I had a sense the march would be big and long before I got there, because so many, many people I knew were going — people of all ages, colors, shapes, classes. On the plane from Manchester, New Hampshire my 17-year-old son was one of four males — and one of those was a little boy marching with his mom and two siblings. And then the posts began from all over. Planes descending on D.C. crammed with women ready to march. As one who used to march on Washington a lot in my teens and twenties, this felt — well — unprecedented.
Sure the march was more white and middle class than I would have wished. Marches on Washington usually are. Because it takes money and time to get there and back and most people don’t have enough of either one. One thing that felt different this time was that there were so many marches in so many places across our country and around the world. The air over us all was electric with resistance on January 21 as we gathered. Where I was standing at least — the crowd was pretty diverse in every way. And the feeling was militant: “We Will Not Go Away, Welcome to Your First Day” by the end became “We Will Not Go Away. Welcome to Your Every Day.”
Many tried to say that the march was smaller than a million but the D.C. National Guard counted a million or more. And it felt like that. The D.C. Metro logged 400,000 riders by 11 am that morning. That did not include those coming in on buses from pretty damn much everywhere or those who drove in or flew. When we got off a jammed Metro that wasn’t moving and just started walking, every street, every avenue in D.C. was filled with people — mostly women and a few pretty happy looking men — carrying a million hand-lettered signs.
Ours had been hand-lettered by Sienna Paley, the 16-year-old granddaughter of writer-activist Grace Paley and some by my son. They worked on them while the adults slept. We woke up to these and we carried them: Thou Shalt Keep Your Hands Off My Reproductive Rights, Fallopians 4:28; Black Lives Matter; TRUMP — Tyranno, Racisto, Unetico, Misogyno, Pendejo; Love Not Hate Makes America Great; Fight Racism, Misogyny, Homophobia, Hate, Trump; and DRUMPF — Demagogue, Racist, Unethical, Misogynist, Power-monger, Fraud.
These were some of my most memorable moments of the day:
- When Janelle Monae stood with the Mothers of the Movement, whose children had been killed by police or vigilante violence, singing Say His Name and Say Her Name. And thousand and thousands did.
- When six-year-old Sophie Cruz stood in front of her undocumented, weeping mom and dad and led the crowd in Si Se Puede. God it felt good to say that, felt cathartic after weeks of feeling crushed by the rise of Trumpian fascism.
- When we passed a father and daughter holding a sign that said: “My daddy enlisted in Vietnam…to stop being called Nigger. He’s here today to stop you from judging us by our looks, making us use a coat hanger, and grabbing us by the pussy. And to stop being called Nigger.”
- When we came up behind a mother and daughter with their arms around each other, wearing banners that said: “Strong like my mother,” and “Strong like my daughter.”
And then there was the end, when we, as a crowd, figured out ways around the endless police barricades and bottlenecks intended to slow and break up the march and a bunch of us made it to the National Mall — where the march had been refused a permit. The Mall had been fenced off. And as we leaned on the fences on one side, we saw thousands lean on and break the fences down by the Washington Monument. Then those of us closer to the White House leaned on the fences from our side, broke them down and we all poured onto the grass together.
Marchers streamed toward me, toward the White House, Washington’s skinny white tower behind them. We joined them — as the sun set, and a million birds suddenly came wheeling overhead. And we marched toward the White House chanting, “We Are the People.”
Say what you will about what the marches lacked and where we have yet to go. Damn sure we do have more work to do than we can imagine. No question, the movement has to become more economically and racially diverse, that solidarity must flow in many directions at once, that those of us with privilege must use it in any ways that we can in defense of those most vulnerable to the monstrous changes afoot.
But at that moment on the National Mall I, and I think many around me, felt for the first time since Election Night powerful. It was the largest one-day protest in U.S. history and it felt really good. That matters. Now back to work.