Why We Marched In 2017
“We must accept finite disappointment but never loose infinite hope.”— Martin Luther King, Jr.
The bus ride is a time machine, buzzing with a sort of vengeful joy and purposefulness. Gray-haired women in political slogan t-shirts and pink pussy hats. A handful of couples. All of us in sensible shoes or hiking boots, and if someone started singing “We Shall Overcome,” or “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” we might rocket back to the 60s or 70s to encounter our younger selves filled with hope and promise. When time brought us forward again to this specially chartered Women’s March Rally Bus, we’d find that today’s hopes are materializing into something bigger than we had imagined. The Baltimore Washington Parkway is a lumbering herd of buses, creeping through the dawn.
When I first look into the windows of the bus next to me and see the woman in the pink knitted hat and glasses, I think it’s my own reflection, but it’s not. I can look through that bus into yet another bus and see more women in pussy hats. No matter how alone each of us might have felt during the losses we’ve suffered by this time in our lives, we are not alone now. We are not alone in our revulsion over misogyny. We are not alone in our passion for equal pay and equal power. We are not alone in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault, or in the rejection of this president. We are together, and we are coming together from everywhere.
In the gray haze after Hillary won the popular vote, but lost the election, my daughters and I made our plans. The bottle of expensive champagne I bought to celebrate the election of our first women president sat forgotten on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator while I finessed the details. I’d fly to Baltimore from my home in California, stay with my brother in suburban Baltimore, and ask him for a ride back to the airport the next day where I would catch the bus to the march. My daughters and their partners would fly into D.C. and stay with a friend. We’d meet at the starting point of the march. We were organized. The march was organized. We had our cell phones. We’d find each other.
My bus, along with the thousands of other Rally Buses, is supposed to deposit us at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, but our driver, in an attempt to cater to us or perhaps to avoid the line of buses snaking into the stadium parking lot, drives us down Independence Avenue as close as he can get to the Capitol. “Here you are, ladies,” he says.
I’m walking to the march’s starting point when my younger daughter calls to tell me the subway train she, her partner, my other daughter, and her husband are on has stalled and, that due to claustrophobia, they’ll be walking the last mile — as soon as the train can make it to the next stop. As our phone reception wanes, I pause in a tiny pocket of green next to an old church. The sidewalks and the streets are flooding with marchers, and there’s no end in sight. “There are so many of us,” a women standing next to me says. She’s clutching a sign that reads, “Love Trumps Hate.” Tears run down her cheeks.
It’s the “My president should not remind me of my rapist” sign that puts a lump in my throat. The woman holds it high, above her head. Her fingernail polish is glittery pink and her fingers are encircled with delicate gold rings. I wonder if she has recently Googled her rapist the way I Googled mine. Is he still alive? Where is he? Has he been arrested for hurting someone else? Does she regret not filing charges the way I do?
An hour or so later when my daughters, their partners, and I meet in front of the Supreme Court building, we don’t know yet that there will be no actual march. The magnitude of the crowd will prohibit the logistics of assembling in one place and marching to another. Women, men, children, babies, and dogs, are already filling every available space. More than half-a-million strong, we will shuffle, we will chant, we will go this way and that, but in the end no one is able to traverse more than a few city blocks. There are so many of us that there are not enough portable toilets. Waiting in line for food is an exercise in absurdity. Phones die. The cell phone network and the internet are crushed under attempts to communicate. But the crowd carries on. And on. And on. And amiably on.
By the end of the afternoon we’ve become separated from the younger daughter and her partner. My other daughter, her husband, and I walk the same route for a few blocks, then say our farewells. I’m tired, but buoyed by the efforts of the organizers and the marchers — floating on the innocent enthusiasm of the children with their magic-markered signs about polar bears and the weary endurance of grandmothers with signs that say, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” My tired feet skim the sidewalks, trod by a million protesting feet, because I know women’s rights are human rights, black lives matter, love is love, climate change is real, and immigrants make America great.
As I approach the stadium parking lot, I realize that because of our bus driver’s deviation from the plan, my bus has no numbered spot. It feels like a miracle when I run into our “bus monitor.” She’s in a panic, waving a sign in the fading afternoon light. In a minute or two, I’m settled in my seat. The parking lot lights are buzzing to life, and thousands of marchers squint in the glow of headlights, searching for the bus that is theirs.
The bus breaks down on the way home. At least a half-dozen times, the driver downshifts and jerks the bus to the shoulder while traffic careens around us. After the transmission rests he re-starts the engine and crawls us back into traffic like an oversized suicidal snail. The world is headlights, and taillights, and dark skeletal trees while John Lennon lyrics circle inside my head. Well we all shine on, Like the moon and the stars and the sun. My dead phone is now plugged into the charger next to my seat, so I call my brother to let him know I’ll be arriving late. Then I text my boyfriend back in California to bemoan my crippled bus and tell him I’m afraid we’re going to get into an accident. At this moment everything feels like an accident to me — the good and the bad, the suffering and the joy.
When I put the phone down the Lennon song is still in my head. “Instant Karma,” it’s called. But karma isn’t instant. I can’t hover above my past lives, or this life, or the lives of Washington’s politicians and make sense of how some cosmic score should be settled. All I know is that I don’t want to be launched into my next life on the shoulder of the Baltimore Washington Parkway tonight. I want to wake to tomorrow’s headlines, whatever they are. I want another day to tell myself that love trumps hate. I want a reason to pop the cork on that champagne.