On Saturday, January 21, 2017, history was made in the United States and across the world. Several million people, mostly women and children of all shapes, colors, ages, conditions, took to our streets to send a message to the new administration in Washington, D.C. that we will not let the advances carved out over the past decade be swept away by the Orange Man. In my home town, Minneapolis, the women’s march organizers hoped for 20,000. By early afternoon, press were estimating 60,000 and on Sunday, the more or less official number stood at 100,000. My old friend of forty-six years and I were two of those marching in St. Paul, MN. We’d been advised not to try and take usual exits off the freeway because they would be closed off, so we got off at an exit just inside the St. Paul city limits and parked in a huge shopping mall’s lot that seemed fine with taking a passive but important role in the day’s protest. As we started making our way to the light rail line so we could take the Green Line train from our stop directly to the Capitol where the march would end up, we were immediately aware of scads of other people doing the same thing. Once on the platform, we made our way to a space just behind the safety yellow line and waited for the next train.
Four trains, each with seven big cars, arrived over the next forty minutes. As each stopped and opened doors in case some one wanted to get off, we were met with people packed in so tightly that I didn’t think we could get a piece of paper into the car. As the fifth train approached, I said to my friend “I’m going to be aggressive about getting on, so hang on and do what I do.” The doors slid open onto a similarly stuffed car and I said to the young people nearest to me “Can’t you scrunch a little more and let these two old ladies get on?” They did and we did.
As we all spilled out at the Capitol grounds, a helpful marshall told us not to bother going back to the origin of the march since it was already almost at the Capitol. So we walked with the ever-growing crowd till we saw the huge American flag carried by the march leader. We fell into step with what looked like the proverbial sea of people coming from all angles. Most signs were handmade and lots of people (including some of the many men present) wore the little pink knitted hats that dotted every gathering. One of my friends later told me one of her friends had knitted 20 hats to give to family and friends who were going to be marching. The signs spoke to virtually all the issues in danger of being erased or severely gutted by those taking the reins of power/control. And, though billed as a “women’s” march, I was delighted to see so many men, not all of whom were with a woman to whom they related personally. In fact, one of my favorite signs was the one held by a pleasant, middle-aged white man that read “Men of quality always support e-quality.” I thought to myself “A word-smith made that one.”
Of course there were oodles and oodles and oodles of children, some carrying their own home-made signs often with smiley faces or big bright suns as decoration. One new mother carrying her little baby girl in a back-pack sort of thing had sewn onto the back of the carry case this message: “Nasty Woman in Training.” Though I didn’t see this message at my rally, the one that declared “There are better cabinets at IKEA” seems inspired. And, sadly, true….
Though the sun wasn’t visible, projected rain held off so no one got wet. We all just walked in solidarity and with total positive energy. My friend kept saying “Look how courteous everyone is” as people helped new-comers meld into the crowd or made room for little children not to be squeezed by too many adults around them. This was the largest group of people I’ve every experienced in my 79 years, and it was wonderful to feel that every one of us agreed about the “big picture” we want for our country, no matter which smaller aspects of that picture might be a special focus for us. A few women had brought left-over Hillary signs–the light blue ones that read “STRONGER TOGETHER.” I felt that axiom tangibly as I snaked my way toward the Capitol stage where music and speakers waited to host a long and fierce rally.
My friend and I didn’t stay till the end since we knew the same positive delays on the light rail would happen when all of us who had taken it to get to the site would need to take it back to our cars or neighborhoods. As we were sitting down in a virtually empty car going away from the uplifting event, we strategized about how we’d use the train system the next time we wanted to march against some attempt to pull back support for the people and programs that embrace diversity, acceptance, and life. We know there will be those other times as the next four years pass, slowly and often painfully. But if a tiny percentage of the energy and resistance I witnessed in St. Paul Saturday can be harnessed into local and national movements in support of what all of us there believe in, we will prevent large-scale erasure of the idea of democracy that got us on our feet, into our modes of transportation, and out into those late January streets.