At this juncture, roughly 125 hours into the Trump administration, I'd have to summarize my feelings by quoting the long-defunct comic strip Conchy
: "There are times when you get no satisfaction out of being right." Our new president is doing more or less exactly what I feared he would, refusing to make even the merest nod toward transparency, issuing gag orders so we taxpayers can't learn from the scientists whose work we paid for, turning unqualified cronies loose on the government in order to strip each department of its ability to govern, and covering up his own quivering insecurity by having his spokesmen craft lies that don't even stand up to the breeze from one tiny hand waving.
And as a result of those anticipatory fears, I opted to spend last Saturday accompanying my wife in the Women's March on Washington. Thanks to Kelly's knitting skills, we were both properly kitted out in handmade Pink Pussy Hats:
We did have to rise rather early for this trip--the bus left at 4:00 a.m.--but we were able to settle in at a table downstairs in Union Station and knock back a coffee or two and a few of Dunkin Donuts' eponymous treats. As the fog of morning faded, we observed other people arriving, and we weren't entirely surprised to see Pink Pussy Hats on a great many of them. In fact, just about everyone in the station seemed to be there for the protest, except for the people working there and one rather befuddled-looking white guy in a black jacket with orange piping. He was wandering around from table to table for some reason, but I didn't pay much attention to him at first because I was concentrating on putting some finishing touches on one of my signs:
The asterisk at right, as any Yankees fan (such as one D.J. Trump) would know, is a reference to the apocryphal asterisk affixed to Yanks slugger Roger Maris' total of 61 home runs, after he beat Babe Ruth's record of 60 but took eight more games to do it. I wasn't entirely happy with it, though, because it didn't quite pop off the blue background; I probably should have used a star with six arms instead of eight. Still, when you were close to it, it was clearly an asterisk.
Not that Wandering Dude figured it out. "All right!" he said to me, beaming as he approached my table. "It's good to see something for the president in the middle of all these protesters!"
I looked up over my glasses at him. He was somewhere close to my own age, a bit ruddy-faced, with glasses and thinning reddish hair, and clearly sure that a fellow middle-aged white guy must be in the Trump camp. "I'm a protester," I replied.
That took him aback for a second. "Then what's the sign for? It says 'Forty-five.'"
"There's an asterisk," I pointed out. "And it's going to stay there until I'm satisfied by an investigation into Russian hacking into the election."
He clearly had no idea what the asterisk actually meant, and with a bit of muttering, he wandered off to find someone else to annoy--someone smaller and less male, I suspect. Kelly is not a big baseball fan, but she was just as amused by this encounter as I was, and when she retold the story, she added the rhetorical question, "Dude, do you even SPORTS?" Her own sign was a lot more straightforward:
One shocking development was apparent even in the station: the rest room lines were STAGGERINGLY long. Any observer could tell you the reason: the crowd was largely female, and ladies' rooms have fewer places for elimination than men's rooms. But even knowing that, the ladies' room was a good thirty minutes long... until the crowd made a collective and eminently sensible decision: for this morning, at least, the stalls in the men's room would be unisex.
The stall I ended up occupying, however, was bordered by a wall on my left and a guy on my right. And the guy was singing. Not belting, but singing audibly, with lyrics that could be identified even over the sounds of dozens of people moving in and out of the room. In fact, he was singing something vaguely familiar... "You want a piece of my heart, you better start from the start..." OH MY FUCKING GOD IT'S "WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND."
On the list of bands I hate, Loverboy is near the top, and this song in particular is near the top of the list of songs I hate. And there I was, pinned down and immobile. I gritted my teeth and bore down, hoping to finish up quickly and make my escape, but the song went on, and I swear, it became a medley. The next tune was the Bangles' "Manic Monday," another tune I don't particularly love, especially when the singer interrupts himself to announce to the rest of the patrons that it was written by Prince.
That seemed to derail him a bit, but before I could wrap things up, I was treated to a few more bars of something unrecognizable and a speculation that aliens had in fact taken over the White House. "Melania is from VENUS!" came the final verdict, and with a rapid flush, I was finally free.
It was time to head for the rally that would precede the March, so we bid goodbye to Union Station and carried our signs out toward the Capitol. We knew the stage was across the Mall at the corner of Independence and 3rd, but what neither we nor the organizers knew was how many people were assembling there. We came from the northeast and hit Independence just east of the Museum of the American Indian, whose beautiful curves and lines I had never seen in person:
Unfortunately, that was as far as we could go--and the stage, much to our annoyance, was pointed in the other direction. We had arrived a half-hour before the speakers and performers would begin at ten, and we were unable to see or hear a single thing happening onstage for the next five hours. Exception: I was able to detect one slow, faint bassline, and when I asked aloud, "Is that 'Change Is Gonna Come'?" I was assured by a fellow protester that I was correct, and later research revealed the performer to be a very talented singer named Angelique Kidjo
So what did we do? We talked with each other, and with other protesters, and people-watched, and read everybody's signs, and took bunches of pictures, and questioned whether or not the women in the tree were taking off their tops (they were), and snarfed granola bars, and occasionally tried to push toward a different space before discovering there was no point, and started chanting "START THE MARCH!" every so often after the 1:00 start had arrived. We finally got moving at about 2:30, but until then, this is what we looked at: (Click on any sign to see a larger version.)
The signs carried by the marchers, and by the people lining the march route (which ended up being altered a great deal, what with roughly 500,000 people showing up for a march that was supposed to top out at maybe 200,000) were the main source of our amusement and our inspiration. As frustrated as we felt by the events of the election, and as fearful as we were about the coming administration, we saw each sign as, well, a sign: a sign that we weren't alone, that there were thousands, even millions of people who felt as we did. It was a great comfort, and a memory to sustain us in our ongoing work to protect our nation's ideals, and its people, and yes, its sense of humor. Because over the next four years, we're going to need a sense of humor.
My two favorite signs from the march were both on display as we crossed the Mall toward Constitution Avenue. One was waved by a dark-haired woman, the other by a guy wrapped in a rainbow flag. They too were determined to maintain a sense of humor, or even absurdity:
We trudged back to the station after about an hour on the move, planted ourselves in carefully-seized and -guarded chairs in the food court, gorged ourselves on Japanese noodles for a carb boost, and waited for our bus. It took us nearly an hour and a half in line before we boarded--not what we were really hoping for--and by a little after 10:00 p.m. we were back in Richmond.
I can't say I feel like a full participant in the Women's March, because so much of it wasn't directed at me--literally. Whatever words the speakers wanted to share with me went unheard as they echoed down toward the west end of Independence Avenue. But I very definitely feel like a full participant in the protest, and as I am daily given more and more to protest, I take comfort in thinking of the Americans who joined us, the ones who wanted to join us but couldn't, and the ones who will be joining us in the future. Because there will be a future. And I've seen some signs that make me feel it might be one worth fighting for.