WHY I MARCHED

Joanna and I board the train at Kimball and Lawrence. Each stop takes us closer to downtown Chicago, doors opening to welcome more marchers.

This isn’t our first rally. We reminisce about making our way from a hotel in Arlington to the mall in Washington D.C. in 2012. The hotel, streets, and train ride itself were super-charged with the electric current of hope and excitement. Expectations were high for the Rally to Restore Sanity.

Five years later, our train car is full. My only assessment so far.

Today the first sight at our destination, is a mass of people in front of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. We join in, attempting to make our way to the epi-center, somewhere near the stage at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive where a rally is taking place prior to the march. But every street, sidewalk, and open space is filled with people — side by side, body to body, barely able to move. We progress, filling in spaces, as Joanna says, like sand — someone moves and we fill in the space. We get closer, hearing loud music, spying a jumbotron in the distance, but cannot actually join the thousands who fill the fields ahead all the way up to the stage.

We wait. There is no way to move. Luckily, our fellow marchers have a sense of humor and the sun is shining. We wait till word filters back, “The original march around Chicago’s inner loop has been canceled because at least triple the number of people expected are here.” We are in an outer circle of what is now called a “stationary march” — a march so full of people, we cannot march!

Young men accompany their wives and friends, some with small children, wanting respect for the women in their lives. Older couples, my age (65) and older, arm in arm, navigate the crowd, determined to be a part of this expression. Young girls, women of all ages, some in groups, some not, expressing fears, concerns, and a desire to be a voice for change. Some carry universally polite signs, others are not so polite. That’s ok, we’re all unique individuals.

I’ve never seen the word “fuck,” woven into slogans on so many signs in my life. I don’t remember seeing that at the rally in 2012.

Joanna says, “This is where we are now.”

We have an intolerant con-man, a crude child-man, a deeply flawed human for our nation’s leader. He’s chosen a white nationalist as his chief strategist and adviser, who is unapologetic about his plans to make our country a very uncomfortable place for people of color, as well as completely open in his admiration of Hitler and Satan. Our leader uses a woman as his mouthpiece, adept at lying and twisting truth, who smiles and spins deceit, while following the adviser’s strategy to the letter, dis-crediting institutions of our democracy, as she flies in the face of good faith and decency.

Yes, this is where we are now.

We want better. I sense we’re somehow complicit in this outcome. We voted, yet this happened. What part did I play in so many others choosing this? I need to begin anew, more diligent, aware, active.

A little girl holds up a sign twice her size. She stands in a rare open space — awe and reverence toward her message and her presence, create this space. Maybe five years old, her cute black pigtails frame her face as she looks down, bearing the weight of the sign that reads, “We are born to Love!”

We stationary march. We are men and women, every shade of complexion, believers in whatever we believe, non-believers, the righteous and the tender, the lonely, the aggressive, the careful and the jaded — we’re all here because we know we have to step up. It’s time to flush away regrets with fresh vigor and action. It’s our moment to say, “When evil is revealed, we will not allow it to continue unchallenged again.” It’s time to speak of it. It’s that moment.

Though we missed moments in the past, we are not missing this one.

Upon arrival, I wondered if every single woman here has at some point been abused, compromised, belittled, held back, or hurt by a predator such as our new president. I have a story. I let it go over forty years ago. Yet the weekend of the campaign when the infamous video came out, it all came flooding back. I had worked hard to let it go. Yet here it was again, in the pit of my stomach, in my flushed sick feeling of dread and fear. Michelle Obama described this feeling in her speech saying, “This has shaken me to my core. I cannot stop thinking about this…This is not something we can ignore.”

Is this the thread, finally pulled, tumbling us all onto these streets named Adams, Jackson, Randolph, Columbus, Harrison, Van Buren, Monroe — the streets now one gigantic human stationary march? One human heartbeat of anguish, pursuing hope and justice for all? The heartbeat of women and the men who support them, literally all over the world, raising our signs, whatever awareness we can create, to unite, to move the world to a positive understanding of humanity?

It is.

We move as close as possible to the center, then begin our way back to Jackson where the march was originally set to begin. This long, slow movement, allows us to soak in each persona, each body of hope along the way. At one point it takes thirty minutes to cross one street.

Joanna and I each have our private moment, imagining…what if pushing begins in the elevated area behind us, crushing us and the massive crowd ahead, potentially creating a trampled calamity? However, the sun continues to shine, we chant, we cheer, we speak with fellow travelers, working back and forth from the edges to the middle and back again to the edge, of this great throng.

Finally, succumbing to the stationary in stationary march, we decide to make our own path back north on Michigan Avenue. At one point we discover a splinter march actually moving and join for a while, knowing we’ll break off again soon because there is nowhere to go! The destination is already jam-packed full of people. We’ve been there.

Settling in a favorite restaurant, scrolling newsfeeds, we read our numbers have climbed to 250,000. Yes, we stationary-marched with 250,000 people!

I am one. Joanna is one.

There comes a time to stand up and be counted.

I count. You count.

When we fail to stand together, we lose.

May women never lose again because we failed to stand together.

Women isolating into religious, economic, racial, geographical, age, or sexual identity sections, dwelling on differences and disagreements, is a recipe for failure. We must stand with each other. If this march teaches one thing, it’s that this is a possibility.

Sister-marches around the world, on every continent, give us a vision for the future — a concrete picture of what it looks like to stand together, caring, promoting tolerance, advocating for goodness and justice.

Heartening signs along the way…

“Disarm Hate”

“I have not yet begun to fight.”

“No one is free when others are oppressed.”

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

“We are on this earth to love.”

“Love trumps hate.”

A friend recently posted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It matters to Joanna and it matters to me that our neighbors not be mistreated because of their religion. It matters to us that young girls and women not suffer in a rape culture, it matters that all have access to affordable health care. It matters to me that my husband, sons, daughter and grandchildren are not discriminated against, hated or hurt because of the color of their skin.

This is why I stand shoulder to shoulder in a potentially crushing crowd. However, the only crush I feel, is a welcome crush of hope and tolerance, civility and peace, the crush of literally millions on our planet asking for a better world.

Later on our way home, we stop at the bar Nighthawks across from the train station. Joanna sips a gin cocktail, I have rum punch. We talk about our health, our families, and plans for the future. We listen to what hurts, we listen to what helps.

This is where it starts. But this isn’t where it ends.

It doesn’t end till we listen to what hurts others and what helps others, then do something about it.

It doesn’t end till our nation’s leaders listen to what hurts others and what helps others, then do something about it.

This is what matters.

This is why I marched.