I signed up for a seat on the first bus I heard was being organized, along with five women from my book group. Over the next few weeks, our contingent grew to 16. Leading up to the March, information was continually being updated as the numbers grew: bring signs, but not on sticks; no oranges or apples allowed; no backpacks; on second thought, backpacks are OK, as long as they're transparent; finally: backpacks must be clear and transparent, no color. Our group of 16 met at my house the week before to prepare. We organized ourselves into smaller "affinity groups" since we knew it would be impossible to try to keep track of 16. We brought sharpies to write our emergency contact and legal assistance numbers on our bodies and baggies with bandannas soaked in vinegar in case of tear gas. And then we went to Washington.
The experience was phenomenal. From the moment we descended from our bus at RFK Stadium, we joined the thousands of people streaming toward the Mall. There were hardly any police along the route except for those smiling and directing traffic. We kept thinking that there would be some entry point beyond which bags would be checked and any non-compliant items confiscated. And then we were in the crowd behind the stage.
I have marched for peace and justice and human rights in cities all over the world, but I have never experienced anything like the Women's March on Washington: hundreds of thousands of people spilling into all of the streets of downtown DC, well beyond the perimeter planned for the rally and intended route of the march. And everyone was happy and cooperative. No pushing or shoving, no civil disobedience - planned or unplanned. Virtually no police presence at all. Just one enormous sea of people carrying the best collection of the most creative signs and slogans I have ever seen. I immediately concluded that all of the most visually and verbally creative people are with us on the right side of history!
I was moved by many of the speakers. Ashley Judd's Nasty Women speech and Michael Moore's call to action. Gloria Steinem and Linda Sarsour. And, I admit, after 3 hours of speeches, I was also a little bored and ready to march. I didn't hear Madonna speak - but after the march, the one thing those opposed to the rally kept citing was Madonna saying she wanted to blow up the White House. That wasn't the mood of the marchers or speakers at all, so I decided I'd better hear Madonna's speech for myself. And, of course, the truth is in the context; Madonna does indeed say (starting at 4:05), "Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won't change anything. We cannot fall into despair. As the poet W.H. Auden once wrote on the eve of World War II, "we must love one another or die"." And then she asks the crowd to chant, "We choose love!"
Does the statement "we choose love" threaten the president and his administration? How? Why the need to pull one phrase out of a five minute speech and "spin" it to distort the mood and message of one million women and men in Washington and millions more in over 600 marches around the world - even in Antarctica?!
I am proud that hate is threatened by love, that intolerance is threatened by inclusion, and that millions of us stand strong, ready to defend our democratic institutions against tyranny. We stand, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.