(This article first appeared at jwa.org.)
After the profound depression and helplessness I felt on Friday, I woke up on Saturday energized and hopeful. As I got my coffee and walked to the train for the Women’s March in Boston, I saw a multitude of pink pussy hats, rolled up signs, discreet pins. I felt like the whole city was part of something, that my people were all around me. I was delighted rather than upset by the many trains that passed my station, completely full, and grateful when the MBTA opened a fresh train on the maintenance track to handle the overflow. I chatted with an eight-year-old Girl Scout going to her first march, and a seasoned veteran of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements.
When I got to the Boston Common, it was mobbed, but it was an orderly mob. While people packed every inch of grass, there was a real effort to ensure that the paths through the park remained clear for people trying to find friends or access the port-a-potties. I snapped pictures of the many creative signs and was delighted to hold mine up as a requested backdrop for a group of protestors taking a selfie together. I couldn’t find any of the friends I had hoped to meet up with—cell service was blacked out—but I decided to focus on being present. My heart soared every time the speakers reminded us that we were here for each other, for women’s rights, for fair wages, for black lives, for the environment. They told us to be mindful of autistic protestors who might be overstimulated, and to ensure accessibility for handicapped protestors. When one speaker asked us to lock eyes with a stranger and silently communicate that we saw each other, that we were fighting for each other, I started to cry.
And finally, more than half an hour late, we were called to march. We were told to exit towards the back and follow the march volunteers.
That’s when everything broke down.
The march had originally anticipated 25,000 participants, and by Friday, more than 105,000 had registered. Most people there, like me, had not, so the crowd was mind-bogglingly huge. “The back” is a relative term when you’re talking about an irregularly shaped park with multiple exits, and many people were too far from the loudspeakers to hear the instructions anyway. An hour after those instructions, when I finally made my way from the center of the park to its border amidst a sea of pink-hatted humanity, I discovered I was at the wrong exit, there was no indication of which exit might be the right one, and the communications blackout meant I couldn’t either check the website or ask a friend elsewhere in the crowd for directions. The crowd around me dispersed down multiple side streets and into the subway, many of them expressing frustration that if they’d only been told, “Make your way towards the corner of X and Y,” they would have done so. At that point, exhausted, overstimulated, and almost at the time when the march was supposed to end anyway, I followed the crowd to the subway and went home.
I learned two important lessons from all this. The first is that the hope and joy I felt throughout the morning ride and the speeches is real: we are surrounded by people who agree with us, who want to put their energy towards constructive, meaningful work. And the second is that we need to be mindful, in the next four years, not to get distracted or discouraged by obstacles, complications, or delays. We need to have clear lines of communication and good backup plans to ensure that the energy of all the people who show up, eager to help, doesn’t dissipate before it gets concrete results.
This was day one. It was a powerful day in its own right––and also provided a training ground for day two, and all the days that follow.