Wednesday: On my way to work, suitcase packed and eager, a murder of crows descended on the frontage road – stopping traffic and waking smart phones. I scanned the asphalt, dull skies, and attending automobiles and found them bare of blood, carcass, garbage, or bones.
The crows strutted on the pavement and swooped low, their black bodies like pepper against clouds heavy, gray, and cold. Out of place, out of time, and orderly, they didn’t belong to the norm. What they were doing there? Why didn’t they go?
Thursday: A glimpse of dawn through burning eyes, then an airport, lines, and rules. I shuffled through them chugging cheap coffee and joined the detritus of sleep deprived passengers at the gate. Suitcases and backpacks littered the floor like a deluge of debris washed ashore after a storm.
Later, dressed in black lace and borrowed pink pearls, I attended the Peace Ball with my love. We danced, listened to heroes, and cheered with the crowd. Finally a man forced us up from our bold seats on the floor in front of the security tape and we went back to an Airbnb condo tastefully furnished and pleasantly warm.
At this point, still, I was numb.
Friday: Fried clams, cold beer, and talk of politics closer to home.
I woke early Saturday morning to a light drizzle. It had been days since I’d seen the sun. All the way across the nation, the skies reflected my despair as if they had been hand picked for a film. We were extras at a funeral unanticipated and heavily mourned.
We didn’t have pink hats. Instead, anticipating violence, our pockets bulged with swim goggles, filtered masks, rain gear, sharpies, tissues, gloves, and a little bit of cash. Anxiety made my legs heavy, my heart fast. I am terrified of crowds. I’m afraid to defy and resist. I have never been an activist. So that morning, driving to the Metro where we would catch a train to the Women’s March, I couldn’t help but think of those crows. What was I doing here? Why did I go?
Of course I knew. Knew in the way old bones know there’s going to be rain, knew in the way a mother knows her child is hungry or in pain. I had no words beyond the slapdash propaganda of which I read too much. Instead, I had a gnawing that nuzzled against my numb and occasionally caught my breath.
At the entrance to the Metro, small clusters of women carrying signs and wearing pink colored the drab morning with hope. As we moved toward them, my eyes filled and a ball of something warm and alive welled solid in my throat. The clusters of people became a stream. The stream became a river. The river became a flood.
The Metro station was packed. So packed that security opened the gates and let us through without charging our cards. The flood surged in waves as trains cleared platforms. Everywhere, the press of people and pink and cheering hordes.
Afraid of being separated, my love and I held hands. Trains passed, car after car crammed with smiling people. They waved to us as they went by and rallying cries of solidarity rang loud off curved, concrete walls.
Bundled in coats and hats, the crowd grew warm. The air, heavy with rain and sweat and breath, hung thick and wet in the tunnel. It was worse on the train, but instead of complaining, the crowd told jokes and laughed.
Outside, the crowds thinned for an instant and our hearts leapt with the freedom of movement, the excitement of the moment, the love we shared not just with each other but with all the people present. Two beaming women thrust hastily sewn, pink felt hats towards us and we donned them – he over matted hair, me over a Bourbon Street baseball cap. The sky lifted, though it remained overcast, and we joined the throng.
Signs humorous and serious bobbed through the crowd. It grew bigger, rivulets and streams feeding the flood from every direction until everywhere I looked there were people in pink hats, people of every color, people young and old, in wheelchairs and pushing strollers, and with babies strapped to their backs. Massive video screens loomed over us, the feed from the stage sometimes blurred and at odds with the sound stream that bellowed through speaker towers erected in the streets. Like Moses parting the red sea, a line of police cruisers parted the crowd. One of the officers sported his own pink hat and the crowd roared as he passed.
“Medic,” someone cried and the call was bounced like a life raft until it reached its destination and a team of nurses weaved past us like fish through a shoal – calm and steadfast.
We moved, compelled to get as close to the stage as possible, and found ourselves stuck about three blocks away. Close to a speaker and video screen, we planted ourselves and stayed. For three hours we remained in one place. My legs cramped. My back ached. Yet, riveted by the people on stage, these were scarcely worthy of complaint.
The signs bobbed, rising in unison as a presenter made a poignant point, then sank again like buoys on waves. RISE. WOMEN ARE THE WALL. NORMALIZE THIS! LOVE TRUMPS HATE!
My fear of crowds forgotten, despair dissipated and I came awake. “Yes!” my heart screamed. “Yes!”
As I chanted and whooped and cheered, the numbness fell away and I felt the stir of possibility where dread had set up shop and would have remained. But here was humanity on full display. Here was hope riding dreams and hurtling through loudspeakers and conversations in the streets. The voices of the marginalized, the empowered, and everyone in between cried together and cried for change. Yes. Yes. Yes. We are not beaten. We are no longer ashamed! Yes. Yes. Yes. We have come here to claim our rightful place. We are the crows in the road. We are the rivers rising above the flood plain. We are trees rooted deep and dancing in the wind. We are women. We are united and we will never be silenced again.
Everywhere I looked, as far as I could see, down every street and across every intersection, people in pink.
After awhile, a too long while, the presentation began to drone. Impatient, little trickles of people pushed backward through the crowd. The crowd began to chant, “March! March! March!” The mood shifted. Joy floated away like a balloon untethered. In its place, a surge of discontent. Bodies pressed too close, shifting and shuffling without anywhere to go. I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t quell the sudden shaking in my limbs, couldn’t focus my eyes as panic set in. “March! March! March!”
There was no room to move in any direction. A woman sat small in a wheelchair that bumped continuously against my husband’s shin. He held my gaze. Talked me down. “Look at me. You’re okay. We’re okay.” The crowd surged, wobbled, surged again. He fought his way sideways, pulling me along, until he got my back against a solid sign that would withstand a stampede if there was one. “March! March! March” Louder and louder, the chant drowned out the speakers. The air filled with complaints. The stage seemed to spontaneously birth a new non-profit that needed representation every two minutes and inspiring speeches morphed into anger and hate. “March! March! March!”
“You have the power!” someone proclaimed over the loud speaker and we laughed in spite of ourselves because they had the power. We could not march until they released us. We waited for that permission for over an hour until finally they rerouted us and we slowly scattered. Down every side street, through parking lots, and over walls we poured with relief. Someone caught the balloon. Hope again was in our grasp. We were free.
There were only four calls to police during the event. All were medical emergencies. More than half a million people converged on one place, stayed for more than seven hours, put up with overflowing port-a-potties, chilling temperatures, an over programmed presentation, and a barrage of noise, emotion, and desire without any violence.
At sunset, we left. Long lines stood in front of food trucks, hungry for sausage, pretzels, any form of sustenance. The air was jubilant. Stomachs rumbling, we headed for the nearest Metro and found it near Trump Tower where thousands were dropping their protest signs as a concrete message to our new president.
On the flight home, reading the news and learning about “alternative facts,” the vanishing White House web pages, and more, we wondered if the Women’s March would be able to help cement lasting change. Would people go home to their lives and return to complacency, or would they continue to rise and contribute loudly to our democracy?
That remains to be seen, but witnessing what I did in Washington DC, I now believe. Yes, we can. Yes, we will. Yes, women, rise. It’s our time and we are the change.