Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March January 21 2017

I was on the fence about marching for weeks. "I'm not a marcher," I would say, which sounds kind of precious, but really, I'm not. The last time I remember marching for a cause was the Vietnam moratorium in 1969. I told my mother I wanted to go down to Washington University in St. Louis for the protest. She was worried. For one thing she knew my dad would have a fit if he found out that I had gone. She called my school, Parkway Central in the St. Louis suburbs and asked the principal why they didn't have some kind of program at the high school that day so students wouldn't have to go to down to dangerous scary Wash U in the city to protest. He basically called us all a bunch of draft-dodging hippies and that pissed her off. So she told me I could go. I had to make two promises, a) help her keep this secret from my father, since we would all be in big trouble if he found out, and b) I had to be home before 5 pm so that promise "a" could be kept and so that I would be home well before dark.

I promised and my friend Fran and I spent the day at Washington University. I mostly remember sunshine and walking around a college campus trying to look like we belonged there. I don't remember speakers, and I don't think I actually marched, but we were home in plenty of time, and I don't think my dad ever found out.

But that's the last and maybe the only time I ever marched for a cause, until now. This time there was no one to ask permission except my own little self. And my self was arguing with me. I could come up with a long litany of reasons why this would be a bad idea. The crowd would be huge, it would be a hassle to get into the city, I'm not in agreement with every single little thing the marchers might yell, what if there was rioting, what if someone started shooting, what if there was a bomb, etc. etc. I also felt like I needed to have a definite idea WHY I was marching, and I just didn't. What I had was an almost inchoate longing to DO SOMETHING. I'm deathly afraid of what Trump might do as president. I'm worried for people that depend on the ACA for healthcare (like us!). I'm worried about abortion rights. I'm worried about the rats nest of hatred and bigotry his campaign unleashed.

But I needed to have some reason that was positive to march. I had to march FOR something, not just against. I could march for women's rights. I could march for human rights. I could march for kindness, for decency, for my country. So okay, I've got my reasons. But I was still hesitant.

I finally said that I would make up my mind on Friday, inauguration day. Either march in Boston, march in Concord, or stay home and march in my heart. The indecision went away gradually, so when I woke up Friday morning I knew what I was going to do. I was going to Boston and I was going to march!

On Friday I boycotted the inauguration. No TV, no radio, minimal social media. I do think Putin tried to influence our election. I don't think there was any fraud in the vote itself, people made their decisions and voted as they saw fit. But the email hacking surely influenced enough people to make a difference. And I know enough decent people that voted for Trump because they had decided that Clinton was not to be trusted to feel like the Russians stole the election for Trump.

Well anyway. I bought my ticket on the Boston Express bus online on Friday. I decided to ride the 10:05 AM bus, which would get me into South Station in Boston by 10:40. I would walk from South Station to The Commons and then see how things went.

I got to the bus station about 20 minutes early. There were at least 25 women in the Salem bus terminal waiting when I got there. Many of them were wearing pink "pussy hats", knit hats with little cat ears in reference to Trump's pussy grabbing nastiness. I didn't wear anything special and didn't carry a sign. All I had was me, and snacks.

When the bus arrived the driver announced that he had 17 spaces left and would take anyone going to the airport first. They also announced that they were adding another bus to the schedule so even if this one filled up there would still be plenty of seats. Soon there were only two seats left. The women in front of me were traveling together in a large group so they let me get on ahead of them. One more woman got on after me and then we were off.

The bus, which originated in Manchester and stopped in Londonderry too, was full of women going to the march. The ride was uneventful and even the traffic wasn't that bad. The organizers had begged everyone to take public transportation and I think people listened. It would have been madness to try to drive to Boston on that Saturday.

When we got off at South Station I didn't really know which way to go but it didn't matter. All I needed to do was follow the large groups of women carrying signs and wearing pussy hats!

A teaming mass of people were entering The Commons from all directions. Somewhere there was a stage and we could hear someone speaking and the crowd cheering. I decided to try to get to higher ground so that I would be able to see what was going on and maybe hear the speakers. I slowly made my way into the crowd but try as I might I couldn't even see the stage, much less hear what they were saying. Some kids had climbed into the trees to try to get a better view. We asked them if they could see the stage but they laughed and said no.

As I edged closer the crowd got denser and denser. Suddenly it just felt too crowded to me. I was apprehensive about getting into a situation where people could get crushed or trampled . I looked around and realized that if I walked toward Beacon street on the north side of The Commons I would be on much higher ground and would have a better perspective on things.

I made my way to Beacon street. From there I had a much better view of the park, but still couldn't see the stage, let alone hear anything. I recognized Marty Walsh's (Boston's mayor) accent when he spoke, but couldn't make out the words. And when I heard people chanting Warren! Warren! Warren! I knew that Elizabeth Warren must be speaking. Finally I decided to give up on hearing the speakers and just enjoy my surroundings.

People were fun to watch. There were all ages, all colors, all ethnic origins. I ended up behind some female electricians, holding up a pro-union sign. Periodically I would move around a little, watching little kids, reading signs, eaves-dropping on nearby conversations. Someone next to me said, "this looks like 1968". Well yes, it did.

I waited patiently, unsure when the actual march would start or if it had already started. I moved out of the park and up onto the actual street, which was closed to traffic. The police had blocked the streets with dump trucks and plows which seemed like a good idea. We stood around in the sunshine and eventually people seemed to be moving down Beacon street toward Charles Street and the Public Garden. It took me awhile to decide that the march itself had actually begun, but before I really knew what was happening I was slowly walking down Beacon Street too. We were marching!

It really turned into a march somewhere between Charles and Arlington. People were shouting slogans, some anti-Trump (hey hey ho ho Donald Trump has got to go), some pro-choice (my body my choice), some (Lets go science!) This one made me laugh although I knew they were talking about climate change. But it just sounded like something a bunch of Harvard and MIT grads would chant.

We continued marching down Arlington to Commonwealth, down Commonwealth a few blocks and then back. The Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of Commonwealth and Boylston had their bells chiming songs of freedom, from We Shall Overcome, to Amazing Grace, to America the Beautiful. I loved that.

As I arrived at Boylston I decided I was finished with marching and would try to make it to the 3 pm bus back to Salem. I had barely enough time but it was worth a shot. Once I got away from The Commons and the march the crowd lessened and I could walk quickly. I made it back to South Station and onto the bus with minutes to spare.

I took a seat next to another fellow marcher and we fell into a conversation about what happens next. I told her I was trying to be more proactive politically by signing up for different action groups such as the, and that Lee and I were looking into joining the Salem Democratic organization and working locally for causes we believe in. And I belong to the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, but I haven't been very active lately, mainly because Concord is far away.

So all and all I'm glad I can say I was there. The pictures of the marches all over the world, big and small, are inspiring. The next part is harder, staying active, working for change, staying vigilant. I'm hopeful and despairing, frightened and defiant, sad and inspired. I stood up and was counted, and so did hundreds of thousands of other people. This is just the beginning.

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