On Saturday I participated in the biggest protest in our nation's history. I marched in Washington DC alongside an estimated 1.2 million of my fellow Americans. On Sunday, white house spokesman Sean Spicer made his first appearance in front of the US press corp. He didn't mention us, the estimated 3 million marchers across the country or the crowds gathered in over 700 hundreds of cities across all seven continents, and instead blasted the press over accurately reporting the size of the inauguration crowd.
Despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary, Spicer claimed that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period."
The first official appearance by the white house spokesman and it was a lie. Kellyanne Conway called it an 'alternative fact.' I fear that our new administration is composed of revisionists. I wonder what words they'll choose to minimize or mock the women's march, a staggering show of democracy that was conducted with total peace and civility. There was no violence, no property destroyed, no arrests made.
I'm grateful that I was able to attend for this reason- because I experienced the crowd, I witnessed the unity and the camaraderie, I prayed for peace and safety every moment that I was inside the capitol, and peace and safety prevailed. I saw police officers wearing pink knit hats, giving out high-fives, and members of the national guard cheering us on. I waved to the residents of the DC neighborhoods as they stood on their doorsteps, welcoming us in the morning, and in the evening, hoisting up their children to their open windows and shouting thank you.
Mostly I will remember the crowds. I've never seen or felt or even imagined a crowd as big as this one. You could not move your arms or breathe deeply. The official parade route was scrapped because every inch of every street was packed with women, men and children. Instead we stood still, and waited, listening to the swell of cheers that would began at the stage and travel through the crowd across the city like the wave at a packed stadium. After a few hours the sea of people unlocked, mysteriously, and began to move in the direction of the Whitehouse. Our movement signaled the start of the official march, which now covered every street and every possible route.
I expected counter protesters. I expected curious onlookers, neutral but not engaged. I expected rows of stone faced policeman forcing us to stay within the official parade route boundaries. For a week before we left for DC, I'd attended training in nonviolent communication, civil disobedience and safety tactics. Excellent information, but a situation never came up when it was necessary to use. Three women stood quietly on the sidewalk wearing Trump Pence scarves. The Bikers for Trump organization had no actual bikes to speak of, only a a picture of one, and they too were quiet.
These counter-protesters were comically outnumbered, to the point where most people would not have noticed their presence at all. The bleacher seating on either side of Jefferson St. were packed with people holding signs begging for peace, decency and equality. The sidewalks were filled eight deep, people crowded at the windows of the government buildings yelling in support, the rooftops were filled with still more people clapping and cheering. At every street corner you could look left or right and see another artery crowded with people, all moving in the same direction, people in every direction for as far as the eye could see.
Since I've been home, I've had friends ask me if the march was fun. No, not for me. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world, but it was not fun. In Asheville, just like in so many cities around the country, we boarded busses on Friday night and drove all night into the city. We arrived at 7am, walked for miles into the city, stood with locked knees drawing shallow breaths all day, walked back to the bus at night and drove south, arriving back at home at 4:30am. Between the anxiety and adrenaline of being one of the organizers of the Asheville contingency, and all my worries about personal safety, not to mention my ubiquitous struggle with insomnia, there was no sleep during the journey. It was too exhausting to be enjoyable.
I'm proud to report that I survived, however, and that my legs kept walking, although they did buckle at the end. I'm still treating Lyme, still symptomatic. My body breaks faster and in more creative ways than most. I was so worried that the stress of the whole thing would cause a flair, that my body would fail me in DC and that I would become a burden to those around me. Considering how cautious I am about my schedule, the energy I exert, my routine, my bedtime, this trip was ambitious- monumental, even.
To finally be able to pay attention to issues beyond my own health, to throw my energy into something bigger than me after 16 months of focussing solely on my immediate survival, how good that felt. How energizing, how blissfully normal. How not-lonely. We don't have word for that- not lonely- but that's exactly how it feels.
It's Tuesday now, the march is behind us and the work is in front of us. After a few days or maybe weeks of resting and processing, I'll have more to say about what it meant to be part of that crowd. All I can say now, inside the haze of exhaustion, overwhelm and lingering Lyme, is that it mattered, being there. I've done many challenging, important and satisfying things in my life, but this one mattered more than any one of them.
Until next time, here is what to do next.
If you live in my town, we'll be at Odds on Tuesday evening writing postcards to our representatives.