I had to march somewhere the day after the Inauguration for the same reasons as everyone else.
I could have joined my neighbors at the statewide rally in Montpelier, Vermont.
But I had to join the Women’s March on Washington. Why?
Because that’s where the man lives now. The one who received a minority of the popular vote and now has the nuclear codes in his hands. A privileged white male who has inspired and legitimized hate crimes, and is about to commit them at the policy level. A self-admitted sexual predator – no, a braggart, about what he should be ashamed of. An aggressor who takes what he wants no matter to whom it belongs, like the early “settlers” who invaded Native lands. A sleaze who will do anything you’ll let him get away with. A perpetual liar whose incessant degradation took down one of the world’s most experienced and distinguished women politicians. The first President for whom the White House will be a step down in luxury from his own residence.
I had to march within a few blocks of that guy. To clog his streets – not just Independence Avenue, but the Mall, Constitution Avenue, everything he sees from his back windows. To be part of the roar that would penetrate even the double glazing.
I had to walk in the footsteps of the civil rights activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the peace marchers, the women’s rights advocates. To be on the march that began long, long before this one, seeking justice in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I needed to be brave in that land, rather than despairing. To remind myself that other marchers won at least partial victories – the Civil Rights Act, withdrawal from Vietnam, the right to choose, the Equal Pay Act. I owed it to those earlier marchers to show up where they did.
I needed to walk in my own footsteps, too. To remember stumbling sleepily off an overnight bus as an 18 year old to the roar of a megaphone that said “Good morning, Antioch.” I returned to march again and again – to protest the Vietnam war, then to support women’s rights. Then marching wasn’t enough, and I spent ten years in Washington, working first in public interest groups, then for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Federal Women’s Program. I worked for almost everything Donald Trump is attacking. I take it personally. I lived in Washington long before that man did, and I’ll still be marching and supporting good causes there long after he’s gone.
I needed to march in Washington to reassure myself. No matter who is dominating the House and Senate, no matter who is sitting in the President’s chair, no matter how powerful they are, women and our allies can still fill the streets of Washington as full as they’ve ever been. Not just with old fogeys like me, but with a new generation who will also be marching for decades ahead. Not just white women like me, but women of all colors, women in headscarves and pink handknit hats, women of all persuasions.
Washington is the center of what I fear in our country now, and even in its best moments it’s a flawed city of the rich and poor, full of puffery and vanity, racism and sexism. “I envy you North Americans,” Che Guevara said. “You live in the heart of the beast.”
But Washington is also the essence of what I love about the United States. It’s a diverse metropolis with a huge, open space at center of the city where absolutely anyone can come. The Mall is lined with free museums which honor who we are as a nation: the Natives who were here first, the slaves who created so much of our wealth, the Constitution we are still learning to fulfill, the immigrants who made the United States what it is.
On Saturday, we marched in all our variety and humor and enterprise and determination and sisterhood. We, the people of the United States. In our nation’s capital. Ours.