“Tell me what democracy looks like….This is what democracy looks like!” The call and response chant filled the air repeatedly a little over a week ago, as I walked with half a million other women, men, and children in Washington D.C. I have deliberately waited a bit to share my thoughts on that incredible experience. My heart and mind were simply too full to do so before today.
While I consider myself political, generally more in thought and voice than deed, I had never taken to the streets in protest of a person or policy. I had not been a marcher. I guess if you’re finally going to become one, you might as well “go big!” Indeed, I did…..
In retrospect, it’s a bit strange that I had never marched before last week. Certainly I had the credentials, having been raised in a hardcore Liberal family just outside the Nation’s Capital. Political talk around the dinner table was the norm in our house and both parents, particularly my Mother, were active in Democratic politics. Mom worked the polls every election I can remember, enjoyed tea at Ethel Kennedy’s home once, and even wrangled an invitation via my uncle to LBJ’s inaugural ball for she and my Dad.
Moreover, I was a child of the 60’s, heading to college in 1968, surely one of the nation’s most turbulent and troubled years. I had, like everyone I knew, wept over Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s deaths that spring, both appalled and frightened at what was happening in our country. “The whole world is watching!” resonated in my ears as the Democratic Convention unfolded, but I was busy that summer, working, packing, and daydreaming a bit about the changes that lay ahead come fall and college.
I followed the election campaign closely once there, and over the years signed petitions and attended small gatherings demanding U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. This was a tiny campus at a church-affiliated college in rural Virginia; we were miles, both geographically and ideologically, from what was happening at Columbia and elsewhere across America. So, no marches those four years; instead, marriage, a degree, and an ongoing sympathy towards all things Liberal. As the years rolled by and my family grew, I attended political rallies and occasionally canvassed for candidates in the presidential races.
And now I am a grandmother, several times over. Things now are different, and all of us, including my children and those grandchildren, face a very uncertain future. I am once again incredibly frightened of what is happening to our country. It is that worry and the encouragement of my daughter and others that impelled me to drive to Washington, D.C. and join in those chants. I found it to be one of the most exhilarating, empowering, and emotional things I have ever done. The experience pushed me to become more politically involved locally, and I have written our state’s senators expressing specific concerns I have about the new administration taking shape in Washington. I will return to the Democratic Committee that meets monthly in our little town; I will work to make a difference.
As my good friend, daughter, and I made our way in that huge mass of people down Washington streets whose names are so familiar, I found tears welling up in my eyes and a lump forming in my throat more than once. I looked at the people who stretched to the horizon in either direction, and saw kindred spirits. I saw lots of men, and was so happy about that. And little kids, ‘tweens, and teens….a very good sign. I saw people of many races and religions; people my age and older, on walkers, canes, and in wheelchairs. I saw so many signs, lots that were clever or irreverent, but all heartfelt and making a point. It was a wonderful feeling to be among such a huge crowd of people whom I knew felt the way I did. Their feelings were evident not only in their signs and chants, but in the conversations we shared as we learned to know one another that day. They, too, were worried that our country has been usurped by a showman who has no redeeming qualities and too many odious ones to list. We, the American people, are better than that; we deserve better.
I was told by so many of my friends and family that they are proud of me; I’m proud of myself. There comes a time, it seems, when it’s not enough to simply espouse beliefs. You must show up. For me that time is now, at age 67. If not now, when? If not for this cause, then what? I may have been late taking those first steps, but am so very glad I did. They will not be my last.