I worked as a ballot clerk on Election Day in November of 2016. It was a wonderful experience and I finally got to see first hand how the voting process works, how the integrity of it is carefully protected at the local level, and how people of different political views come together to make sure everything is fair and runs smoothly. I’m lucky to live in a town where voting is easy; there are not usually any long lines, the process is run very professionally and I get to see my friends and neighbors on my way to work (or home). On election day, I was able to smile as I watched parents take their kids into the booth, just like my parents did for me, and I did for my kids. I got to be part of all that and I was very proud to do so. It was a good day. I didn’t watch the news that day because I was busy working, so when I finally arrived home that evening, I had a bite to eat and then turned on the television for what I expected to be a celebratory moment. Instead, I experienced an emotion that can only be described as deeply shocking, gut wrenching grief. As the political pundits began predicting that Donald Trump would win the Presidential election, I was not one of those people who watched into the wee hours of the morning, hoping for some kind of miracle. I’ve had enough disappointment in my life to have learned how to accept what is. Instead, I said a prayer for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, turned off the television, and went to bed.
I spent the following weeks in a continued state of shock and grief, then slowly came to the realization that my perspective regarding many things in this country was just wrong. I thought people would see the embedded racism in Trump’s strategy and largely take offense, although I expected a small fraction of people would not. I thought women would be proud to finally have such a qualified female candidate, and that they would see the sexist propaganda surrounding Hillary Clinton for what it was, especially when it had come from the campaign of such an offensive misogynist. I though that because I had the life experiences to see though it, most women would as well. I thought the struggles of the LBGTQ community were driven by a religious minority that was too tied up in their own theocratic agenda to listen, but that as a society we were moving forward. I thought that only a small number of crazy creationists were still denying climate change and it’s origins. I have been shocked to discover the extent to which this is not true. I was wrong about the number of people who participate in any of those ideals, and shocked to learn how many agree with all of them, or how many people just don’t see how they are expressed through the actions of Trump and his cohorts.
As Donald Trump’s inauguration approached, I grappled with how in the world I could have gotten all of that so wrong. My only consolation was a growing awareness of how many others were feeling the same way, and the knowledge that Hillary had won the popular vote by such a large margin. I was not isolated in my grief, and that was an enormous comfort. I watched on social media as families on opposite sides of this experience struggled to make it through the holidays with some measure of civility, and was grateful that was not the case in my family. I laughed when a strange package arrived in the mail and I asked my son what in the world he had ordered from Lithuania. He replied, “Oh man. I forgot all about that. I got drunk election night and told everyone we should start preparing for the end of the world, then I went online and ordered gas masks from Lithuania.” Alrighty then.
The lead up to Inauguration Day was the most bizarre I can recall in my lifetime. As we were hit with the belated confirmation of the Russian involvement in the election, and we saw the statisticians demonstrate the impact of Comey’s eleventh hour email investigation, I couldn’t stop wondering how in the world this could have happened in the United States. Each new revelation was like another sucker punch to the gut. I tried to get out of that head space and started my travels, but then as I was visiting Mount Vernon and the guide brought up how George Washington had the foresight to begin the strong tradition of a peaceful transfer of power in this country, I reacted with a sigh of disgust that was clearly shared among those around me that day. Yes, I get it’s what we do. This time felt different though.
With the inauguration slowly approaching, the only thing that made me feel any measure of hope was that the day after, women would be gathering in D.C. and in cities around the country and the world, to stand up for the things that were at stake in this election. Slowly, the events were coming together, and slowly I was seeing more and more women in my community and circle of acquaintances step forward and speak up. Every time I learned that another woman I knew would be marching, it was like the grief in me dialed down a bit. When I heard that parking permits were secured for 1,200 buses that day, I had a mixed reaction of hope and “don’t get your hopes up.” Luckily, I have a friend who lives in Maryland, and although she is not at all interested in politics, she offered to host me that weekend, and even organized a ride to the Metro stop with her book club friends who were going. Another friend who happened to be traveling to North Carolina that weekend offered me a ride to Maryland.
The Metro stop was crowded that morning, and the cars were full heading into the Capital, with a tone of resolute camaraderie. Buses had dropped some women at the station, and the immediate report was that the New Jersey Turnpike had been filled with busloads of women in pink pussy hats headed south. I arrived in D.C. early, and stepped off the train to a celebratory cheer. We were here! I walked to the location where the march was scheduled to begin and immediately knew this was going to be a lot bigger than anyone had expected. The crowd was growing so fast that I was getting claustrophobic, and so I headed down the street so that I could be towards the edge and not in the middle. The edge was rapidly moving however, so I finally walked about a block ahead of it and started photographing signs.
Those signs were fascinating, mostly handmade, and told me a story about the diverse group of people who were arriving for the day. In incredibly creative, often humorous, and sometimes angry tones, they showed me what people there valued, and what they were willing to fight to protect. They spoke of things like a women’s right to chose her own reproductive choices, a concern for the environment and an honest discussion about climate change, support for the separation of church and state, support for immigrants, and yes, anger at Trump and the Republicans. Many, many signs were dedicated to recognizing the need to celebrate all people, end racism, and support the LBGTQ community. To me, it felt like the people who were there had a deep need to be seen, and to have their voices heard, and their opinions known. I am sure that not everyone there agreed with everyone else’s point of view on all of the issues presented, but the tone overall was that we need to work together to move forward.
I have to say I was a bit surprised, as I expected a stronger sense of outrage. While that certainly was present, the overriding energy expressed that day was that the message is bigger than Trump or his administration, and it was more about how people saw their country. I honestly felt more connected to what this country means to me on that day than I ever have. I was proud to be there, and as the size of the crowds grew to historical levels, I was proud of my country.
The only outrage I felt was when the Westborough Baptist jerks showed up with their giant signs and megaphones shouting the typical vitriol they are known for. I noticed people were walking past them while pointing their signs in the direction of their mini demonstration. I took a different tactic and instead, walked up and said, “Good morning fellas!”, then proceeded to stand 3 feet in front of them and held up my sign in an attempt to block them. It was the only thing I could think of to do that would diminish their efforts to be seen that day, by obstructing the view of them. I stood there for a while as people walked by giving me encouragement, and then a man I do not know and will likely never see again, walked up to me, asked if he could join me and then we stood side by side smiling with our signs up. That was actually fun.
I met a lot of really nice people that day. The tone was mutually respectful and supportive, and there was zero interest from anyone in causing any kind of a problem. By the time the march was scheduled to begin, the crowd had literally lined the entire march route, so it morphed into a swarm of people gradually working their way from one side of the mall to the other. If you have only seen photos of people on the mall, you have missed the blocks of people beyond that, which extended out for many blocks in multiple directions. I have never been in a crowd that size, and I doubt I ever will again.
That afternoon, as the huge crowd began to disperse and head back to the Metro stations for their trip home, many of us were stopping to thank the police, national guard, and Metro workers for their efforts that day. There was no animosity on either side, and I was happy to hear several of them thanking the marchers in return for being there that day. That was a great way to end the experience.
I have heard people claim that they don’t understand the point of the march, and that it won’t change anything. I disagree. To me, the march pulled women out of the woodwork who were not comfortable discussing politics, or speaking up in public, or are just crowd averse in general. Since the election, women have been supporting each other’s efforts to be vocal supporters of typically progressive causes. I have definitely seen a change in the number of women who feel they no longer wish to be silent. Women know they will pay a price for speaking up, and I see a lot of women who are finding their courage and stepping forward anyway. They are joining other like minded women on a local, state and national level, and they are willing to reach across the table without a lot of concern for prior political affiliations or labels. Record numbers of women are preparing to run for public office. These are good things, and I look forward to our next election where I will once again volunteer to be part of our electoral process.