By Kathryn Allen
Sixteen hours later – following some orientation to the march, precautions to be aware of, fun conversations among friends old and new, and not much sleep – the buses pulled in near the Washington Monument and the national mall.
Being a participant in this massive march of around 500,000 people on the day following the inauguration of a new administration was a deep and rich experience. As you have all heard, thousands of activists gathered to make statements about their values, beliefs, causes, and concerns regarding a new president who had campaigned with promises
to destroy much of what they had worked so hard to achieve. Seeing the thousands of signs waving made clear the beliefs, demands, and sense of humor of the protestors.
I’d like to share a few of my major observations during the hours we rallied and walked in D.C. First: the number of people. Being one of 500,000 nearly defies description! Around 200,000 had been expected, 500K showed up; and then there were the other two million in the US, and possibly as many as 5 million around the world. The DC crowd was so vast that is was frequently nearly impossible to move at all. You cannot tell when you are in the middle of it how large it is; that awareness came later when we could see the news. But I was aware that there seemed to be no edge, no end to the people clustered together. I was impressed not only by the numbers, but by the politeness and sense of camaraderie we felt all day. And even with that many people, there was no violence and not one arrest!
Then there was the sea of signs. Just about every social justice cause we who care about the earth and its inhabitants is under threat by this administration. So, of course, there were protest posters proclaiming a large number of causes, beliefs, and policy demands. These included: Women’s rights, especially reproductive choice, income equality, racial justice, immigration/refugee justice, health care, environmental justice, LGBTQ justice, and wage justice. The signs were clear in message, creative, and often funny. I wish Carrie Fisher could have seen the many posters proclaiming: A Woman’s Place Is In the Resistance! A few other favorites: If You Are Not Outraged, You Are Not Paying Attention; My Body, My Choice; We Will Not Be Quiet in This Dark Hour; Hate Does Not Make America Great; We Are All Immigrants; I Will Not Apologize For Who I Am; Science Trumps Opinion; Love Trumps Hate; We Shall Overcomb; You Can Have You Own Opinions, But Not Your Own Facts; Build Bridges, Not Walls; The Earth Heats, While the President Tweets. To add to the visuals, there were hundreds of Nasty Woman buttons, and a sea of pink hats!
My own poster was a simple picture of Earth from space with the words:“Nurses for a Healthy Planet”. As we walked toward the White House, a woman came up to me very excited to find another nurse along the way. She had started a national organization called the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. As a former nurse, that was a special moment for me.
The list of speakers and musical performers for the rally was amazing, numbering around 50. There were megatrons at various places, but since the crowd was so much larger than expected, it was not always possible to see or hear the the speakers. (I did a lot of listening back home.) But I did hear Gloria Steinem, a personal hero of mine for many decades; Rhea
Suh, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Countil, actor America Ferrara, film maker Michael Moore, and one of the founding organizers of the march, who held her six-week old infant in her arms. Michael Moore had some good, practical advice for activists:
1. Call/contact one of your members of congress every week day -national and state – with a request on an issue important to you.
2. Join a powerful group – like Indivisible or a group in your interest area: such as the Sierra Club (!), 350.org, Earth Justice, NRDC – there are so many options.
3. Form your own personal rapid response team of 5 – 10 people to text on an issue that needs immediate action
4. Run for office! If you’re shy, get over it.
(To listen to the talks at the rally, go to YouTube.)
I like the idea that every once in a while in life a person might be present for a history making event. An event where one individual’s part may be small, but with many others, it is big – an opportunity to bear witness to something much larger than any one person. In my decision about whether or not to board that bus on Jan. 20th, I thought about the
women who went on strike at the mills in MA in 1912, and the suffragettes who took to the streets for many, many years for the right to vote. I thought of the civil rights marchers, and the women’s rights protesters. I signed up and went!
Now the challenge for myself and all who protested that day, wherever they were on the planet, is to keep the fire alive, to continue working to protect what is precious to us – the planet, and the laws, policies and programs that are important to us. And while doing that work, I believe that we all also need to take time to explore the beauty and wonder of
the earth, and to enjoy those with whom we share it – our families and friends, and all creatures great and small.
If the Women’s March inspired you – there’s another one coming up soon: The Peoples’ Climate March on April 29th. Thousands will march in D.C., and there will be many local marches, too – including here in the Quad Cities. Stay tuned.