Showing Up

On Attending the Women’s March in Sarasota, Florida

Written by Michael Adno
Book Store, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2016

Back home, far away from my home in Brooklyn, and my at-times home in Washington, D.C., I felt a bit unpatriotic and ashamed in Sarasota, Florida on the day of the Women’s March — to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration. This town tends to be a liberal bastion in a conservative prairie in south west Florida, but Sarasota county always edges red in elections big and small. For Sarasota’s contingent of the March, people met at the base of Seward Johnson’s monumental sculpture–Unconditional Surrender–which is permanently installed along Sarasota Bay at a busy intersection just outside downtown Sarasota. From there the group would walk west towards the John Ringling Bridge, walking up and over to the west side and then returning again to the base of the sculpture.

I woke up late after a difficult day and long night of political bric-a-brac. The inauguration was tough to understand, to analyze, to truly accept. I was so angry that I had to commit myself to a period of complete silence far away from my computer or the radio, and then I followed that with a bit of pool therapy at a bar I often play at, but I still couldn’t shake my frustration. The night before, I woke up periodically to a strange, tension like migraine that I knew all too well, but this time the pain was so localized I had worried it might be a walnut sized tumor in my head. It pulsed near the right side of my neck, just behind and below my ear, at the nape. I chalked it up to stress, but I think it was fear, a fear of what was to come for our country, for what I could or couldn’t do, for what role I would play moving forward.

On inauguration day, I woke up groggy and depressed. I hadn’t felt depressed for some time, and I had worked hard not to feel that way, to practice probity, to be more grateful, more compassionate, but the inauguration made me blind to all of that.

And on the day of the March, I woke up with the same sense of discontent and dread. My emails annoyed me. The blue-bird weather didn’t excite me. I laid in bed for far too long, bemoaning the work I had and beset by my lack of wherewithal to be thankful to have such work or that the weather was nice or that somebody gave enough of a shit to email me to begin with. I dragged myself out of bed and headed to the March here in town. My friend who had planned to join me decided he would not be going. My mother who I bumped into also told me she had plans already. As I stopped for coffee along the way, she texted me to let me know she had changed her mind and was coming to join. We met at the base of the bridge as I had been observing the procession for a little bit already.

Along the way, I saw people young and old, male and female, cisgender and trans, white and black, many holding signs or sporting t-shirts all advocating either on behalf of women’s rights (among other concerns bound to the vehicle of women’s rights) or disparaging President Donald John Trump in increasingly clever ways with each passing sign. Even the dogs wore signs. I saw young boys and girls complementing each other’s signs and throwing up signs of peace, their exacting calm on display for the stream of cars passing by, cheered on by the frequent litany of car horns pushing down the road. I saw young men and their mothers. I saw young mothers and their daughters. I saw family’s taking a breath in the shade, collected and cool. I thought to myself, wow, they are beautiful. I saw people passing out water, making room for each other, adjusting their pace to cater to their fellow marchers. I stood back up on a higher ridge to watch everyone pass by, to read their signs and t-shirts, to take note of all the clasped hands and strewn smiles. Yes, they were aesthetically beautiful. The spirit of it all was beautiful. Their collective gravitas, chants, and movements, too, were beautiful, but it was their presence that was truly beautiful.

West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2016

In this quiet sea-side town, I saw beauty in the fact that these people showed up in ways many didn’t. They took part. They made their presence known, their will to resist evident. Their exuberance and participation were reminders of another type of civil engagement though, that the same can be done for causes with more nefarious aims, and that at times those sorts of causes have garnered more attention in America’s past. What was important about this observation was that those shadow agendas no longer make themselves seen by a gathered group of people which flank a busy intersection punctuated by beeps and signs bearing pointed political jabs. The days of Klansmen passing out pamphlets in broad daylight have come and gone, but they too can return. Yes, that still happens and it could and might very well happen here in Sarasota, but it will happen under the auspice of nightfall and not on a Saturday afternoon, and surely not with the kind of force that we see women gathering all across the country, all across the world, in numbers that are exponentially larger than even President Donald John Trump’s inauguration, larger than any other March before. And that is to say that in this case, those who show up are the ones who are heard, not the shadow agenda, not the lesser causes. And we can at this point outnumber such low-lying, intolerable ineptitude.

Hitchcock’s Grocery, Hawthorne, Florida, 2016

Later I stood back again like a big eye floating around to just observe, up on a knoll set back from the road, and I saw a large white pick-up truck stop down the road, a young man got out in pale blue jeans and dark tan boots, a short sleeved collared shirt and a red hat. The young man walked a straight line through the crowd along the road side, bobbing in and out with some strange, concerning look of indifference, but also a kind of purpose I couldn’t quite put my finger on, almost Dylann Roofesque. I took my eyes off of him when the aforementioned white truck started blowing big plumes of burnt black smoke alongside the group of protesters at the road’s edge. Then I looked toward the Sarasota policemen who just stood and stared on, maybe echoing that young man’s indifference all too closely. At the fork in the road where an island like median sat, a young girl in her teens stood in all black, face painted rainbow shades and angel wings pinned to her back painted yellow, blue, red, green, orange, purple, and white. She raised her sign as that truck passed, her sign which equated gay rights and human rights, moreover equal rights for all.

Because of traffic, the truck had to stop there for a moment. She stood resolute, the sign clearly at eye level for the driver. I think his flippant, child like resistance was undercut a bit by her calm, forthright look that she returned. The young man in the red hat moved closer now, and I could now see the smug grimace he was wearing, complimented with a Make America Great Again hat. I presumed his aim was to provoke somebody to either scorn him, yell at him, or to engage in some form of confrontation with him, but he reached the end of the line further up the road with his proud walk of indifference as I watched protesters nod and move to let him pass unfettered. He continued up the boulevard and hopped back in the truck heading south on US 41. His shoulders slumped a little bit once he reached the end, and I think the adrenaline rush he was searching for was mislaid. However, that young women in the rainbow angel wings walked proudly with her family. I saw the bright whites of her eyes and her sign still held high.

Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida, 2016

The night before sitting atop a storm drain that empties into Sarasota Bay, I mused with three friends on what we are all inevitably discussing, politics, or something akin to politics to be more honest. One friend advocated for a more aggressive and violent approach as we discussed the taped encounter of Richard Spencer being punched mid-interview in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration ceremonies. My friend spoke past me in shrill platitudes like we all tend to do. It wasn’t a surprise nor a disappointment. It was to be expected today. I had already spent the day ruminating and brooding. I even lashed out at a friend I had never had so much as even foul words with, but now I felt like playing the role of the understated, quiet counter. I explained how I heard a person recently explain the idea of people having thousands of different selves, some louder and more pronounced than others, but that there were undoubtedly softer and more positive valences within everyone to be mined and drawn out. That story was my lede to explain that if we could find ways to speak more adeptly to each other, to our more agreeable, open, compassionate selves that maybe we could begin to work towards having a democracy made up of citizens again, but that would require a process of education, a retreat from Facebook provocations, a wherewithal and patience few are willing to practice at the moment. And above all else, that would require listening to understand.

As I waited for my mother to meet me at the base of the bridge, I texted my friends in Sarasota and elsewhere to see if they too were going to join the march. An overwhelming amount said they were not. They had plans, ailments, small projects to attend to. And I thought, fuck them, because I truly felt that they–as Americans, as humans–should be there, if not for some altruistic, righteous cause then just to participate, to be reminded how valuable that kind of civic responsibility is when we accept it, wholly, and how fortunate we are to have such an outlet. What troubled me the most is that in smoke filled bars and in quiet echo chambers, everybody has so much to say, but when it comes to gathering, to reaching a critical mass, or voting down the ballot (or voting at all) we seem to have reached an impasse. And I am ashamed to be a part of this generation because of that, that apathy, that unwillingness to participate. After such a vigorous political discourse the evening before, I truly thought I’d see my friends here at the March. I found it imperative that my fellow cisgender, heteronormative, white, male friends join, and I now know that I should not think, fuck them, but I too should take the time and care to speak to them about this process of education. My incessant invocations were met with please accept my answer, and while I did not want to, I ultimately have.

As I walked back to my car through a busy parking lot–my heart a bit less wooden–I heard the sweet timbre of Bob Dylan’s voice interspersed with the gusts of winds beginning to take shape. I looked around the parking lot for where the song was coming from, not knowing what to expect, for earlier I had seen an older utility truck, the kind that dropped the young man off in the Trump hat, plastered with anti-Trump bumper stickers and signs along its rear-windshield making a case for the impeachment of Trump. And then finally, I saw where it was coming from, a luscious cherry red Mercedes coup, the sound clearer now with the verse:

Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun

It’s not aimed at anyone

It’s just escaping on the run

And but for the sky there are no fences facing

And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme

To your tambourine in time

It’s just a ragged clown behind

I wouldn’t pay it any mind

It’s just a shadow you’re seeing that he’s chasing

Further down the serpentine stretch of concrete that hugs the bay, I saw a family of four belching out, Somebody is coming! I looked out toward the windy bay to see a man and a dog in a tender boat, maybe a hundred yards from shore, as the boat took on water and slowly bobbed up and down with its gunnel edge barely above the surface of the water. I again thought of how beautiful their care was in making sure this man and his dog made it safely back to shore, and I hoped that we could all do the same, in voting, in holding the door open, in coaxing our cantankerous friends into participate more often. I walked head on into the wind thinking of which way they may blow in the years to come, but I certainly felt more optimistic, more confident, even mended in some way. Most importantly, I felt privileged to be able to march and hoped that we all might take the time to acknowledge that immense privilege. I am still afraid, but I am no longer fearful, that acute tension gone from the nape of my neck.