The supposed liberal coastal bubble can be difficult to find in suburban San Diego, but some of my politically-quiescent or Republican neighbors surprise me by attending the Women’s March. In the days before January 21, many talk about the best route to downtown San Diego, strategizing which combination of carpool, bus, bike, train, or trolley will work that day: it may be the most discussion of multi-modal transport that I have heard since moving to Southern California. I end up on a bus chartered by a neighbor who leads a local dog-park. Someone brings multicolored ribbons to gift to others. There are grandparents and babies here, a real range of ages, but almost everyone on my bus is white.
Once we get downtown, the march itself is more diverse. The speakers call out to many racial groups as well as queer, trans, immigrant, veteran, and deaf communities. We end up walking behind a group of Chinese-speakers who have dyed their hair pink. Most people’s signs are homemade: “Rise up!” “Fight like a girl.” “Keep your little hands off my healthcare.” “Make America think again.” “Dear the rest of the world, we’re sorry about our current president.” “Science is not a liberal conspiracy.” “Hate never makes us great.” “This is what patriotism looks like.”
Some signs are angry but the crowd is cheerful. Marchers keep offering to help, especially whenever I place my nine-year-old daughter on my shoulders. I realize that describing the women’s march as cheerful, generous, and attentive to other’s needs means succumbing to gender stereotypes, but it was a remarkably happy crowd. Grinning groups declare themselves “Four generations of nasty women” and the smiles continued even when the rain began sprinkling and a trolley blocked the originally-planned marching path, until a drum circle led us around.
A couple marchers are dressed like suffragettes. My daughter asks me to explain the meaning of “Orange Hitler” and “misogyny and corruption.” Occasionally someone starts up a chorus of “Women’s rights are human rights” or “We want a leader and not a creepy tweeter,” but there aren’t many chants. Mostly, this crowd is full of people saying, “I love your sign; can I take your picture?” There is drumming and ululations more than sloganeering. People lean over the railings of a docked cruise ship to wave at us. The line of marchers stretches as far as we can see. The police estimate that 30-40,000 came, almost double the predicted attendance, remarkable for this city.
I think of Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about the importance of the cultural front. Michael Denning’s terrific book on The Cultural Front describes the 1930s popularity of marching on May Day, as workers and artists and activists forged a solidarity to leverage a moment of disjuncture and establish a new common sense about who the American people were imagined to be. This is the first time in my life that feels like it might be part of another cultural front. It may also be faux-feminist liberalism at its worst, personal and not structural, racist in its inability to truly address intersectionality. It may be just a moment, not yet a movement. But a huge group of people came out to cheerfully declare opposition to the current administration. Some embraced the pink pussy hats while others found them undignified, but all marched together, exploring new symbols of resistance and maybe gathering new energy for the long struggle ahead.