I’m on the Metro in Washington, D.C., in a crush of pink-hatted (mostly) women, many carrying protest signs. We are really doing this. We are feeling our power, many of us for the first time. It is an extraordinary thing to witness and be part of. Successive subway platforms are jammed with more people in pink hats. There seems to be enough space on our train for everyone who wants to travel with us: woman, man, child, white, brown, black, lesbian, trans, queer, grey, whatever. We squeeze in to make room. This is what democracy looks like: no one gets left behind.
Thirty-six hours earlier, when I walked into the splendor of the Great Hall at Chicago’s Union Station and looked around, there they were: this tribe had begun to gather. I spied three women at the other end of a long wooden bench. I didn’t know them then, but I learned their names: Danielle, Joni, and Mary. Those three had been friends for many years; I was a stranger. By some secret signal, we recognized each other. They gathered me (and others) into their embrace and the dynamic of my journey shifted. Later that night that train full of women on their way to Washington pulsed with resolution and anticipation. We told stories about how we got to this place, on this train, with this rush of energy toward this common purpose.
I slept in the window seat next to Danielle. Each time I woke that night and looked out the window, we were next to a river. What river is this? An hour later: Is this the same river, or a different river? I think, We don’t have so many rivers in the West. I’m in unfamiliar territory, a land of many rivers.
We women are like rivers, converging on the capital like a wave, like a flood, like a force of nature or an act of God.
The train carrying our band of nomads arrived in D.C. at 1 p.m. on Inauguration Day, just as the ceremony commenced. “It’s good to be among friends on this darkest of days,” we said. We parted ways, going to our respective lodgings, and promised to stay in touch. (We have.) I made my way to the Metro and stood in line to buy a ticket. I boarded the Red Line to Friendship Heights. There were no friends on that train. I was nervous. My suitcase and backpack branded me as an outlier, as having not attended the inauguration. Two women wearing red hats fawned over a man who had photographed the day’s event with a 10-inch long (phallic) camera lens.
The next day, our band of eight was out the door early. After our Metro ride downtown, we were caught in a different, less directional crush. We’d been warned that our cell phones wouldn’t work. We’d also been coached by more experienced protestors to write our names and an emergency contact phone number on our forearms with a permanent marker, “just in case.” (In case of what?) We tried hard to stay together, holding hands, making our way through the crowd to where we thought we wanted to be, which turned out not to be the place we wanted. We wound up near the U.S. Capitol reflecting pool where police were chasing young men (mostly) off the scaffolding that had been erected for the inauguration the day before. More were drawn to climb, and the police chased them away, too. We stood a while longer, and watched the crowd.
We eventually headed back into the fray, trying to get closer to the stage. We knew which direction to walk by the roar that pulsed through the crowd. Only those very close to the stage could hear the speakers, but when they cheered, that cheer resonated through the hundreds of thousands of us waiting to march. Hundreds of thousands is an extraordinary number of people. It could have been terrifying, but I was more uncomfortable on that first Metro ride on inauguration day.
Those in power now, our current government, are communicating—either blatantly or by their actions: “Be afraid of each other. Get what you can for yourself. You’re not responsible for anyone else. Take, then take some more. If you’re rich, you deserve more. If you’re poor, sick or different from us, you deserve less, or maybe nothing at all. We know what’s best for you, so shut up and sit down.”
In contrast, at the Women’s March, over and over I heard marchers thank the police who were on duty. We made space for elderly women in sensible shoes, carrying signs that said, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this s***.” Breastfeeding moms carried their small children in front packs into this huge crowd, and it worked. We felt safe. We felt heard.
And then, after hours of standing around, we began to march. We walked and chanted in our biggest voices. We passed the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, shouting, “Shame! Shame!” Shame because the man who had just been inaugurated as president (and his children) would be making billions, brazenly, blatantly, from that property and other business ventures because he is the president. We shouted, “Welcome to your first day! We are not going away!” Our energy filled the streets and radiated up into the sky.
And yet …
While we were marching, I kept thinking, This is not how things get done in Washington, D.C. We have more work to do when we get home. Five months on we know it’s true; we have work to do every day. Have we been complacent in defending our democracy? Maybe so, but not anymore. We are radical. We are powerful. We are running for office. We are voting. We are donating. We are marching. We are suing. We are writing letters. We are attending meetings. We are demanding answers. We are radical. We are powerful. We are not going away.
This is what democracy looks like: no one gets left behind.