This isn’t the sort of thing I usually do. I’ve never gone to protests. And yet, here we are, boarding a charter bus on the Eastside with a group of total strangers, on our way to Judkins Park in Seattle, with no idea what to expect.
We only decided to attend the Seattle Women’s March the weekend before. Back during our Christmas visit to Missoula, our friends talked about their plans to go to the march in Helena and we brushed it off, skeptical it would do any good. And again — protests aren’t usually my thing.
Then the Sunday before the march, I read a brief item in the paper about it, and the crowd they expected. And a good friend from Missoula emailed us some information about the march (and transportation options) from her contacts in Puget Sound.
Something just clicked.
“You know, we should go to this march next Saturday,” I said to Renee. I expected her to initially say no. I started thinking of how to present the case.
“Yes,” she said, no hesitation. “How do we get there?”
I started investigating transportation options. I found a group chartering buses from the Eastside but they were already full with 850 people. But that organizer let me know when another bus opened up (a bit farther from home). I made reservations and spent the rest of the week alternating between excitement and apprehension.
We arrive at the park and ride for the bus with time to spare, despite a Siri mishap that sent us the wrong way. Women with pink hats are gathered waiting for city buses. We spot a small shuttle bus across the lot and (correctly) guess that it is our ride.
More people gather at the bus, including a group of seven that drove down from Monroe. They load signs in the back. They pass out extra pink “pussyhats”. I had somehow missed the whole hat project in the pre-march media, but I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered since I do not sew, knit, or crochet. I’m grateful to the woman who made extras, even if the hat is a little too tight on my head.
Pink isn’t really my thing. Silly hats with cat ears aren’t my thing. Protests aren’t my thing. But, here we are, on a bus to a protest, wearing a pink hat with cat ears.
It turns out the bus has two empty seats due to some last minute cancelations. One of the organizers rushes out to offer them to a woman on crutches who was about to board a city bus with her daughter. “You’re my new best friends,” she says as she settles in her seat. I remember walking on crutches after foot surgery in 2012 and admire her determination to participate in a 3+ mile march.
The bus driver is a young man, friendly, helpful. He offers to take pictures of our group with the bus. We finally get underway.
The Monday before the march (Martin Luther King day, actually), I started thinking that I really needed to figure out my thoughts on this march before it took place. Where exactly am I politically? What did I hope to accomplish? Were we going just as a form of catharsis? Did we hope to make a difference?
I imagined myself, for a moment, discussing this march with someone unsupportive, someone who would dismiss this as just the whining of sore losers. How would I answer that person?
The bus pulls up to Judkins park just a bit after 9. We have plenty of time. Our group on the bus attempts to organize a bit, swapping phone numbers so that the organizer Janice can text us with details about where to meet the bus at the end of the day.
The sky spits out a few sprinkles of rain as we wait in line at the port-a-potties and then wander across the field towards the stage. I start noticing all the different signs. Sort of like the pink hats, it didn’t occur to me to come up with a sign to carry.
It is early, so the park still has lots of empty space. We find good spots to wait, up relatively close to the stage. We wait, take pictures, dance to music pouring out of the speakers, and notice the park slowly filling with more and more people. I attempt to text a few photos to our friends in Montana on their way to the Helena march, but the texts won’t go through. Too much traffic.
The rain clears up. We entertain ourselves while we wait by looking for clever signs. I find myself amazed at all the different people, ranging from children to men and women older than my parents.
The park continues to fill. The crowd now stretches across the park and up the slope we walked down when we arrived. There are announcements about a missing child (ten years old, wearing a pink hat — not a terribly useful description here). The crowd quiets for a moment, then cheers when she is found.
I am amazed how comfortable and relaxed I feel in this crowd. I can’t quite pinpoint my own mood, or the mood of the crowd. “Joy” isn’t the right word, given why we are here. But people are smiling. I start to wonder if the pre-march estimates I read in that newspaper article — 50,000 or so expected — were perhaps a bit low.
At last, the program begins with a moment of silence, followed by a reading of Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. More short talks. Calls to action. References to the many organizations that need volunteers. Finally, instructions for exiting the park. Exhortations to be patient as we make our way out of the park and onto the street.
The crowd begins to slowly migrate to the park exits. It is agonizingly slow — take a few steps, stop, take a few, stop.
As I thought through my reasons for going to the Women’s March, I kept hearing the chorus of people on the right yelling “he won, get over it, you’re just a sore loser!” I could picture these people reacting to the march with the same words. “Why are you marching? You lost, go home, get over it!”
There seems to be this strange idea that politics and the presidency is sort of like a football game. Someone wins, someone loses, and that’s it. The winner gets a trophy and everyone goes home until next time. You might be disappointed, but you lost, it’s over, now shut up and go away. You don’t have a say anymore.
But of course, that isn’t how it works. Trump’s win doesn’t mean I’m required to reverse all my positions on how this country should work. I’m not going to decide that health care for all is a bad idea. I’m not going to agree that my legal marriage to Renee should be invalidated, or decide I’ve been mistaken about women’s rights all this time. I’m not going to reverse my opinion on public land and wilderness and sign on to selling it off. I’m not going to finally agree that all those climate scientists really are part of a Chinese hoax.
In other words, my ideas for what makes a good government may have lost in the Electoral College, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon those ideas.
The country elected a president, not a king. Those of us unhappy with this direction still have the freedom and the right to express our objections and advocate for what we believe is right. Doing so is not being a sore loser — it is being an American.
As this sign says, dissent is patriotic.
Maybe this woman at a Tea Party protest in Nashville (February 27, 2009) should remind the new president and the people running around in red caps that protesting has nothing to do with being a sore loser.
Eventually we are able to get into a more steady pace. I expect the crowd to thin out once we get up into the street, but that never happens. The people fill the street from curb to curb and spill out into the sidewalk for the entire march. I have no idea of the exact route, but trust we’ll be able to just follow the main crowd the whole way.
We hear a roar that, for a second, sounds like a jet engine. Then we realize it is the roar of the crowd in a “wave” coming from the front all the way to the back. This continues to happen during the entire route.
The landscape of people constantly changes. New signs, new people. All races, all ages. Many men, unafraid to join us with the pink hats. For a few minutes, we walk alongside a couple of women carrying Canadian flags. They confirm that they came to Seattle to show their support for the march.
About thirty minutes after escaping the park, two bald eagles circle overhead. Everyone around us stares and points cameras to the sky. Renee says, “I bet the eagles are wondering what we are all doing down here!”
We hold hands for most of the march, both for affection and so we won’t lose each other in the crowd.
I admit I didn’t always see the point of protest, especially the ones that broke out right after the election. I wondered if the protesters had actually voted, and whether they had voted for the only candidate who had a chance to defeat Trump. What is the point of protest, anyway?
But then I reflected on my own life and what I value. My marriage to Renee, finally legal. My right as a woman to vote. The idea that all humans are, in fact, people. Including women.
So many changes in our world did not come about from polite political conversations. They came about because people stood up and said “this is what’s right,” even when those ideas were deeply unpopular, even when those ideas were not winning at the ballot box and were not championed by congress or the white house.
It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen just because people protested in the streets. But the protests did matter.
Somewhere on Jackson street we realize we are not as near the front of the march as we thought. The road slopes very gently downhill towards Puget Sound. The street is a wide ribbon of shimmering color, as far down as I can see, and I realize it is a solid block of marchers. It looks almost as though they will reach the water, and I wonder how close we will get. I wish I had brought a better camera that could do this scene justice.
People bump into each other, but no one gets upset. I step on someone’s heels, someone else brushes by — we all shrug and smile and keep on walking.
It is hard to find the right words to describe the mood of the crowd. Many of the signs are blunt and angry. But the people themselves — the women and men that surround us — don’t really seem angry. Defiant, yes. Unhappy with the new administration, definitely. But also exuberant to be here, together, flowing down the street as one. Some of the signs attempt to mix anger and frustration with humor: “I’m not usually a sign guy, but geez!” Or, “I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit!”
I grab pictures of these when I can, but they are a constant moving target, often bobbing out of view before I can pull out my phone.
It is uplifting to be here. Empowering. I keep thinking, over and over, I’m so glad we came. I’m so glad we get to be part of this.
We finally reach Fourth avenue and turn North. Tall downtown buildings come into view.
Then Westlake park, where women beat on metal drums and the crowd can spread out a bit. We’re finally in territory I know. Soon we pass the Cinerama. Their marquee shows signs and logos for the march instead of upcoming movies.
At last we approach the Space Needle and pause for a selfie.
Then the Seattle Center, where we finally can sit down and rest until it is time to track down our bus home. We sit on the ledge of fountain and chat with another marcher resting from the walk. We speculate on the size — it sure seems larger than the anticipated 50,000. She tells us that marchers were arriving at the Seattle Center before everyone had left Judkins Park. The people filled the entire 3.5 mile route.
“It was astonishing,” she says.
Text messaging is still spotty. By some miracle we manage to find our shuttle bus and the same group we started with.
We compare notes; someone looks up news about all the other marches in other cities. We learn that the Seattle march was probably around 150,000, far more than expected. I begin to realize that we have been a part of something much bigger than we ever expected. And I feel more hope for the future of this country than I have since November.
When we decided to go to the march, I had no idea that we would be part of an enormous global event. After we got home, we watched the news and scrolled websites full of photos from around the world as the estimated numbers kept rising. We heard from our Montana friends, who marched in Helena where the turnout (estimated at 10,000) far exceeded expectations.
In the days since Saturday, there has been no shortage of articles and commentary about the marches. Some call it inspiring; some call it pointless. It was likely the largest protest in U.S history — how that can be “pointless” is beyond me.
I am well aware that spending one Saturday in January in a crowd of pink-hatted people won’t, on its own, change much in our world. It won’t magically undo the election that happened on November 8. It won’t make Trump release his tax returns, get rid of his advisor with white nationalist ties, or choose a less anti-LGBT cabinet. It won’t make him reconsider a health care law that saves lives. I know all this.
But it did send a message to the president (and his cabinet, his advisors, the GOP congress, all of their supporters) that we are not onboard with him or his agenda. It was a massive letter to the president, signed by three million angry, inspired, and energized women and men who are not going to shut up anytime soon.
In the days since the march, I’ve done more things I’ve never done before. The phone numbers for my members of congress are now in my phone. I’ve made a few calls (and I hate talking on the phone, so this is not nothing). These are small things, but still, they matter. And, more to come.
In other words, I guess I never really expected the march to change Donald Trump.
What I found is that it changed me.