crowding which added to the performative aspect of this amazing happening, as if it were choreographed. When we got onto the street all was confusing. I had imagined being able to walk to the church to meet other, but the thick pink streams of people filling the sidewalks and streets was immediately disorienting. The fabulous signs and the flower people stunned us in the most pleasurable way. It was like being on the set of munchkin land for as far as the eye could see. Our phone maps barely worked as we preferred to gaze at the unbelievable crowds and the hilarious signs.
The plan was to have a sea of Statue of Liberty torches, crowns and a big parachute stretched out with the “humble masses” text moving through two sides of the march. It required that we assemble at a point and takeoff together for optimal visual impact. Immediately, with our props and pink hats on, continuous requests came to take our photos—as my friend John said, “as if we were young and beautiful!”—and we glowed and held our cardboard torches high. Portia’s sign was hilarious: “We are the granddaughters of the witches you didn’t BURN!” along with a cut out hole for her face.
We came to terms with the feeling of having underestimated something, by so much, that our weeks of intensive planning didn’t matter. We made a pathetic effort to move, but uncertainty about how to proceed kept us at a standstill. A text arrived—our lost colleagues were moving toward the Native American Museum near us. The thick crowd across the mall was dreamlike. We filed though the bodies of friendly people who didn’t seem to mind our pressure against their butts, bellies and thighs. We stepped over sleeping babies in strollers, elderly people in wheelchairs and resting souls while holding our torches high. Eventually, familiar painted torches swaying high above the crowd were coming our way!
The most important impact, though, is not that one day of emotion and empowerment. It is what comes next.
We talked on the way home about dismantling the anti-woman Republican dominance in Congress. We want to join others in studying the challenges in each state and work to help candidates that can flip elections for better outcomes and choose which campaigns to support. We need also to reframe issues including abortion where the narrative needs to change.
Shirley Chisholm was so right and said it so plainly and simply: “Abortion is a fact of life. Women have always had them and they always will. Are they going to have good ones or bad ones? Will the good ones be reserved for the rich, while the poor women go to quacks?”
I think men must speak out on abortion rights, too. I was talking to a soccer dad at my kids practice one night who in earnest asked me to give him one reason I went to the Woman’s March. I could have talked about public schools, Obamacare, immigration or racism but I spilled out a torrent on a woman’s right to choose. He seemed very unconcerned about legislation that would threaten the status quo, and said “in New York you’re going to be okay.” I thought him naïve, self-centered and out of touch. But what was moving about the conversation was that he told me he went with his high school girlfriend, probably 40 years ago, to get an abortion. “What,” he said, “at 18 we were going to be parents?!” All our sons and daughters could be unwilling parents in these coming years, but he doesn’t seem riled up about it. He’s clearly on our side but we need guys like him to wake the hell up!
Our nice Democratic friends need to become activists. Activism is warm and wonderful and is a sure antidote to depression and despair. Many of us don’t have church as an activist center like the Tea Party has, but we must create and join supportive networks that meet at kitchen tables to organize and flip the next election—only two years away along with the handful in between.