Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March

Since November the eighth, I've woken with anywhere from a moderate to a severe sense of dread. Many days I labor under a pervasive sense of doom that I've been unable to shake.

I still work, but my work has been pretty lackluster. I still see friends, but nearly all of them are as upset as I am, so we try to ignore our collective ennui and have fun. But that dark shadow doesn't truly go away. It lurks around the edges, taking the shine off otherwise enriching encounters.

I long to talk about how I feel, but it has become a tail-chasing experience. No matter how many times you run around that circle, you never quite catch it.

When I first heard about the Women's March, I was pleased to learn that at least one group of people were getting off their sofas to do something positive. But I never seriously thought of going to Washington, even though it's a pretty easy trip for me. My main worry was that DC would be filled with supporters of the incoming president, and there would be far too many opportunities for me to flap my trap at provocateurs. I have bat ears, and every snide remark can goad me into responding. This isn't good for my mental health, so I try to avoid situations that might be too loaded.

I was very pleased when I heard the march was going to have local branches. Since fewer than 6% of Manhattan voted for the current president, I knew I'd be with my peeps. Perhaps that's not the ideal way to be. It would probably be better to go to Wyoming, where over 70% of the population voted for the current president. Showing up for the 2,000 women marching in Cheyenne might have been helpful, or had a bigger impact. But we can only do what we feel capable of. Self-care shouldn't be something to be ashamed of.

Armed with the knowledge that I'd be among friends, I took off from the wilds of New Jersey for the long ride into the city. Immediately, I was cheered to see that at least twenty percent of the passengers were going to the march, with pink pussy hats, pink scarves, buttons, and signs. Like breast cancer awareness month, but with an angry edge.

As we left Penn Station, a woman rode by on a bicycle, with a sign strapped to her basket, homemade pink hat in lieu of a helmet. My mood continued to brighten. As we walked, we encountered more and more women clearly headed our way. Then we noticed a lot of men in the group. That surprised me, but I was pleased. If you love women, marching for their freedom makes perfect sense.

Nearing Fifth Avenue, I heard one of those ear-splitting police cruiser horns, the kind that rattle your bones. But it wasn't a horn. It was a roar of people, their collective voices echoing off the buildings, a canyon full of outrage.

We slid into the group, immediately surrounded by surprisingly buoyant people. The roar we'd heard was almost like a wave, starting here or there and building strength as it traveled. But there were no words spoken. It wasn't a chant. I'd describe it more as a howl. Then it passed, with everyone smiling.

That's when it really hit me. We'd all been in roughly the same mental space for the past two months. This was our first time to join a group, throw our heads back, and let out a primal scream. It was incredibly heartening! You could feel peoples' moods lighten. Not because we thought anything would change in that moment. More that we we cheered to see how many of us were willing to stand up and be counted. When the president cares only about optics, it's vital to show there's a sizable group of people who disagree with his agenda, and the plans of his cabinet appointees. That's why my favorite chant of the day was "This is what democracy looks like. This is what America looks like."

This is what America looks like: all ages, all races, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, all the points on the socio-economic strata.  

This is what democracy looks like, and the march reminded me that the work of keeping democracy alive isn't done by sitting on the sidelines while a bunch of billionaires dismantles it.

I believe we've gotten lazy. Democrats have let themselves fall into the trap of believing in demographics. We see the country is slowly becoming more diverse, and we've assumed those black and brown people will logically vote Democratic. But that's a lazy way to look at it. We need to do what the Tea Party has been spectacularly successful at--starting small and working their way up.

That's why I recommend getting involved on your local level. There's a group called Indivisible, formed by former Congressional staffers, that's working to do just that.

They have branches throughout the country, focused on clawing back our state legislatures. That's what we have to focus on. We have to do something. Things won't change tomorrow. We're going to lose a LOT of rights we thought we'd locked up. So we have to be ready to yank them back. Given I'm not an anarchist, I believe the way to do that is to organize and vote. 

We screwed up in November. Now we have to use that defeat as a motivator to swear to ourselves we won't let that happen again. We might lose a skirmish, but we can't afford to lose the war. Our lives depend upon it.

I'm facing this day with a new attitude. It's not over. In fact, the fight has just begun.