I’ve never invested much time in politics. But if someone helpless, whom you love, starts getting shafted big time by the system, you might find yourself taking an interest darn quick.
The state capitol was wrapped in fog as my friend Sylvia and I walked along the sidewalk toward the din. Along the street, coming toward us, was a couple, each carrying a little kid on their shoulders. The kids were carrying poster board signs, streaked with magjc markers, something about the right to an education. Others were mingling along the stretch of road; walking dogs or laughing in small groups. The atmosphere was one of camaraderie. There was no tension or stress; only welcoming smiles and friendly greetings.
The closer we got to the capitol building, the more people we encountered. Now we were starting to notice many of them wearing hot pink scarves or hats. We could hear a crowd cheering. The abrupt surge of applause was something akin a heavy rainstorm or the sound from a pro bowl game. Above the spiking office buildings, the clouds were slowly migrating, leaving misty hints of blue. As we rounded the corner to the capitol building, the light passed over a mass of people, standing room only, packed together tightly, all happily facing one direction as if it watching a Beyonce concert. Their faces were lifted toward the front entrance of the Capitol, where a voice boomed and snapped, but the acoustics were garbled so we couldn’t make out any of the words.
“We have to get closer,” Sylvia said. I followed her into the audience as individuals mildly stepped back or forward to let us through. There was no resentment as we brushed past them. Everyone was accommodating. Most of them were women of various ages, and many were holding signs, brightly colored, some carefully measured and crafted, others on cardboard scrawled with a magic marker.
One made me laugh out loud. “Free Melania!”
A few others were anti-Trump. “You tweet, we march.”
But there were more that stated a deeper mission. “I stand for Planned Parenthood.” “Build bridges, not walls.” “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights.”
Sylvia moved through the crowd with such determination that the gap closed quickly behind her and I realized I had better stop gawking and try to keep up. I had a flashback to decades prior, following her through the deep woods, her bent form crashing through the brush in her thunking hiking boots, while branches and and whisks of cedar slapped me in the face and beat me about the head.
We finally reached a spot where we could both hear what the speaker was saying. She was talking about Planned Parenthood. “Who here, at some point, has used their services, or knows someone who has?”
All around us, hands were raised, gloves reaching upwards.
Women were balancing children on their hips or shoulders, grasping signs about public education and the future of the planet. Elderly couples stood quietly together holding hands, with hopeful statements about social security. And so many people; young, middle-aged, lined up in groups, just wondering how they were going to get by.
But as we stood there, feet squishing into the cold mud on the trampled front lawn of the Michigan State Capitol, the ambiance was one of optimism.
Michelle Obama once said, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
The woman’s movement, which surpassed expectations, was dismissed as a “temper tantrum” by several who shall go unnamed. The label “temper tantrum” is a handy one for those who won’t acknowledge a legitimate protest.
This is why I marched. I am sure everyone has their own reasons. I was not involved politically when President Obama took office. I got a big wake-up call in 2016 when the courts prevented my disabled sister Amanda from expressing her wish to visit me. Something that seemed like a n0-brainer turned into a major war among siblings, and ended up in the courtroom.
Since Amanda was denied her right to be heard, I’ve spent the past year attempting to educate myself about how to make legislative change. I found the president-elect’s policies (when I could determine what they were) alarming and his attitude toward women alarming and his demeanor reprehensible. What scared me the most was when I watched the debates and he couldn’t answer a question without resorting to inflammatory remarks. He just didn’t seem to know what the heck he was talking about. Since I went to the state on behalf of my sister, and it would not listen, and the courts would not listen, and various federal agencies would not listen, it seemed to me that the next step was to jump on this opportunity to march for human rights. I want this administration to know, from the beginning, that we care very much about what happens to minorities and regular people.
If I were a billionaire, I know I would not have a problem helping my sister. I could buy a lawyer to defend her. Should she have any fewer civil rights than a billionaire, because she has Down syndrome?
I felt gratitude toward this peaceful crowd, standing in solidarity on this remarkable day, this first day of the new administration. It was astounding to know so many others around the country, and even around the globe, were chiming in to set a precedent. I’ve never experienced anything like this; thousands upon thousands of voices speaking out for civil rights; the right to healthcare, the right to marry who we love, the right to an education, protection for our veterans and immigrants, for the disabled and the elderly, the preservation of our national parks, the environment, and the battle against climate change. These are all matters that “promote the general welfare.” Our statement is made now, on this first day; we sent a peaceful and humor-filled, but forceful and powerful message. WE are America.
So it begins…