All of you will have seen the pictures and read the stories of the extraordinary world-wide outpouring of opposition to Trump. There has never been anything remotely like this in the history of the United States – not the Viet Nam era war protests, not the Million Man March on Washington, not the inauguration of Barack Obama [which was bigger in D. C. but not nation-wide.] I was there, and my aim in this post is to give you a worms-eye view of the Washington March. I was just one old man wandering, like Pierre at the Battle of Borodino, in and out of the crowds in one small area of the event. I spent only about two hours at the festivities, and I never was able to get close enough to the reviewing stand to see or hear any of the speakers. I leave it to television to tell you about that.
It began for me at 5:00 a.m. when I left for the airport. RDU airport was not jammed, and I easily made my way through security [because I am over 75 I can leave my shoes on] and to the gate. As I sat there, people gathered for the flight to DC. Virtually all of those at the gate were women, many carrying rolled up signs and a few wearing the signature bit of protest clothing – a red knitted hat in the shape of a cat – a so-called pussy hat [and yes, the double entendre was intentional, as many of the signs at the protest made clear.] The flight was full, with maybe four men total, and I received pats of approval from young women and grandmothers for my presence. I was asked whether this was my first political action, and I allowed as how not quite, my first big protest having been a Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard fifty-four years ago.
After breakfast at Washington National Airport, I made my way to the Metro, expecting crowds. Not a bit of it. There was no problem buying a day pass, and the train was mostly empty. “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe the predictions have been a bit overblown.” Two stops later, masses of people got on, and pretty soon, the train was so jammed that people were sitting on the laps of strangers. One lady carrying crutches declined the offer of my seat because she was so jammed in that she could not move the five feet to accept.
When we got to Federal Center SW, the closest stop to the rallying point of the march, the train slowed but did not stop. The platform at the station was so jammed with people on their way to the march that it looked as though you had to make a reservation to go up the escalator. At the next stop, Capitol South, we were allowed off the train, and surged toward the escalator.
I followed the crowd from the Metro in the direction of Independence and 3rd St. SW, trying to reach ground zero. When I got up to C Street, which runs east-west a block south of the Mall, I turned and looked to my right. C Street rises gently as it goes east, and as far as I could see, perhaps a mile or more, the street was completely filled with people all walking west toward the protest site. They moved slowly, like a great river, fed by tributaries right and left. Where were they coming from? I had no idea, but it occurred to me that these might be the folks who had arrived by bus, since the parking place for the buses was RFK Stadium, about two miles due east of the Capitol. Permits had been granted for 1800 buses, I read. At 50 people a bus, that would be 90,000 marchers.
I walked alongside the marchers, who were joined at every street corner by more people coming from the Metro stations, or maybe just on foot. The crowd was mostly women, but with a pretty good sprinkling of men – some young with their partners, some older with their daughters and wives, a few old like me. The crowd was a sea of pink knitted caps. People carried hand-made signs and printed signs, some calling on Trump to keep his tiny hands off their pussies. One tall, slender blonde young woman dressed in a diaphanous white gown, with a white scarf tied around her eyes like a blindfold, stood on a marble stanchion and posed as Justice [no scales, alas], while people took her picture. Long lines had formed at each of the Porta-toilets, and the event even sported the inevitable doomsayer with big sign and portable speaker calling on all present to repent. Every now and then, a spontaneous high-pitched shout would start and roll back along the march up C Street. The atmosphere was festive, casual, cheerful, despite the message of the signs, which was militant in the extreme.
As the C Street marchers moved steadily, relentlessly forward, they encountered a blockade at 3rd Street SW. As best I could tell, that was the back of the reviewing stand, on the other side of which the BIG NAMES were speaking. “Where on earth are they going to go?” I wondered, with tens of thousands coming behind them. Then I saw that as each line of marchers reached the barricade, it split right and left and fed around it, presumably to reassemble in the Mall and on Independence Avenue.
I was too timid to thrust myself into the line of march and make my way to the other side, so I simply stood on the sidewalk and watched. One young woman wearing a bright red wig, suddenly started squealing with excitement and waving her arms wildly. When I asked her what had happened, she said, in a kind of ecstasy, “I just saw Cher!” After a long while, I started back to the Metro station for the trip to the airport, and when I walked another block south, I discovered that tens of thousands of other folks were there as well, walking west. The entire even was not so much a gathering or a march as a migration, as if all of Washington D. C. had decided to be pick up stakes and move to a new city.
All day, I had been calling my wife, my sister [who lives in DC] and my sons to reassure them that I was all right, but of course there was nothing to worry about. It was the most peaceful gathering possible.
When I got home, I turned on the television and only then learned of the size of the worldwide demonstrations. As I listened to commentators talk about the Washington march, the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, LA, Paris and London marches, a small voice inside me said, very quietly, “I was there.”
I felt quite spontaneously and unjustifiably proud.