Feeling surreal with little sleep, I floated briskly in a stream of hundreds pouring off the buses and down sidewalks toward the Washington DC Mall. We were united in motion, people of all colors, many coated in bright pinks and pussy hats. And we were peaceful, even as we passed military tanks, armed men leaning watchfully against their vehicles, their uniforms limiting their humanity; we were peaceful even as we glanced fleeting smiles at the serious faces of traffic cops, men and women in blue enforcing crosswalks and flashing signs; we were peaceful even as our sidewalk-width streams became rivers, shutting down streets and covering parks, converging until we were shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow marchers, oddly silent with loud signs.
Being one in a crowd of thousands pressed close, I felt a simultaneous paradox: I was at once the smallest I have ever felt, and the largest–at one with multitudes. They were friendly and distant. We would talk and joke and compare signs, and then politely excuse ourselves to return to our people, or, as in my case, to find them. We were a mass of companionable, polite strangers. I never pushed, and I was never pushed. I pointed where I wanted to go and asked politely if I could pass, then thanked them as I squeezed past shoulders and backs and butts and faces. I joined chains of people, joined by hands, gently pushing through the crowds. One unspoken rule we all respected: never come between a person and their group. No matter how serpentine the path, we wound our way around families, never through them. The distance from RFK Stadium to the Carousel on the National Mall was only 3 miles, but navigating the crowds took 1.75 hours.
The Women’s March on Washington was a singularly transformative and challenging experience for me. I realized that probably, the pre-organization and the majority white presence helped prevent police violence. I learned that while the women who bore signs celebrating their vaginas felt empowered, trans women found the signs alienating, as if they aren’t “real women.” I learned that much of the feminist movement I am familiar with has not been very cognizant of the struggles of women of color (whether black, latina, middle eastern, etc.). I am now challenged to learn more about intersectional feminism.
Going forward I will try to educate myself on the struggles of others, and find ways to unify – to find common ground. I am inspired to action. I recognize that young or no, I cannot sit back inactive as a democratic citizen. I believe we are in a struggle for American democracy itself, and I will do something every day to join the fight. I will participate in state and local elections.
To experience the Women’s March was to experience the majority that was the popular vote. I have felt afraid every day after the election, but marching in unity with thousands of people for human rights has strengthened my resolve.
We talk as if history and politics are separate from us. Time and space make the stories into abstractions, inadequately pictured in our minds with images and symbols from–related and unrelated–individual experiences. Yes, I know American democracy is threatened or falling, but I still need to wash the dishes and go to work. A white supremacist is running our National Security Council, but I am still “Laurel” and pursuing higher education in ecology. I must exist simultaneously as a body in a larger body of democratic-republic people, watching as our rights dissolve, and as a named-being with limited influence, small with a need to be laser-focused to “get anywhere” or make anything happen.
“The individual, on the one hand, and the world, on the other, are simply the abstract limits or terms of a concrete reality which is ‘between’ them, as the concrete coin is ‘between’ the abstract, Euclidean surfaces of its two sides. Similarly, the reality of all ‘inseparable opposites’–life and death, good and evil, pleasure and pain, gain and loss–is that ‘between’ for which we have no words.” -Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 121
Laurel/World–there is no separation–LaurelWorld.
I sit here typing, and simultaneously, the concrete, grass, trees, oceans, sands, mud are baking in the sun. I sit here typing and beyond the oceans, sands, and mud, people are starving to death, bombed, raped, or running for their lives. If I did not look at the news, I would not know that our new President fired the acting attorney general for doing her job. I would work quietly, maybe have a garden, read books, and defend the order of my limited world.
But, we do not live in a world where we can close our eyes to what is happening across a continuous expanse of life and death. We live in a world where all of that is real, all of the time, and it is real for us as soon as we recognize it is happening.
The Women’s March, above all else, taught me the depth of another paradox: history is real, and I am a part of it. I lived the Women’s March, and now I hear people lying about it, slandering the women who were there. Yet, their unfortunate reactions are tied to the March now, too–though they were not at the Women’s March, they lived it too.
When the World Trade Center came down, I remember my babysitter deciding first that we should see what was going on, and then that it was too much. I was 10 years old. She took me to the couch and taught me to crochet while the younger kids played with toys on the floor. My eyes were shock-dry. I thought about people dying as I wrapped yarn around a hooked needle with my small hands.