“I don’t march.”
This is what I would say to people at my church or in social justice organizations that I’ve jumped in and out of since college. They would ask me to march for some cause or another, attend rallies, etc. And my response would always be the same — I do not march. For several reasons, the main one being that I am allergic to crowds of more than fifty people. It’s not all that comfortable marching, for one thing often the weather doesn’t always cooperate. It can be cold, as it was to a degree yesterday. Everyone thought it would fifty-four degrees, felt more like forty-four degrees. Or maybe that is what fifty-four degrees feels like when you have been standing and walking outside for six hours? And other people don’t always cooperate either, there have been cases of tear gas, being beaten with police batons, etc. So from my perspective, marches can be scary.
On top of all of this, is I have never been certain that a protest march accomplishes that much. Granted many have, such as Martin Luther King’s historic march on Selma, Alabama in support of Voting Rights, which lasted days. Or the marches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in support of the women’s right to vote. But none of the marches that I had been requested to participate in seemed to accomplish all that much. Of course they weren’t that large either, and tended to be about smaller and at times far more controversial things, such as libraries closing their doors, a hospital shutting down, reproductive rights, or leading to a rally to protest prisoner’s rights at a State or local prison. Not that these aren’t worthwhile causes, they are, but many feel conflicted about them. And there are other ways, or so I’ve found, to protest them such as sit-ins, letter writing campaigns, calling Congressmen and Senators, volunteering at the prisons, funding Defender Projects, etc.
So, I don’t march. We have established this. I am on the cusp of fifty years of age and I have never in my life marched. That is until yesterday. On January 21, 2017, for the first time in my life I choose to participate in a protest march.
And all week long, I thought, would it matter if I marched in the Women’s March? Would anyone even notice if I came? What could I possibly add to this? It’s not like I had close friends or family asking me to meet up with them. No one at my workplace appeared to be doing it or supporting it. I had,however, found out through social media that my church was organizing a group to march in New York City and Washington DC. That the weather was supposed to be nice, in the fifties, no rain. Granted the trains would be screwed up for construction, just as they’d been for the last three weekends, but it was still doable. And I knew people from the church who were participating — we weren’t close buddies, and barely saw each other outside of church, but, we did care about each other and I knew I’d be safe.
Still, I debated. My right leg was bothering me on Friday, that old sciatic nerve coming back to taunt me. Also, my workplace had just moved offices. Our last day in Mid-town Manhattan was Friday, January 20, 2017. We would be in Jamaica, Queens on Monday. Did I really want to travel back to Mid-Town, Manhattan and march? And really, would it matter?
I set my alarm for 8AM on Saturday morning. I would check the weather and if it was clear and warm enough, I would travel to my church and march. I woke up before the alarm, at 7:22 AM. And nervous, because I had never done this before, prepared to join up with my church. I think I must have gone to the toilet fifteen times before I made it out the door with my water bottle, kind energy bars, and trail mix. The trains were screwy, as expected. Also unexpectedly crowded. A mass of people took the G train with me to Hoyt-Schemerhorn, where we jumped over to the F, which for some reason or other was running on the C line this weekend. On the train, I saw a woman from church that I recognized. Like me, she was wearing a bright purple down jacket, and unlike me, a pink knitted cap with pussy-ears. Her hair was white, she had on reading glasses, and like me, her nose was deep in a book.
As we exited the first train to jump over to the other one, I tapped her on the shoulder. She immediately knew my name while I, I am embarrassed to say, struggled to remember her’s. Was it Nancy? There were about four Nancy’s at our church. Turns out I was right, her name was Nancy. It also turns out that she’d gotten the time wrong. Nancy thought the church was leaving for the march at 10:00 AM and she’d missed them. So she was planning on going to the march directly and not stopping by the church first. I told her, no, the meet up time at our church was 10 AM, we were leaving for march meet-up point in Manhattan at 10:20 AM. She thanked me profusely, if she hadn’t run into me on the subway, she’d have been marching in the crowd alone. And it was much more fun to march with people she knew.
Upon arriving at the march site, I found that I had another use — I was taller than a lot of people and able to see the signs and take pictures of the crowd from a different perspective. At one point, I was able to serve as the organizers eyes, and help her find people in the crowd. At another, I helped people join up with each other. One woman, also dressed in bright purple, and from my church, gave me a turkey burger to boost my energy. During the march, I spoke to people I didn’t know. And we bonded over our mutual desire to rise against the hate and the fascism. To support people different from ourselves, and try somehow to understand how this happened. One man, thin as a rail, with glasses and dressed all in black, told me that they should deport him too, he had a tattoo by a Mexican immigrant on his shoulder, and his ear pierced by a man from the Caribbean.
Crossing street, we had to jump back at a red light. I can’t remember where this was exactly. Just that the police were kind, and smiled at us, as we waited for the light to turn. At another point in the proceedings, a small child was lost and we did an echo and response throughout the crowd to locate her. “Natalie, 12 years old, Lost, Magenta Jacket”.
Our group leader coined the chant, partly as a joke, “we need a leader, not a creepy tweeter”, which took off like wildfire. The people around us, people we’d never met until today, loved it so much they kept chanting it at different intervals, and it jumped across the crowd. Along with other chants, about rights for women equals rights for all. There were signs of every color and creed, supporting people of all races, genders, sexuality, sizes, shapes, nationalities, and ethnicity.
And before long, I realized I wasn’t marching with 60-75,000, I was marching with over 300,000 like-minded souls who stood on the side of love. In front of me, one of our group was carrying a bright pink sign stating “Support the Rights of All Immigrant Women”, another held a bright green sign “Respect Mother Earth”. Around me, I saw, “Black Lives Matter”, and heard the strands of Lady Gaga’s song, “Born this Way”. There was an earth balloon, and one that we kept finding ourselves behind at various points stating WTF?, which we found insanely funny.
It was a cold day. In the low fifties and forties. But not freezing. My feet had gone numb along with my neighbors. Most of us were not dressed as warmly as we should have been. Many like myself had never marched before. Many had chosen to do this the day before, right after the inaugural speech. Yet the sun came out and warmed us, smiling it’s support. The only time it has come out this weekend in New York was yesterday, around noon and it stayed sunny for hours.
At one point we learned that we wouldn’t make it to Trump Tower, that the Tower would be blocked off. This annoyed us, and we worried for a few scant moments it would turn violent. But the worry melted, and we decided we didn’t care. We would be heard. We waived at the news choppers and the camera men and women along the route. We took pictures ourselves and posted them on social media.
The march route in NYC wasn’t supposed to be that long. It extended from approximately 50th and 2nd Avenue to 56th and 5th Avenue. People would join it at various launch points from 1st Avenue or near the UN. We joined up at 1st and 47th Street. It took us five hours to get second avenue. We were supposed to launch at 12 noon. But didn’t get there until close to 2PM. We’d been waiting since 11:00-11:30 AM. To give you an idea of how huge it was, 5th Avenue had come to a standstill with the first launch group. Every train into the city was packed with protestors. A friend and I bailed around 4PM, when we had reached 42nd Street and Lexington. They had to close off all of 42nd Street, all of 2nd Avenue, most of 1st Avenue, all of 5th Avenue, and 43rd Streets through 50th streets. The rest of our group reached Grand Central around 5:36PM. We basically marched in protest from 10 AM to 7PM if not later.
And, here’s the thing — it was peaceful. People were overall, kind to each other. Supportive. And of all ages, races, creeds, genders, and sizes and shapes. No one was excluded. We came as ourselves. Some wore pink hats with ears, some did not. Many carried signs, some did not. We marched in unity. Together.
When I came home, I found out from my mother over the phone and later social media, that over 677 cities world-wide marched. Small and large cities. In every state in the US. And on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Anywhere humans lived and could safely organize a march, a march was held. There were no riots, no violence, no horrible weather conditions preventing the marches, no terrorist attacks, it was peaceful. Unlike the day before, where it rained, and there were violent riots.
Why march? Because we had to. There was a sign in the crowd, that stated “It’s so bad, the introverts had to march” or something to that effect. We have survived two world wars, and many others. Big and small. Fought on our own soil and abroad. We survived the Holocaust, but just barely. Our relatives, family members, fathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins fought Hitler and Mussolini and other fascist dictators. We too will fight them. But not with guns, grenades, and hate filled speeches.
I marched yesterday because I had to rise up and let the world know that I will not let anyone be hurt on my watch. I am only one person, but…I have learned that sometimes the tiny acts can change the course of events.
Years ago, there was a quote from a pop culture television series that continues to haunt me in more ways than one, in a way it has become my mantra:
Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.” – Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I think what we do matters. We can’t change what other people do, nor should we be able to, but we can control our own actions. We aren’t puppets. And it’s what we do and how we react to these events that shows us who we are.