Sunday, January 29, 2017

My March Story (Part One: Personal Reflections)

At over 500,000 strong, the Women's March on Washington made history January 21, 2017. I was there. I rode up on a charter bus from Decatur, Georgia (near Atlanta) and then jumped out about 12 hours later to chants of "Climb the wall! Climb the wall!" as a handful of us hoisted ourselves over a guardrail onto a bridge crossing the Potomac.

The scene outside the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
I felt ready for anything and had little idea what I'd be facing. I followed a sea of women in pink pussy hats to a super crowded Independence Avenue and made my way as close to the 3rd Street stage as possible. Stopping about 4 blocks short, I ended up sandwiched between strangers at the corner of Independence and 7th, right beside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. From my spot on the ground, I could see people hanging from a large sculpture for a better view, as well as scaling up portable toilets to make camp on top.

I could hear the speakers from the main stage as well as watch them on one of many big screens set up along the rally space, which stretched up and down Independence Avenue and onto the historic National Mall. While I enjoyed everything, my favorite presentation is hands down Ashley Judd's performance of the poem "Nasty Woman," written by Tennessee teen Nina Donovan. Her words struck deep, and the fact that a poem could incite so much solidarity and controversy encouraged me as a poet and was itself a personal call to action.

As more leaders and celebrity activists sang, spoke and led us in rally cry after rally cry, the crowd grew into a tighter and tighter mass. Our bodies all pressed close, we couldn't move independently of one another and had to shift as a unit each time we were directed to clear a path for ambulance drivers and law enforcement. The closeness required an extreme level of trust and surrender, both in one another and in the fact that the march itself would progress as planned, that we would be set free to do what we'd come to do. Anxiety began to rise, yet we strangers soothed each other, and it felt very much like this waiting was part of the process. We made it through without riots or major misconduct, and ultimately blockades moved aside, unleashing us like a flood on Washington just after the mothers of black citizens recently killed by US law enforcement led us in saying aloud their children, the victims, names. 

Rather than walking in the neat line from Constitution Avenue to an area outside the White House as planned (and even described in certain articles), the marching crowd spilled out across the district, peacefully overtaking streets which hadn't been fully closed down. I moved with this mass in intuitively synchronized solidarity, feeling my humble smallness within the greater whole, something at once familiar and mysterious, an angry mob shot through with a sense of purpose, whit, and even joy.

 I walked with the mass well past the Trump Hotel until I suddenly began to feel that I'd miss my bus if I didn't turn back. Navigating Washington, DC, alone, as the march dispersed, may be the greatest part of my journey. I'd given my energy to the crowd in order to gain something myself, which I assimilated slowly and gently over the forty city blocks I walked back across on my own--seeking limited help from locals and law enforcement, my old motorcycle boots carrying me from the Virginia/DC line, past the major monuments and museums, past the halls of Congress, through trendy, wealthy, and low income neighborhoods, all the way to RFK Stadium, where I finally boarded the bus for a long ride home.

I left emboldened by my role in unfolding history, empowered to be ever more part of myself, and reflective about the society we share. The most common thread I noticed is the call to actively participate, to realize that government is smaller and more accessible than it first seems, something which we can hold accountable and shape, as long as we remain active and aware. 

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