Growing up, politics was discussed around the dinner table, and my sister and I were regularly quizzed on world geography. The world, we were taught, was bigger than just our family. Television wasn’t allowed while we ate, so the one time an exception was made—to follow the news the day that Nixon resigned—left a deep impression. The Equal Rights Amendment was the big issue of the day, and I remember many discussions with my elementary school classmates that, sure, I didn’t want to go to war, but if there was a draft and boys were being called up, it was only right I be called up too, and no, it didn’t mean that boys and girls would have to use the same bathroom. How sad is it that forty years later, we’re still fighting over who can use the bathroom.
Through my genealogy work, I’ve discovered that the political spirit runs in my blood. My great-grandparents were heavily involved with the laundry workers union, and in her obituary, the only activity singled out for my great-grandmother was her work with Workmen’s Circle. My great-great-uncle, Aaron, registered to vote as a Socialist, I’m told, only because one couldn’t register as a Communist (from List of Enrolled Voters Brooklyn, NY, 1919), and according to this newspaper article, his son, Eugene, was fired from City College for being a Red. Liberalism runs in my blood.
As a life-long bleeding-heart type, I confess I was one of the many who was absolutely shocked at the outcome of our election. Call me naive, but the idea of Hillary losing hadn’t truly crossed my mind. The night of the election, our family joined a party to watch results, anticipating joyful celebration at our first woman president. Things began looking poorly, and we left to go home because it was getting late and the kids had school, and I had a plane to catch the next morning for a book presentation in Jacksonville, Florida. When I woke up to the “Trump Triumphs” headline, I will admit that my normally emotionally detached persona slipped away and I sobbed like a baby. I’ve felt like sobbing ever since that election, emotionally drained, and taking it all very personally.
Why did I care? Why do I care? I care because my family was lucky enough to pass through Ellis Island shortly before the gates shut and so many of my (and other people’s) relatives couldn’t make it out, trapped in Europe to the ugliest fate imaginable. I care because we were immigrants offered better lives, and I hope the same opportunity will be afforded to future immigrants. I care because my children should be able to grow up to love whomever they chose and live their lives in whatever way makes them complete. I care because black lives matter, Muslims should be able to live here without fear, and walls don’t belong here. I care because the idea of someone else dictating what I can and can’t do with my body horrifies me. I care because the idea of someone else dictating what my daughter can and can’t do with her body horrifies me even more. I am incredibly fortunate in that I can afford my birth control and health care, but not everyone can, and health care and birth control are basic rights. Heck, I wrote an entire novel about women being able to do as they choose with their own bodies, albeit in 1935, though the way things are going, Modern Girls may soon be considered a contemporary novel instead of historical fiction. I care about so many things that if I were to list them all, this would be pages long.
When I first had an inkling that there might be a march in Washington, I had no doubt about going. I recruited a couple of friends to join me. We bought train tickets immediately. We decided we’d stay at my parents in New York on Friday and Saturday nights and then take the train down for the day in DC.
Originally I planned to go with just my friends. I had briefly thought about taking my eleven-year-old daughter, but not knowing what to expect, I erred on the side of caution and decided to leave her at home. However, after seeing the way the march was developing, I began to regret not getting a train ticket for her, and the train I was on sold out within a couple of days. My sister had bought tickets for her and her boyfriend for a slightly later train, and she volunteered to kick her boyfriend off the trip so my daughter could be included. I began crocheting pink hats like crazy. I ended up making nine of them. I gave one to my mom for her march in Miami; one for a friend who marched in Boston; one for me, my sister, my daughter, and one of my friends; and I had three left over.
On Friday, January 20, my two friends (H and S), my daughter, and I climbed into my minivan and drove to New York City late morning (I thought this was as good a reason as any to let my daughter play hooky from school). The drive went quickly, although the lines at the women’s restroom at the rest stop was insane. We listened to a small part of the inauguration on NPR before turning it off in favor of the Hamilton Mixtape. We arrived that afternoon and had a relaxing evening in the city, including trips, of course, to both the Strand and Economy Candy, with a bonus visit to Petee’s Pies.
The next morning, H, S, and I headed to Penn Station at about 6 a.m. Their train was half an hour before mine, so I had some time to wait around. I started chatting with a woman traveling to DC solo to meet friends, and when I offered her one of the hats, she enthusiastically accepted it.
The train was full of marchers. Every time an announcement was made for D.C., a cheer arose. Union Station, when we arrived, overflowed with women, many in pink hats. At the station I met up with H and S, and while I was grabbing a quick smoothie, the counter woman asked me where I got my hat. “I crocheted it,” I told her.
“I’ve been asking everyone I see where I can get one of those hats! I want to buy one,” she said.
The woman behind me in line said, “I know! I’ve been wanting a hat too but don’t know how to knit!”
I was so thrilled to be able to hand them my two extra hats. They may have been a touch small on them (who knew, but apparently I have a smallish head, and I crocheted them all using my head as a model), but they were willing to make it work for the day, and they were so excited to wear them. That spirit of camaraderie really was what the entire day was about.
S, H, and I headed to the rally. Oh my. The crowds were like nothing I had ever seen, including the pro-choice rally I attended in D.C. in the early 1990s. We let ourselves be swept into the crowds, but even so, we couldn’t get anywhere near the jumbotrons to hear the speakers. But there was so much going on around us that we didn’t mind. We knew we could hear the speeches online later; the energy though was something to be experienced. The claustrophobia, I could do without, but it was well worth it to be experiencing it first hand. And we even managed to find my sister and daughter.
We merged with the group and verrrryyy slowly made our way with the march. But there was no hurry. The mood was kind and supportive and optimistic. People chatted, explaining things. When one woman went through chanting, “Save the grizzlies,” and someone else said, “I’m sure it’s wonderful to save the grizzlies, but I don’t think that’s the priority here,” I heard someone else tell her about Betsy DeVos. The chants were both encouraging—the men shouting, “Her body, her choice,” to the women’s yells of “My body, my choice,” and “Show me what democracy looks like—This is what democracy looks like”—and funny: “Hey hey. Ho ho. America’s not a TV show” and “We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter.” The signs were inspiring, thought-provoking, and often funny. [Photos of signs below; pictures taken by both me and H.] The event was peaceful. Even some of the police had on pink hats.
Being with the crowd made me feel less like sobbing all the time. Being with the crowd made me realize this isn’t personal—this is about all of us. It made me realize that there are enough of us unhappy with the way things are that we can actually do something and make a difference.
Walking through Washington, D.C., with the Capitol behind us and the Washington Monument before us gave the march a feeling of history and gravitas. By the time we made it to the muddy, trampled Ellipse in front of the White House, it felt like we had made a statement. Did anyone hear us? He would have been actively working hard to not have heard us. Reaching the end was exciting, and the sun began to set. We had an hour before our train so we used the bathroom at the Smithsonian American History Museum, taking the time to peek at the Star Spangled Banner exhibit, where we politely ignored the Trump supporters also visiting the museum, and also to see the inaugural gowns of the First Ladies. Odd to think that the Trump family will one day have a place alongside those stately figures.
We finally got to the train station, which was crowded with satisfied, tired, hungry people. We stood in long lines to get food for our ride home. Of course, marching is sleepy work, and by the time we made it onto the train that evening, I had one tired little marcher on my hands.
So why did I go? I went for my daughter. I went for me. I went for the people who were unable to go. I went because it’s important to stand up for what I believe in. I went because the world is bigger than just my family. And I went in the memory of my ancestors who wouldn’t have shied away from taking a stand and who I think would have been so proud that my daughter and I were there. We went. We said our piece. And now it’s time for us to act. Stay tuned to see what that will look like.