Not done marchin' yet: Scenes from the National People's March in Washington

On the heels of the Women's March, the spirit of protest remains strong in the nation's capital as the age of Trump wears on. It's up to marchers to turn their passion into action.

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click to enlarge Not done marchin' yet: Scenes from the National People's March in Washington
Mitzi Gordon

I’m sitting with my sister in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., directly across from the box where Lincoln was shot. There is palpable energy here, gravid and somber. In the gift shop, pencils and rulers and placemats bear the portraits of presidents lined up in rows like in a school class photo, from the first on up to the disturbing 45th.

Our cashier tells us Trump visited the theatre last year, entering through the alley for an after-hours event. John Wilkes Booth escaped through that same alley after assassinating Lincoln in 1865. Sic semper tyrannis, he cried. Thus always to tyrants.

***

click to enlarge A WWII veteran attending the People's March - Marie Sinkhorn
Marie Sinkhorn
A WWII veteran attending the People's March

We came to D.C. to join the National People’s March on Washington, loosely marking the anniversary of our participation in the inaugural Women’s March, held January 21, 2017. I couldn’t attend the event marking its first anniversary because of prior commitments back home with the St. Pete Women’s Collective. So I traveled the following weekend to a smaller protest, feeling compelled to be there and wanting to see who was there and what they had to say.

“We are in a state of crisis right now,” said human rights activist Yohance Maqubela, son of famed satirist and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.

He was speaking from behind the podium where a sign implores us to Restore Dignity and Integrity. Maqubela ‘s words are echoed through two hours of speeches.

We hear from the Trans Sistas of Color Project Detroit, the Voter Education Network, and Native American activists, among others.

click to enlarge Not done marchin' yet: Scenes from the National People's March in Washington
Marie Sinkhorn

Save for most of those behind the microphone, we’re in a sea of some 1,200 predominately white faces — as it largely was in St. Pete’s Williams Park during the Women’s Day of Action the weekend prior. There is outcry against this administration’s unacceptable rhetoric. Diversity appears at these podiums, and in the voting booths, but not so much in the crowds of marches I’ve attended.

One friend suggests that people at the marches seek a sense of community, a need that perhaps those who do not attend are fulfilling elsewhere. I don’t know if that is true, but I see a need for more meaningful intersections. Maybe the marches, the pep rallies, are not the place.

I explore this over dinner with my sister and two of her friends later that night in D.C. These are mature African-American men, and both work for the government. I cannot reveal doing what, but it impresses me. One of them says it is up to us—indicating people like Marie and me, white female voters—to incite change and follow the lead of women voters of color.

click to enlarge Not done marchin' yet: Scenes from the National People's March in Washington
Marie Sinkhorn

Those are the voters who’ve been fighting where it counts, for a long time. According to the Edison national election poll, only three to six percent of African-American women voted for Trump in 2016 (depending on their level of education), while an overwhelming 44 to 61 percent of white women did the same. Then we all saw what happened in Alabama with Roy Moore and Doug Jones. Jones, the Democrat, received near-unanimous support from black voters, but very little from white women, who opted instead to back Moore, a man who is alleged to have committed multiple sexual assaults on teenaged girls.

click to enlarge A flurry of signs, many with clever or risque messages, took over D.C. during the march. - Marie Sinkhorn
Marie Sinkhorn
A flurry of signs, many with clever or risque messages, took over D.C. during the march.

Millennials are now the largest generation in the electorate, according to a Harvard University poll released in December. But only about half of them are voting. How can they be encouraged toward greater action?

click to enlarge The author's bullhorn. - Mitzi Gordon
Mitzi Gordon
The author's bullhorn.

I am filled with questions, returning for answers again and again to the only thread I have, the thread I was left holding on November 9, 2016, when it seemed the whole world had unraveled: intimacy. The power of direct connections. Sitting and talking, sharing stories, face to face.

click to enlarge A sign holder stands outside the White House. - Mitzi Gordon
Mitzi Gordon
A sign holder stands outside the White House.

At the dawn of 2018, fatigue and shock are wearing on us. Each day’s newscast marches out some fresh atrocity or appalling absurdity. We need to build community, but our actions may not always be loud. Sometimes strength is quiet, building into a broader ripple effect. The marches and rallies are, well, quite like pep rallies. They can bring us together and get us energized for the difficult work ahead.

To paraphrase one of the speakers from last weekend: Discrimination doesn’t take a day off, so why should we? We’re here to work, to show up and invest in building a better quality of life for all. These rallies have a way of mixing celebration in with sadness, planting hopeful seeds. Native American drummers chant under a brilliant blue sky, blessing crowds before the march. Confetti sprinkles the pavement as queer rights activists vogue in the middle of a city intersection.

Uncertain as ever of the future, but restored in some vital way, I fly home prepared to do the real work. I don’t have answers, but I won’t stop questioning. I won’t stop making an effort to meet new people and have real conversations about difficult subjects. Maybe that means bringing a book to Child’s Park in St. Pete for Books and Breakfast, a monthly event organized by the Bay Area Dream Defenders. Maybe it means having a conversation about race and gender over dinner, volunteering at a support group for sexual assault survivors or patronizing a minority-owned business I’ve never visited before.

What does it mean for you? How can you make more intimate connections today?

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