Listen up

by Anne Moore

It’s late to talk about the Women’s March (after all, there’s already been another (amazing) march, the world is actively falling apart, Jeff Sessions is about to delegitimize my family), but I want to write about it, if only to keep the energy of the moment going.

Because it was beautiful.

_mg_0651

Even the ride down felt exciting–as we got closer to the city, the rest stops started to feel like the parking lot of an Indigo Girls concert, with hipsters in pink hats and aging lesbians outnumbering the glassy-eyed families of four that usually people those way stations. I’d give these other women sly smiles, much like the nod I give when someone sets off my gaydar.

These moments of solidarity in transit were actually the highlight of the weekend. For instance, the whole experience of getting from our hotel in Beltsville, MD to downtown DC was beautiful from start to finish. We arrived at the train station (the end of the line) at 8 AM, and the line to get into the station was already hundreds of people deep. By the time we moved to the front, they’d closed the station for the day, and the line of fellow marchers stretched behind us for 10 city blocks, if not more. 2017-01-21-08-46-46

People had come from all over–our own hotel was full to capacity with protesters, including two busloads of people who had driven 35 hours from New Mexico to attend. The folks standing in line around us were from New York and Arizona. It took forever to get onto the train, of course, and even longer for the train to make it downtown, but every time we stopped to let on more people, we cheered as they boarded, despite finding ourselves crammed even more tightly into the limited space of the subway car. Even the Metro announcers sounded ecscatic as they announced the names of the approaching stations (a miracle if there ever was one).

My traveling companion/bestie and I were sitting near a mom who stood next to her teenaged daughter as she slept for the whole ride. The daughter’s lips were parted just enough to see her braces, and she was drooling a little. Maybe it was the presence of her doting mom, but this seemed more adorable than gross. We listened as the mom talked through college choices, explaining to the rest of their party why the daughter should go to Sarah Lawrence. They had brought one of those clear backpacks that the organizers recommended, and it was crammed with peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, and maxipads.

When we arrived at the National Archives stop, we were part of what felt like an ocean of people, and the Metro had stopped charging people for the day. Watching everyone stream out of the train and up from the station into the light as the station attendant welcomed us through a bullhorn calling “Walk on through! The Metro’s got you today!”, I couldn’t help but weep. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how defeated I’d felt, but not anymore.

_mg_9661

I had to quit Facebook a few weeks ago, in the interest of protecting my beleaguered little brain, and I don’t regret it one bit, but this means I have missed the critiques of the march, except as filtered through my students. The main critique–raised by my students on the train on the way back, as well as later in the press, is that the march was overwhelmingly white. The official message, which was reflected by the choices they made about speakers and their official mission, was deeply intersectional, but the people in attendance were largely white and the vibe of the crowd was even whiter. It was quieter than any protest I’ve ever attended, without the perfomativity, righteous anger, and grief that characterize a Dyke March or a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The signs were amazing, but the march itself was weirdly silent; we blocked the streets, but somehow still managed to seem obedient while doing so.

Case in point: Bestie and I were trying to make our way from the relative calm of Independence Ave., where we had been standing about 10 Jumbotrons back from the stage to the Mall where we could do yoga stretches and try to help our aching middle-aged backs. There was endless apologizing as we did our best to snake our way through the bottlenecked crowd to get through the tiny gate that divided one section from another. There was a woman near us with long brown hair and bangs doing a lot of the passive-aggressive complaining that is the mark of my ethnos. She’d declaim to the crowd: “If people would just let us out, there would be more room for them to get in” or “Does no one see that person carrying a baby? The baby needs to get through!” It’s in moments like these where I can see why solidarity with white women as a group is a tough nut to crack. We’re sort of the worst.

As we slowly edged forward, apologizing all the while, we heard someone calling out “security, coming through!” and a single-file line of four Black guys who looked to be in their fifties or sixties  cut purposefully through the crowd. The were dressed in natty suits and fedoras, and one of them had a yellow arm band on which he had Sharpie’d “SECURITY” in capital letters. Even my passive-aggressive line mate couldn’t find it in her to be snarky in the face of their gorgeous confidence and commitment to play.

It’s this kind of guerrilla performance art that has always characterized protests for me–and it was there in the content of people’s signs and the visual of solidarity that was a million pussyhats, but that energy–that commitment to playfulness as part of resistance–felt less present than I’m used to.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not (not really, anyway). One thing that struck me about the march was its insistence on officially centering the intersectionality of the movement. The majority of the speakers on stage were women of color, and one of the most moving I heard was a representative from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women, talking about the challenges she faced after being released from a 27-year prison sentence These are stories I’d previously only heard second-hand, mediated by fiction or film, and I wanted to stay quiet, to hear what these women had to tell me about their experiences and their takes on the world. The signs, too, consistently pointed to the interrelated nature of oppression, including one that simply read “53% of white women voted for Trump.” A helpful–and necessary–reminder, always.

I got the impression from my Instagram feed that the national marches were a little rowdier, and I’m glad, since the fun of protest is part of what drew me to Left politics in the first place, but the silence of the Washington march itself felt (to me) mournful and attentive. That seems like the right position for white women in this historical moment. We’re standing still, letting others speak for once, trying our best to listen and learn.

Advertisements