In an ocean of people, connected, curious, confident and determined
A personal reflection from a Rhode Island participant in the momentous Jan. 21 march, what it meant to be there, and the commitment to go back home and get to work
WASHINGTON, D.C. – I sat on a concrete wall, legs dangling, beside a dear friend who did the same. We were relaxed and talked intermittently, calmly waiting for the march to begin.
But that is not how I expected to feel, when I left my husband and young children at home at 4 a.m. that morning. I had been scared, worried about what might happen in a crowd that large, on our nation’s first day under the leadership of such a volatile and angry man.
Yesterday, I did not feel scared or alone. I was surrounded by concentric circles of a larger community, marching together – with our hearts full, our eyes and ears open, reaching out to take hands.
We each made individual choices to come. On our own, one soul in the middle of the mall, would have been nothing.
But thousands of us each decided to be there, and those choices added up to half a million, and millions more across our planet.
There was a cadence to the event that spiraled upwards: catch an eye, feel a personal connection, a rush, and take a step forward and up towards a shared vision for a beloved, nourished, thriving community.
I was reassured by each and every face I saw. I was reassured by the generation ahead of me who knew the peace-march scene, and left their babies [like me] at home when they marched for civil rights or against the war.
I was heartened by the generation behind me – who are angry and righteous and hold the energy we will need to get through this fight.
I was inspired by the rainbow of skin colors and languages: the visual representations of the ways in which we are all unique, and all human.
And I was inspired by the presence of other mothers, like me, whose partners were at home with our young children, supporting us as we stepped out into the public arena to fight for our children’s future.
At the Metro station where we first started, there were already hundreds of people in line. They were wearing pink hats – they carried signs that were covered in cues that I knew were meant to welcome and encourage me, and everyone – regardless of gender, race or creed.
People were friendly and warm; considerate and kind and not overbearing. We did not know what to expect when we stepped off the train at Metro Center station, but neither did anyone else on the jam-packed train, and yet everyone remained calm, cheerful, looking for opportunities to connect.
We stepped off into an ocean of people – a feeling that anywhere else might have felt stressful or alarming – but this was an ocean of people who were connected, curious, compassionate, confident, and determined.
Even the police were participants. When an ambulance needed to get through, the crowd parted quickly, in a snap, making way and cheering for those first responders.
When a police car backed out following the same path, another police officer came running after it, calling for it to stop. We all watched – poised for something frightening – but the officer just hollered, “Hey! I left my phone on the roof of the car!”
We all laughed – he looked at us sheepishly, catching eyes, recognizing the humor – and then we cheered for him, recognizing that we have all probably done that, too.
He is human – just like us. And, he was calm and allowed us to connect to him, and he to us.
Nourishing the human spirit
What made it possible for me to feel calm in the middle of half a million people? Part of it was the nourishing of the human spirit that was happening through the speakers and the Jumbotrons.
I could not hear all of the speeches. But I felt the speeches. Those poets, singers and orators made everyone there feel full of positive energy and the fervent hope and commitment to go back home and get to work.
As I marched, packed into that river of people, a rhythm of sound emerged when something exciting happened in one part of the city and cheers rolled back through the crowd like a wave at Fenway Park. The cheer kept coming back every 10 minutes; the cadence of our hope made into a roar that rolled through the streets.
The overwhelming majority of signs were meant to draw attention to what really matters, and to lift us up. The signs urged us to connect to each other based on our humanity, our human rights, and the truths that define what makes it possible to thrive as a human community: love is love; black lives matter; immigrants make America great; climate change is real and women’s rights are human rights.
My favorite sign was carried by one of my friends: Hermione’s Army, Wands Up!
With this simple reference she brought her sons with her in spirit. She called out this new army – lead by women and girls [Hermione is the lead female character in Harry Potter] – who we are asking to pull everyone together and lead our communities.
These children don’t band together based on gender or race or any other division; they band together for a shared cause, and are each invited to contribute in their own way, drawing on what makes them unique, not “different.”
The organizers of the Women’s March invited everyone to come, and we all came. We held signs that spoke from our hearts. The speakers reminded us to remember those who fought before us and to have courage to build on their legacies.
But they also invited us to create a new way forward, and, as Sophie Cruz, age 6, put it – to not be afraid.
This march is the beginning. Regardless of the lies we know will be told about that day, there were half-a-million witnesses in Washington, D.C., and millions more around the world.
No one can tell me I was not there. And, if I remember that, and you remember where you were, then we cannot fail. Our message was clear: we are here, we are fighting for the rights of our sisters and brothers, we are fighting for our planet, and we are not leaving.