“I just need to activate!” a woman named Julie confided in me as we stood, jammed together among a sea of pink hats in a Starbucks a few blocks from the start of the Seattle Womxn’s March. Both of us were waiting for friends, and it seemed like hundreds of others had the same idea. Local march organizers had predicted a crowd of 50,000. It was clear by 9:00 AM that the turnout was going to be much bigger.
My little group of marchers, five women and one pink-hatted man, represented modern America’s geographic and political re-sorting in microcosm. We all hailed from the red-state heartland –Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho — and had migrated to the coasts for college and graduate school, then to the evergreen blue bubble of Seattle for jobs in tech and academia and global philanthropy. The rest of the crowd (like Seattle itself) was also overwhelmingly white and middle class, but half the organizers of the march were women of color, and it showed. The event started in the heart of Seattle’s Central District, and the opening rally featured a diverse roster of speakers from immigrant rights groups, from Muslim American organizers, from Native American tribal councils, and more. As we stood listening, cheerful volunteers moved through with small round stickers for each marcher, a charmingly low-tech way to measure the headcount.
The rally turned into a march at 11AM, and we surged forward to join the slow-motion shuffle of tens of thousands through the city. The two hours it took us to walk the first twenty blocks were marked with general good cheer and remarkably little shoving or impatience. Giant, painstakingly handcrafted puppets of female freedom fighters — Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Dolores Huerta — loomed over us. Church bells played the Beatles as we passed by. Occasionally, chants would start, often led by someone in their teens or early twenties. “Black Lives Matter!” our mostly white throng shouted together at one point, eagerly and a bit self-consciously. For the “I-don’t-usually-march” crowd, President Trump seemed to have been the tipping point for public displays of racial solidarity.
As we got closer to downtown, the pace finally picked up, and fingers eagerly pointed skyward. A pair of bald eagles swooped above the crowd, staying with the march as it snaked down the hill. The sun shone in a bright blue sky. Mountains shimmered in the distance. In this outdoors-loving city, nature bestowed a ringing endorsement what is turning out to be largest march in Seattle history.
Yet I couldn’t help remembering Julie’s response that morning in the Starbucks, when I asked her what she was going to do with her new sense of “activation.” She didn’t know, she confessed brightly. She was trying to figure out where to start. It is clearly time for Seattle (and the nation) to read up on our Bayard Rustin, and go from protest to politics.