Pretty (angry) in pink: My reflections on marching in D.C.

I don’t look good in pink, hats flatten my hair and I am not a fan of crowds. So why am I smashed against total strangers in the middle of the National Mall in D.C. seeking some fresh oxygen and a little wiggle room? Because I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else the day after Trump’s inauguration. By 10pm on November 8th I knew I had to do something, but what? My psychic restlessness was matched with a physical urgency to move, and the first answer to the “what” came from my friend who was helping organize a bus to the Women’s March in Washington, sponsored by the sculptor Mark Di Suvero. Now I/we had something to focus our energies on—getting ready for the BIG OUTING. The bus held 55 women and was filled almost instantly (with a waitlist). Emails started to flow from the bus organizers announcing that we would leave from Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan at 3:50am, gather at 3:30am and travel five-plus hours in each direction. What an adventure! How will we dress, what will we eat—on the way down, on the return and while we march? Where will we pee? So many bright minds now converging on important questions regarding our preparations to walk 1.5 miles. “I walk farther to catch a subway every morning,” said my friend. And yet, daily communications over the course of the last month formed a community of attentive, generous, co-conspirators.

“What if you channeled that energy into actually making a difference to policy?” asked a member of my book group. She was right, a lot of ovarian prowess was being dedicated to a few hours of protest but I held firm that first we have to create a place of belonging and from that group identity the motivation and direction for more tangible interventions would flow. As I write this, the day after the march, I am proud to have donned my pink pussy cap.

Our bus family ultimately had a name, Sisters of Socrates (the sculpture garden founded by Mark Di Suvero). One of our sisters opened her studio, prepared 60 cardboard signs held high by demonstration-guideline-approved cardboard tubes and set out supplies so that we could make our posters. How to capture our personal message on a public board? It’s like selecting one tweet to wear all day. You could feel the creative energy and literally see the diversity of thought, expression and willingness to commit to carrying a large (really heavy) placard vs. the more compact version. Hum…I didn’t realize we got to tone our arms while speaking our mind. A double win!

The night before the march several women stayed at my home to be closer to our departure point. Each person arrived with GIANT bags of food, wine, sweets, anything they could think of for EVERYONE on the bus. Nurturing, over communicating, and feeding. We were women in action. I even bought cereal boxes and disposable Styrofoam cups so my houseguests could carry their breakfast (I never buy that stuff). One friend bought power bars for the first time in her life figuring she needed to contribute some easy nutrition to the group. These are unusual times and we had to step out of our comfort zones in the largest and most mundane ways.

It began with our bus group and radiated through the entire time in DC, people were almost obsessively kind to others. The big team was on time for our pre-dawn departure and respectfully drifted back to sleep until…we hit Delaware and our mid-journey rest stop. That’s when the reality set in. The roadside pit stop was filled with women in pink caps, the men’s rooms were converted to women’s rooms. Buses and buses and more buses. The determination was intoxicating. It was fueled by the special mix tape that one our bus mates made to be sure we drove into DC listening to “Power to the people”. Now we were really ready.

We all realized it’s impossible to keep 55 women together; emergency instructions and various means of keeping track of each other were compared and my group of six set off. We agreed the following: everyone had a buddy that they were glued to, if you were going to stop—say so and be sure you were heard. We each had a number and at different times we “counted off” (yes, a few of us had been camp counselors), and once we hit the immovable masses if you were going to try to start walking be sure all six of us knew. This proved to be critical as the throngs of people became denser and denser and denser. We opted to walk to the mall over taking a metro which was wise as other groups had difficulty getting on the trains. We persevered into the throngs of people in an effort to make it to the Air and Space Museum where several of my daughter’s friends and their mothers had all agreed to meet up. Hah! Only one mother- daughter team made it to the museum stairs and they had stayed over the night before. They also ultimately couldn’t leave the stairs to march as the crowds congested the parade path—but they did hear every word and song of the pre-march rally.

By comparison our group was in the no move, no see, no hear zone in the center of the National Mall with thousands of people who wondered, is there a rally, why aren’t there more jumbotrons, how come there isn’t any audio for this live event? In the end it didn’t matter as we all spoke to each other. Truly it was a rally of our voices, exchanging reasons for marching with people who were jostling for a little breathing room and some site lines just like us. For a while we attached ourselves to a very tall man who delivered crowd reports. I was admittedly jealous of the young woman atop the man’s shoulders holding binoculars. He was so cute, she was so smart to bring spy glasses and they mastered the height advantage. Prior to the march, there were strict instructions on what size knapsack to bring, offers of hot chocolate, warming stations and promises of marshals to keep us informed. Security was not evident, information didn’t flow. The crowds exceeded all expectations and the pride of filling the physical voids from the day was exhilarating. It was all so peaceful and the few cops we interacted with were so friendly. At no time were we scared.

Freaked out once, but never scared. Our bus captains covered every contingency, including cautioning against unwanted cameras or embedded microphones. I printed out those instructions and shared them with my group as much as I abhorred the notion that I would even have to contemplate such situations. And then… a lovely women approached our group at the start of the march and asked for directions to what seemed like an obvious location and continued to press on with other inquiries. Then we eyed her microphone and the cameraman behind her. She said she was a student from the Ukraine and was helping a friend with his reporting. You can’t make this stuff up. We opted to cut the conversation off.

Being cut off was a major fear. We rightly anticipated that there would be limited bandwidth which eliminated our ability to stay electronically connected to the bus group or others. This also meant that the masses were walking, looking at each other and not at phones—and what a treat we all had. Arial views captured the unifying tributaries of pink. On the ground the signage was unique, powerful, and poignant. The many ways people interpreted the pink pussy cap knitting instructions combined with colorful posters, engaging chants and a truly multicultural, multigenerational coming together against bigotry and hate.

Watching women of my sister’s age and older who had fought, lost and are battling again for equal rights brought me to tears. Seeing men of all ages carrying women of all ages (their babies, their female friends or in once instance, I think his mom) filled me with delight.

We returned to our bus, on time, all together and happily exhausted. The sisters of Socrates shared pre-arranged box dinners, boxed wine, and stories. We rejoiced as reports came in from marches around the globe. I snuggled next to my 24-year-old daughter, we plugged in our phones and downloaded the deluge of messages. Most importantly we compared notes from all the mother-daughter dyads. We couldn’t get to each other through the crowds but we certainly walked together—into history.