If Trump caused America to “show its teeth” by bringing out the worst in people, than this march has brought out the very best.
Take your broken heart, and turn it into art. That is, essentially, why I’m at the craft store on a Friday night, eyes darting around for a section I haven’t visited since grade school. “Excuse me,” I ask an older man stocking modeling clay. “Where can I find the posterboard?” He leads me to a rack of various colors and sizes, and gestures broadly to the decorating options: markers, poster paints, and my longtime favorite, glitter glue.
The aisle is filled with women and girls of all ages.
“Posterboard is in high demand tonight,” the man smiles. “Someone really must have pissed you ladies off.”
I have dinner and a cocktail at one of my favorite local restaurants that same night, a distraction from the painful reality that our new commander-in-chief is a self-admitted sexual predator who just eliminated digital climate science references. In an effort not to absorb any of the Inaugural Ball pomp and circumstance from the many TVs, I lower my head and accidentally lock eyes with some folks across the bar in inauguration apparel. When a mother and daughter come over and start chatting excitedly with me about joining the Women’s March, the group’s grimaces intensify.
In their eyes is the brawn of a schoolyard bully who shoves you up against the wall and taunts you for fighting back. In their eyes are the questions of every naysayer, of every political affiliation, taking it upon themselves to ridicule and police those marching in the streets. He won; get over it. Protests are childish. They never accomplish anything. Why weren’t you protesting before? Why now? Now, whenever it occurs, is interestingly never the right time.
But now is 6am on Saturday, January 21, 2017, and I slip on a cross-body bag with the essentials, grab my poster, and drive to the train station. I’m no stranger to the D.C. Metro rat race, but this is something different. Today’s brand of urgency isn’t about each person getting to where they need to be. It’s an urgency to support and love each other as much as we can, as quickly as we can, because every day that we don’t is another gash for hate to bleed through.
Cheers on the train, cheers on the escalator. Everyone here is worthy of praise, because after all, decisions are made by those who show up. I shimmy up the back of a marquee and after a few unsuccessful hours of surveying Independence Avenue for my friends, jump down and start marching. These aren’t my friends, but they will be.
The Washington march is rerouted due to an unexpectedly high turnout. I join the current of signs and colors and happy, ringing voices. We are all smiling today, not because we aren’t taking the event seriously or because we’re trying to soothe our anguish with gallows humor, but because we have love and empathy on our side. Eventually, I hear my name and throw my head back, spotting one of my best friends from college and his longtime partner waving enthusiastically.
A few strangers offer to hold my poster and steady my legs, then hoist me up over the wall so that I can hug Tim for the first time in ages. As I drop my arms, I remember a past embrace in our college campus center on November 4, 2008, a night when we envisioned innumerable doors opening for future presidents of color, female presidents, and LGBTQ presidents. “Did you ever think,” I ask Tim, “that eight years later, we’d be doing this?”
But here we are.
We link arms and march toward the Washington Monument. We meet a group of women who traveled here all the way from Florida; another group from San Francisco who generously gives me their extra Planned Parenthood hat. I find fellow teachers who pose for photos with similar education-related posters to mine – “Make America Read Again,” “I March for My Students,” “Smart Girls Run the World.” But what strikes me even more than the thousands of women of different ethnicities, professions, and economic backgrounds is the compassion and determination of the men marching alongside them. By centering women, the entire march throws up a giant middle finger to the toxic hypermasculinity that, aside from costing women their dignity and their lives every day, was an integral part of the Donald Trump campaign. These men are redefining what being a man looks like, and today it looks like pink pussyhats, signs that read “Men of Quality March for Equality,” and allyship with their sisters.
As the march dissipates at sundown, I realize something powerful. I’m a little chilled, my feet are sore, and I would love a hot meal, but I’m otherwise not in a hurry to leave. The reason why I work in D.C. but choose to live in neighboring Annapolis, other than the lack of apartment space and astronomical rent, is that I prefer the lapping waters of the bay to the hustle and honk of the Capital, the friendly nods from strangers to the deliberate lack of eye contact on the subway. A busy, self-important city that often elevates my anxiety now feels welcoming and safe. Not once in seven hours of organizing and marching have I failed to hear an “Excuse me,” “I’m so sorry,” or, “Are you all right?” when someone was bumped into. Protesters have been literally bending over backwards to help those with small children fold and lift their strollers. If Trump caused America to “show its teeth” by bringing out the worst in people, than this march has brought out the very best.
“Why now?” This question was thrown at Gloria Allred during a press conference last week, which announced her representation of Summer Zervos in a defamation suit against Trump. True to form, Allred immediately countered, “Why not now?” When we ask, “Why now?” to address anything from a rape allegation to a defamation suit to an international protest, we are more often saying that there is never a good moment to speak up, because those voices threaten our complacency.
“Why now?” Trump voters, inconvenienced by the activism that exposes a four-word slogan as empty and trite, are instead charmed by protests of decades past because black and white photos do not require them to examine present views. “Why now?” anti-Trump voters, fixated on the past, condemn today’s protesters for not having acted sooner in a similar way that we may ruminate on what we could have done to save a failed relationship instead of learning from it and moving forward.
The question is not, “Why now?” The question is, “Why not now? Why not always?”
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.
Photo provided by the author.