By KAY MATTHEWS
I’m going to begin with the chants as indicators of the mood, purpose, and extent of participation on both Friday, January 20, inauguration day, and Saturday, January 21, the Women’s March in Washington, DC.
“No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
“We’re not going away, welcome to your first day.”
“My body my choice. Your body your choice.”
“Black lives matter.”
“Trans lives matter.”
“Hands too small can’t build a wall.”
“Say it out loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here.”
“Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
The ubiquitous chant, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” was a good indicator of Friday’s mood for those of us unable to get anywhere near Pennsylvania Avenue, the inauguration parade route; instead, we joined up to march through downtown DC with the ResistFascism folks. The reason we weren’t able to get to Pennsylvania Ave, where the ANSWER Coalition and other protest groups had permits, was because the Secret Service and military grunts (I don’t say that pejoratively as I think some of them didn’t want to be there) were inspecting all out bags, coats, purses, etc., confiscating apples, oranges, water bottles—stuff that could be thrown at Trump—umbrellas and signposts—stuff that could be poked at Trump. But as soon as we gave up our weapons of mass destruction and headed down toward the avenue they’d close another gate and tell us, too many people you need to go over to 8th or 5th or 3rd or whatever to another checkpoint.
We got to that checkpoint where the line waiting to get through was even longer; then we saw the big NO! banners of the ResistFascism folks, heard their drums and shouts and said, we’re going with them.
Off we marched towards Union Station, through cordons of DC police and young soldiers stationed on every street corner. It was such a joy to be in a crowd where the gray hairs were vastly outnumbered by the twenty and thirty somethings, black people, brown people, Asian people, and children and babies on their parents’ backs. We marched through the station where all the workers left their assignments to film the marchers. We marched through residential neighborhoods where everyone came out of their apartments to film us and raise their fists. DC is not a Trump town. We lay down on the asphalt in a die-in to honor all those who have died under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and those who will suffer or die under our own.
Then, with the cops following behind and the helicopters hovering above, we shut down six lanes of traffic on a concrete bridge (it could have been eight lanes, I couldn’t tell in all the chaos) leading in and out of downtown DC. Everyone got out of their cars to film the marchers, mostly with smiles on their faces. I saw only one man on a bus, with a “Make America Great Again” cap on his head, lean into the window with a fuck-you finger. The protestor below leaned back into the window with peace sign fingers.
I was never able to find out if this march was spontaneous and the cops decided to hold back, but later that night there was no such restraint. Over 200 people were arrested when property violence erupted: windows were broken and a limousine was set on fire. It appeared that both perpetrators and observers were caught up in the sweep. According to a National Lawyer’s Guild attorney the DC police “intentionally targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone.” A documentary producer, photojournalist, live streamer, and freelance journalist were arrested. They have all been charged with felonies, a first for street fighting protestors. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.
The next day’s Women’s March is harder to assess. Beset with controversy from the get go, it went through numerous iterations in both form and purpose, but in the end became what most of the women, men, and trans who came from all over the country to make it the largest demonstration in US history wanted: an indictment of an administration and a Washington establishment that is engaged in creating an even more unjust and unequal society.
Initially the brainchild of white women, progressive credibility demanded inclusion, and soon three women of color with activist cred took over the organizing (Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour). And as all progressive organizers well know, with inclusiveness comes a certain amount of jockeying for position to promote diverse agendas. This can be accomplished with grace when folks learn to listen to each other with respect but also agree there can be no compromising on the common goal. This was quickly encountered when the national organization sent out a message weeks before the event that the intent of the march was to present a message promoting women’s rights rather than a partisan attack on Donald Trump.
I saw the reaction to that when the Womens’ March Santa Fe Facebook page re-posted it and a barrage of women loudly proclaimed this march was partisan and we weren’t just talking Republican/Democrat partisan but Bernie/Hillary, progressive/liberal, race/class, and every kind of divide that keeps us oppressed. The Santa Fe posting came down.
The march organizers were expecting 200,000 people in DC. Half a million or more showed up. The designated gathering area soon overflowed onto the Mall, onto all the adjacent streets, and onto Independence Avenue where the march was supposed to be held after presentations by a long list of speakers. Jumbotrons were set up at various locations to broadcast the line-up on stage, but for the majority of protestors that became irrelevant. What was relevant was simply surviving in a sea of humanity crushed together like sardines. Every available tree, lamppost, and traffic light post was climbed by those desperate to see. Somehow, in all the chaos, we remained calm.
My comadre and I managed to push our way close enough to a Jumbotron to watch the last hour of the program, which while enlightening on several levels only increased the urgency felt by the crowd for release—waves of “let’s march” rolled throughout the crowd as the organizers kept bringing out speakers to a program that had already run an hour overtime (people had been standing crushed together for four hours).
I understood the importance of providing the opportunity for everyone invited to have their say, but when Michael Moore and Scarlett Johansson got more time than Angela Davis I began to wonder what the hell determined the organizers’ choices. Then, suddenly, on stage with a group of House Representatives was Debbie Wasserman Schulutz! You know, the former head of the Democratic National Committee who did everything in her power to sabotage Bernie’s campaign, who is a shill for Benjamin Netanyahu, and who stands for everything wrong in the Democratic party. I yelled out in surprise, “What the hell is she doing up there” and most of the folks crushed up against me nodded their heads in agreement.
Talking about it later with my host, an old Antioch College friend who’s a longtime DC resident, we remembered at the 1969 Moratorium March against the Vietnam War we marched first, up Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House with the names of the GIs killed in action across our chests, to the Mall where the speakers had their say. It was important for the speakers who represented so many diverse groups of people to have that opportunity, but it was equally important for the 500,000 people who showed up to feel the empowerment we’re all going to need when we go home and start figuring out what we have t do next, in our own communities, in our own creative ways.
That creativity was on massive display once we were cut loose on the streets. I have never seen a display of signs with more wit, anger, imagination or chutzpah. Here are some of my favorites:
The chants included all of those I listed above, and as we passed the Trump Hotel they morphed into “Shame, shame, shame.” People who had been confined to the side streets joined in along the way as we marched towards the White House. And here is the gift that was left there for Donald Trump.
I left DC the next day but not before Trump’s press secretary invented the euphemism “alternative facts” for “lies” when discussing the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. Will Chuck Todd and the rest of the mainstream press keep up the attack? You may adhere to the historical definition of fascism under Benito Mussolini, or agree with Cornell West that authoritarian nationalism is neo-fascism, or you may just be a liberal. But however you see it, we’re in big trouble and the fight has just begun.