I didn’t want to march

I went to the Women’s March in Boston on Saturday. I didn’t want to. Actually, I was pretty pissed about it.

I’m pissed that I have to, that there’s any question about the future of American civil rights.

I’m pissed that teachers are reporting immigrant children are afraid of being sent “back where they came from,” even those who never knew such a place.

I’m pissed that my gay and lesbian friends have to worry that their marriage licenses might not remain valid. I’m really pissed that anyone has to waste breath explaining how basically treating all people equally doesn’t give anyone “extra rights.”

I’m extraordinarily pissed about the hypocrisy of Republicans’ objection to the Affordable Care Act, even though it’s modeled on the Massachusetts plan that was signed into law by a Republican and contains numerous “Republican” ideas. I’m also pissed that US Congressmen (and a few Congresswomen) enjoy generous health benefits, but that they can somehow gleefully repeal the law that provides much less to Americans who need it most.

I’m pissed that it has somehow become acceptable to equate “the inner city” with African Americans, as if there are no urban poor white people or people in the middle and upper classes of all races, and to paint all cities as purely crime and poverty centers instead of places where culture and civic engagement also thrive.

I’m pissed at the mockery being made of the US federal government, with a gaggle of proverbial foxes guarding the hen houses. How can people lead agencies responsible for US domestic security, public housing, education, health care, energy, and transportation systems, when those people barely understand what the agencies do and are nonetheless pretty certain they should not exist? That dissonance will likely make for great TV, but it’s no way to run a country.

I’m pissed to see the dignity of the White House fall somewhere between farce and nightmare for the rest of the world. I can almost see the puppet strings attached to the new president, and I can’t decide if it’s worse if they are being controlled by a Russian autocrat or a power-grabbing, mercenary crew of “advisers.”

I’m pissed to see the degradation of Meryl Streep, one of our finest and most transformative actresses, alongside the disparagement of US Representative John Lewis, one of the Civil Rights Era’s last great living soldiers. For the crime of speaking their minds, they are treated to uncivilized, undisciplined Tweetstorms, and the ensuing hate that our new president’s behavior engenders.

I’m pissed that one of the new administration’s first acts was to wipe away White House web pages acknowledging and addressing critical issues such as climate change and LGBTQ rights. I have young children and a dog, so I understand the urge to believe “if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist,” but I also know that hiding what people know to be real does not make problems go away.

I’m pissed that the new administration thinks so little of the American people’s intellect that they actually tried to offer us “alternative facts,” and even more pissed that some Americans will buy it.

I’m more puzzled than pissed by the American Jews who are more concerned with where the US embassy in Israel is located than with American civil liberties, who somehow do not recognize the threat of a Muslim registry as a threat to all minorities, including us. “Some of my best family members are Jewish” is not likely to save us.

And finally, I am pissed that we have to explain to anyone, especially to our children, that grabbing a woman’s vagina without her consent is not OK. I mean, must I really waste words explaining that IT’S NOT OK TO GRAB A WOMAN’S VAGINA? Seriously.

So, on Saturday morning, when my friend and fellow marcher was running late, I was fine about it. I didn’t even want to go. I’m not the kind of person who has to hear the national anthem at a baseball game, and I certainly didn’t mind being late to the march that should not be necessary. When we met up, the subway turned out to be so packed that we decided to walk. As we did, other sign-carrying, pink-hat wearing groups fell in with us, and by the time we were within a half-mile of the march, it felt a little like we were already marching.

The march itself was packed. There seemed to be almost as many men as women. The signs were great, from “Make America Think Again” to “All this Hate Won’t Make Us Great” and “Tweet All People with Respect.” Senator Elizabeth Warren fired up the crowd, reminding us that the point of the march was to send a message: “We will not play dead!”

We spilled out of the Boston Common onto the street where the march was supposed to begin. There were chants to start marching because there were so many more people than anyone had expected, the march route was full of people. We finally moved and the crowd was cheerful, peaceful, and even quiet. We were doing our job. There to be counted, for the aerial footage to capture our mass. “How many people are here?” I kept asking. “How many are in DC?” But no one knew. No one’s cell phones worked. All we knew was that 70,000, no 90,000 had registered for this Boston march. “Did we beat that?” I wondered. (I am pretty competitive). It sure felt like it. “Did DC beat the inauguration?” About a man consumed by his ratings, I knew that so long as there were more people at the march than the inauguration, this day would be a win.

People around me were excited, but very calm, even quiet. I did not feel exhilarated. I had come to be counted. I know that the march is symbolic, and alone will not change any of the things that I’m afraid of or angry about. But showing up turned out to be important. I was doing my job.

When I got home and read the news and saw the images of all the people at all the marches around the world, I learned that the DC march had three times the number of people the inauguration did and that millions of people around the world had marched. The satisfaction of sending such a clear and strong signal of resistance was sweet: there had been no elbow room at the march I had just come from — a sister march, not even the main event — and I couldn’t help but feel victorious. Not elated, not invigorated, but content. It had been a day to send a signal and millions of us did just that. Now the work begins.

About the Author
Deborah Gordon is a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.
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