After the election last November, when I heard that a friend of mine who lives in the DC area was offering crash space for friends who wanted to be part of the Women’s March, I snagged a bed immediately. Though I had no idea how I was going to get there, I knew I wanted to go even if it meant thumbing a ride.
The idea was to put Donald Trump on notice that he was going to be closely watched during the next four years, but I’m not here to debate politics. This is only a trip report of an historical event. Entirely appropriate for the History Geek blog, though it’s not often I get to actually participate in the history.
I didn’t have a lot of cash lying around for a plane ticket, and my car is an SUV that guzzles gas so fast you can hear the sucking noise. When I learned there was going to be a charter bus to carry protesters to the March from Nashville, I jumped on that. $150 round trip, and no airport security hassles. You can’t beat that.
The morning of January 20, Inauguration Day (capitalized because the first thing he did in office was to make it a holiday), my daughter drove me to the designated pickup place near the airport. There a bus sat in the middle of the parking lot, and there were people in pink ::cough:: feline hats gravitating toward it. We were all pretty early. No driver in sight, and we wondered where he might be.
I looked at the bus. Nashville is show bus central because of the music industry here. My husband is a show bus driver, and I know a custom coach when I see one. This one had two slide-outs (sections that can expand while the bus is parked), and by the lack of windows there was no way it was a seated coach. I went, “Hm. Fifty people on this bus? I don’t think so.”
Some news crews were there, photographing the bus and looking for people to interview. One of them spotted my youngandbeautiful daughter and came over to our car, wanting to know if we (she) would care to speak to Channel 2. She declined on grounds that she wasn’t going to the march, but suggested I would be happy to oblige. So the nice young man miked me up and asked me some questions. I may not look hot, but I give good interview, and explained how we protesters wanted Trump to understand that we weren’t going to just let him plunder the country. I haven’t seen the footage, but I was congratulated by friends who saw me in the final edit, and you can bet nobody was surprised to learn what I think. I learned a long time ago that pretending to not have an opinion only gets you ignored.
Soon the custom coach drove away and was replaced by the seated coach that had been hired to take us to DC. Well, at least the Prevost had been photogenic. We all climbed aboard, and we were off to the nation’s capital.
I’m accustomed to long bus rides (see above about me and buses), so I was entirely okay with spending the day trundling eastward. I Facebooked, slept, and Facebooked some more.
We stopped in Knoxville to swap drivers, something to do with DOT regulations regarding driver time behind the wheel, speed and distance. Within moments of pulling up at a convenience store where stood a uniformed woman with an overnight bag, my phone rang. It was my husband.
“How are you doing? You in Knoxville?”
He’s been a cross-country driver for more than four decades. He probably could figure out what mile marker I was nearest at any given moment.
On the road again. Just as we approached the Vienna/Fairfax Metro Rail station in Virginia, where I was supposed to leave the bus and be picked up by my friend, B, and taken to Reston, my phone died. (See above Facebooking.) I realized my charging cord was in the bag I’d put in the luggage bay of the bus. Oh, dear. I had no idea which side of the interstate I was supposed to find her. The bus driver didn’t like having to stop, but there were a number of riders who wanted to buy train passes for the next day. The instant the bus stopped I jumped out to claim my bag, dug through it and found my cord, climbed back on the bus to plug in my phone, and was able to contact my friend’s husband, L. He told me where to find B, but said she’d left her phone at home. So I signed off, repacked my bag, and tried to leave the bus to find my ride.
Our bus driver objected. It wasn’t safe, she said. B was waiting for me on the other side of the bridge across the interstate. I was fresh out of patience. I assured her I travel a lot and knew where I was going. Without waiting for a reply (read: argument) I hurried away in search of B.
Found her. The trip returned to being fun again. We went to her house, she directed me to a mattress on the floor of her office (I wasn’t the only protester she was harboring), and I showered then crashed. I’m 60 years old, and no longer have the stamina I had when I was twenty and traipsing around here and there.
Breakfast was an almond-coconut cake, an experiment by B, and coffee. I can accomplish anything if there’s enough coffee.
The four of us—B, L, the other protester, M, and myself—piled into the car and drove to the Ballston Metro Rail station, parked, and made our way inside. And smacked up against a wall of people in pink hats. It was about an hour before the rally at Independence and 3rd was to start. We’d thought we’d left enough time to allow for crowds, but none of us had dreamed there would be this many people. Little girls in pink capes. Folks in assorted costumes and appropriately lettered T shirts. Nearly everyone had a sign bearing a witty slogan or angry statement. Pussy hats. A drawing of female internal organs and “Come and take it.” “My pussy, my rules.” I carried a sign B had made for me, which declared, “No Surrender.”
We made our way to the train platform and along it, away from the worst of the crowding. Trains came, filled with pink-hatted protesters. Most didn’t stop, because they were too full to even squeeze on one more. It took about an hour to finally see a train with space. An entire car had just been added to it, so we swooped onto the empty car and found actual seats. We thought we were home free. Ha! Silly us.
We left the train at the Smithsonian station because we’d heard the station nearest the epicenter, L’enfant, was closed.
The scene that greeted us seemed mellow enough. We all moved in the direction I trusted was toward the March, little knowing we’d already arrived. We stopped to tape our signs to cardboard wrapping paper rolls, and when we were all set this guy wearing a yellow visibility vest asked if he could take our pictures. He was smiling and cheerful, as the rest of us were, really into the spirit of the event. Of course we happily obliged the pleasant fellow. We were there to be seen, and photos were expected. While this was going on, I noticed the photographer and others standing around wore insignia that indicated they were some sort of security detail. I thought about that for a moment, and decided if anything untoward were to happen today, I would be glad whoever dunnit might be on camera and easily apprehended. And again, I wasn’t there in order to hide from the authorities. I smiled for the folks at Homeland Security.
We started walking toward a stage we’d heard about but never saw. We got as far as Independence and 12th, where we were halted by the crowd. There were Jumbotron screens on each block, so we stood to watch the action nine blocks away from the stage. We’d missed Gloria Steinem, a big disappointment for me, but were just in time to see Michael Moore. I adore Michael Moore. He knows his stuff and never beats around the bush. He’s the one who, before the election, was screaming from the rafters that Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, that despite the seeming impossibility he had a real shot at being elected. Folks should have listened.
Then came others, among them Van Jones, Ashley Judd, and I’m told Madonna performed but by then I wasn’t paying attention. Van Jones has impressed me since the election as one who is keeping a level head. On election night he was visibly shocked when the election was called and the Trump surrogates gloated like spoiled fifth-graders. He kept his cool nevertheless. Since then, he’s gone about his commentary gig with a calm that is reassuring and sets the best example I can point to these past months.
When Judd came on, I couldn’t see well and had no idea who that was, giving a truly kick-ass speech.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Ashley Judd. She’s a country singer.”
I live in Hendersonville, Tennessee. I, by God, know who Ashley Judd is. Not a singer, and barely an actor. I was astonished that this strong, intelligent speaker was she. I’d always known Judd to be rather vapid and dull. I went, “Wow.” Maybe I was wrong about her.
It wasn’t till later I learned she was only reciting a poem by nineteen-year-old Nina Donovan. Oh. Now some are saying Ashley Judd for president. I say forget Judd. Get me Donovan.
We stood in the street for about three hours, I think, as the crowd around us grew more and more dense. My back began to hurt (because Sixty), and I had to bow like a Japanese janitor to ease the ache. It was getting to be time to march, but nobody knew which way to go. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people as far as the eye could see in any direction. Plainly the most likely way out would be the way we’d come in. So we turned around and tried to move.
No luck. Though everyone now wanted to leave, nobody could get the message to those at the edge of the crowd, wherever that might be. A chant began. “March! March! March! March!” As the people behind us pressed forward, and the people in front of us resisted the press, it became impossible to move at all. Claustrophobia kicked in, and I fought the panic. I deliberately disconnected from the urge to push, as did everyone around me. What could have been a dangerous mess became stillness. For a short while nobody moved. There was nowhere to go.
Then slowly little rivulets began to form., like an avalanche of pebbles. One person would step into a space, and someone else would follow. A line formed, and like a snake wended its way through small spaces between people. When that space came to an end, we all waited until another space made itself clear, then another snake formed and moved as far as it could go. For the next hour or so it went like that. This way, then that way, steadily progressing toward the intersection that led to the Smithsonian. Along the way we were entertained by a huge, orange rubber ball being volleyed about, on which someone had drawn a likeness of Trump. They called it “The Impeach Ball.”
Then the press opened up, and the March truly began. Relieved to be able to move, our mood lightened. People began to chant and wave signs as we progressed along Jefferson toward 14th to cross the Mall. Up ahead I saw the Washington Monument, towering over a sea of pink hats and witty signs. I began to read them in earnest:
“Keep your filthy paws off my silky drawers!”
“Send in the clowns. Don’t bother, they’re here.”
“We are women, hear us roar.”
“The future is nasty.”
“A woman’s place is in the Resistance.”
“I’m so angry, I made this sign.”
“Make America think again.”
“Nasty women unite.”
“A woman’s place is in the House and Senate.”
“This pussy grabs back.”
“Not my president.”
“We shall overcomb.”
“Tiny hands can’t build walls.”
“Fight like a girl.”
“We need to build bridges, not walls.”
“Let’s keep immigrants and deport the clown.”
“Democracy looks like this.”
“Girls just wanna have fun-damental rights.”
“Women’s rights are human rights.”
“Melania – blink twice if you need rescuing.”
“Fags hate Trump”.
“We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter.”
And the prescient:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little czar; Putin made you what you are.”
People chanted in call-and-response:
“Tell me what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”
And to please the inner middle-schooler:
“He’s orange! He’s gross! He lost the popular vote!”
At 14th the procession turned to cross the Mall, and room to move became scarce again. Police directing traffic on Constitution meant a start-stop movement now. Everyone was tired and hungry. Underfoot there was white plastic flooring of some kind to protect the grass, which would trip you if you didn’t look down. Most everyone was struggling to remain polite, but some tempers flared occasionally. It was difficult to keep it under control. The crowd appeared to entirely cover the Mall. Once more it was people as far as the eye could see.
Finally, at Constitution and 14th, space came into view. Up the slope on 14th the crowd had thinned and it appeared people were escaping. The March was headed west, toward the White House, but exhaustion and plunging blood sugar (because Sixty and Diabetic) made escape most attractive. We’d lost M hours ago when she’d gone looking for a restroom and never made it back, so we went on up 14th and would join back up with her at our designated rallying point in Ballston.
Right away we noticed there were lines from the train station and halfway down the block. Oh, joy. Hopping on a train and getting out of Dodge wasn’t going to happen. So we found a takeout shop a few blocks up, snagged a couple of chairs, and I sat in an exhausted stupor, drinking diet soda and munching the last of the jerky I had in my drawstring small necessities bag. I called my husband and told him all about the great fun I was having.
Actually, it was fun. However much good it did, however little good it felt like we were doing, it was heartening to be around like-minded people just as apprehensive of the future as ourselves. More importantly, to know we’re not alone in the resistance.
We eventually made our way westward, packed into a train like the sort of sardines that don’t make it out of the can in one piece. Our signs had all been discarded, one-by-one, because there was no way they would fit with us on the return trip. We rallied with M at the restaurant in Ballston, ended up at a barbecue place in Reston, and had some fabulous ribs and probably the worst margarita I’ve ever tasted (but I had two.) We returned to the house, swapped photos, then I crawled into bed so I wouldn’t fall into it. Not kidding.
The bus ride home among fellow marchers reaffirmed the value of having gone. I gained Facebook friends to replace the ones who’d dumped me after the election. We watched the news on the bus TV and cheered the coverage of the DC march, as well as all the marches held on every continent on earth, including Antarctica.
Antarctica, you say? Yes. About thirty researchers in Antarctica had marched that day. (All jokes about the March of the Penguins will be met with stony face.)
At the end of the day, we are not alone in the Resistance. Load up the R2 unit, we’re going for a ride.