I just returned from the Million Women’s March on Washington, one of 673 that took place around the world today. I want to thank you for making this possible. It was your “locker room talk” that gave us the kick in the pants we needed to get off our asses. Women and the men who support us have been complacent far too long. Thanks to you, we now know that was a mistake.
Today’s march was an amazing event. I’ve seen nothing like it in 50 years of going to marches all over the country. When it was first announced I was skeptical that anything big could be organized quickly. I was wrong. Since Nov. 10, women have been turning out for meetings all over the country in greater numbers than before. Going to a march gave them a way to focus their dismay at what has happened to their country and what it portends for the future. The many women I spoke to today came not just for themselves but for their children and grandchildren.
I left early to walk the two miles to the gathering point at 3rd and Independence Avenue, thinking I would get a good camera spot from which to shoot the speakers on the stage. Almost immediately I saw women with march signs, some with pink pussy hats, walking the same route. That’s when I knew it would be big. By the time I got to 7th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. the crowd was so thick that it looked like it was the march, not one of the feeder routes to the rally.
I nudged my way down 7th St. as the crowds thickened until I could barely move. While I saw many signs, the only group I recognized was Food not Bombs, which was dispensing free coffee and soup to anyone who wanted a cup. I had planned on walking to Independence Ave. and from there to the 3rd St. stage but it soon became clear that I couldn’t do that. The crowd was packed and wasn’t moving.
Instead I turned west on Jefferson Dr. hoping to find a jumbotron to watch. Fences were everywhere, making it even harder to move around. I sometimes had to walk a hundred yards just to reach the end of a fence and make a u-turn to the other side. I spent hours walking around or hanging out at the old Smithsonian castle and surrounding buildings.
I saw a lot of signs. They were mostly home-made. There hadn’t been time to produce a plethora of professionally printed signs as is normal at large marches, but there were stations where cardboard and marking pens were provided for people to produce their own. The sentiments and the printing was so diverse that most people must have brought their signs with them.
The museums were open for business. I was impressed with the courtesy and efficiency with which the guards and bag searchers handled an enormous flow of people, coming inside mostly to find bathrooms and food. At least one museum guard opened the men’s room to women to relieve some of the congestion. I haven’t used a men’s room in decades.
I never did find a spot from which I could see the speakers on a jumbotron, but there were a few places where I could hear bits and pieces. Mostly I made my way through crowds and crowds of people, while reading their signs and taking photographs. Other people walked around as well, signs held high. They couldn’t see the proceedings, but they could be seen by others. They were marching, even if they didn’t know where they were marching. Those who weren’t walking were standing on everything, straining to see something.
Around 1:00 I worked my way out onto the Mall, which was covered by white plastic walking boards to protect the grass. I thought I would get ahead of the front line of the march, which was scheduled to leave at 1:15. At least there was more space on the Mall. Other people had the same idea. The carousel was full of riders carrying signs such as “Fight like a Girl” and “never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it.”
People posed for photographs in the less crowded space. I took several of tradeswomen with signs such as “strong union women make American stronger” and “Union Plumber — flush HATE down the drain.” We all moved slowly to 14th St. where the march was supposed to turn from Independence Ave. and go to Constitution Ave.
The march was already there. If there was a front line, I missed it. I slipped into the crowd thinking I would march the rest of the way but I could barely move. It was more of a slow-motion mosh-pit than a march. Think of a very slow mud-slide, inching its way down a slope, while different rocks (i.e. people) slid into spaces as they opened up.
By the time I reached Constitution Ave. I was feeling claustrophobic so I stayed on 14th St. to escape the crowd. So did a lot of other people. At Pennsylvania Ave. I ran into the same thick crowd I had left at Constitution. Working my way to the other side, I went on to Freedom Plaza and looked toward the Capitol. I saw what seemed to be the entire march coming up Pennsylvania Ave. But that wasn’t the official route. My guess is that the police diverted part of the line to this broad avenue to reduce the congestion on the official route. That means there were at least two marches in DC, going on simultaneously; and maybe more.
The bleachers on Freedom Plaza were full of people who had decided to watch rather than march. So were the official bleachers across the road. The camera riser at the tip of Freedom Plaza, erected for credentialed press to photograph the inaugural parade, was still there. I’ve tried to get credentials to shoot parades and marches from a riser at that spot for decades and never succeeded. Now the perfect camera spot was mine for the taking, as soon as I worked myself up the steps and into position. From there I watched people and signs flowing up Pennsylvania Ave. with the Capitol in the background. The perfect view. What a gift. Mr. Trump, I owe those lovely shots I took to you.
The sea of signs kept coming and coming and coming. As I watched the crowd and read the signs, I thought about many of the things you have said. One sign said “WE are what makes American Great.” Another proclaimed “Love not Hate will make America great.” These reminded me of your campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” which you adopted from Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Historically, America is great when America is good, not when America is greedy. What can you do to make America good? Build doors, not walls. Be kind, not cruel. Will you do those things? Will you make American really great, not just illusorily great?
Then there were the chants. “It’s just your first day. We won’t go away,” was a popular one. Although the Women’s March started as a protest, in a strange way it was also a celebration. Cheers repeatedly rippled through the crowd, as though the marchers had spotted a celebrity or were greeting an expected speaker. Initially I looked around to see who it was. Eventually I realized that this was just a way of saying “we’re back!”
There were a lot of signs about pussies, and grabbing them. You probably didn’t even know how many women you insulted when you talked about pussy grabbing. When you were a boy, touching female private parts was considered a form of sport that daring adolescents engaged in to gain status among their peers and put girls in their place. Most of the country has outgrown that. Most of today’s young men know better.
Most of today’s young women know they don’t have to put up with sexual assault, even unwanted touching. That’s why so many signs said “this pussy grabs back” or “this pussy bites.” They know that “words matter” as well as actions. The Presidency is a “bully pulpit” as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out. Casually talking about grabbing pussy as you have done could bring back the bad old days.
I wanted to stay until the last marcher passed, but even in a heavy coat I was shivering from the cold. Around 4:00 I retreated to the warmth of the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church which was offering warm drinks, snacks and resting space to protestors, or anyone else who dropped in. The church of President Lincoln has long been a haven for dissidents. Wikipedia says you “identify as Presbyterian.” If you are looking for a church to attend when in DC, you might try this one. It should be an educational experience.
I chatted with a group of women from Springfield, Illinois. After 18 hours on a bus to get to DC, they were about to spend another 18 hours to return. The room we were in had the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation displayed in a secure case. We had to clear out at 6:00 to make room for a couple of school groups who were spending the night on the floors and pews of the church, before returning home the next day.
On my way back I crossed K St. where a couple hundred people were still marching, keeping the cops busy diverting traffic. It had been a long day but a glorious one. Some people just weren’t ready for it to end. Further up 14th St. was Scott Circle, where a Civil War general on his horse presides over Massachusetts Ave. Earlier a group of elderly women from a nearby retirement home held their own demonstration there so they didn’t have to walk. The statue and the encircling fence were festooned with signs and posters from the Women’s March on Washington. They should be collectors items. This was an historic event.
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