So many things running through my head right now. Lots of changes happening in my life – the beginning of the new year brought with it a renewed sense of direction, a gelling of the craziness that had taken up residence in my brain, a feeling of purpose, a way to move forward.
But now, just a few short weeks later, it all seems to have evaporated. Or maybe it hasn’t actually gone away; maybe it’s just taken on new meaning.
Last Saturday, I walked in the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles. I was all set to go by myself because no one I knew wanted to go – and then when Saturday morning arrived, I argued with myself about going, especially since I was going by myself. I found myself leaning towards the “don’t go” conversation more than the “go” comments, making up more reasons why I should just get back into bed, when I decided to just shut the hell up and go.
I’m sure glad I did.
Several things happened during the day that made me realize I’d made the correct choice for me. Let me see if I can articulate them.
Friday night, I had decided to take the MetroLink train into downtown, instead of driving my car and trying to find parking. The next morning, while listening to the back and forth conversation in my head, I dilly-dallied around long enough while getting ready to leave that I was only going to have about 10 minutes to purchase my ticket before the train arrived. When I finally got to the station, I found a long line of maybe 30 or 40 people waiting to get their tickets, too. There was no way we were all going to have our tickets in our hands before the train got there! During my planning of the night before, I had downloaded the MetroLink app onto my iPhone so I would have the stations and schedules handy should I need them, and as I was standing in line, it occurred to me that I could probably purchase tickets through the app. And sure enough, I could! It took an excruciatingly long amount of time to set up my account, add my debit card number, and get my all-day-Saturday pass purchased but I did it! There was only one person in the ticket line ahead of me at this point, but I breezed myself right on out of line and headed to the platform where probably a hundred other people, including all those people who had been ahead of me in the ticket line, were already waiting for the train’s arrival.
The MetroLink was about ten minutes late. It slowly pulled into the station and wouldn’t you know it – it was already so jammed packed full of people that the train engineer wasn’t letting anyone else on board! When the doors opened, it looked like those videos you see on youtube where people are smashing and pushing other people onto the train (is that Japan or China? I don’t remember…).
Yes, we probably could have fit a few more passengers on-board had we used this method, but you know how we Americans like our “personal space minimums” 😀 Maybe the capacity had to do with weight restrictions and not necessarily the number of persons. Who knows. I just know I was really excited when the train pulled in, so full of people going to LA that no more could get on! Who would have thought that the turn-out would have been so huge? (Note to self: next time, get up earlier and go to the station nearer the beginning of the line.)
Most of the people on the platform who couldn’t get on the train decided to either drive to LA (which wasn’t that far away… maybe 35 miles) or drive to a different station, hoping to get on before the trains got full. A number of us figured we would just wait for the next train which would be arriving in about 70 minutes or so, thinking that maybe the majority of people headed to downtown had already boarded the earlier train (the one that had just passed us by) in order to get into LA before the march started. It was a chilly morning out, brisk for So. Cal. anyway, but chatting with others who were also waiting for the train made the time fly by. There was Carol who was calling her husband to come back and get her and drive her to another station. There was Shelly who came by herself because no one she knew wanted to get out of bed that early on a Saturday morning. There was a young family – mom, dad, kid in stroller. There was an older couple and a few younger people standing nearby in the sun. The feeling in the air was not one of despondency over not being able to get on the train, but rather exhilaration that so many people were showing up for this march!
When the next train finally arrived, we could see from the platform that it was standing room only. Before the announcer could say that this train, too, was full to capacity, I ran (yes, I ran!) for the last door of the last car (the train had pulled completely past all of us) and jumped on, grabbing a nearby handrail, and prepared to stand for the 56-minute ride into Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. However, it wasn’t to be… I had just settled into my standing position when someone gave up their seat for me and asked me to sit down. I was indeed a very grateful person, I can tell you.
The kindness of that other passenger set the tone for the way it was going to be for the rest of the day.
I sat with three other people in a little four-seat “section” where two of us faced the other two of us – two twenty-something-year-old sisters who were public school teachers, Liz and Kim, and an older guy named Clarence who was on his way to spend the day with his brother and had no idea there was anything special going on today. Our ride into Union Station was full of conversation: Clarence kept up a steady stream of questions and observations, and the sisters answered his queries with bright and engaged responses. (When I asked him if I could take this picture, he readily agreed but wouldn’t look into the camera. He was such a hoot!) Before we exited the train, he let us know that he was asking God to protect and keep us throughout the day, making sure we knew it wasn’t just the three of us he was asking God to hold up; it was everybody who would be at the march. His sincerity made him all the more charming and all of us thanked him as he headed off to his next train.
Seeing, hearing, and being a part of the overwhelming wave of humans that engulfed downtown Los Angeles was invigorating! And just a little bit kind of freaky, too. So many people! Everywhere! How would we ever get where we were going and how would we find our way home again? And what would the day hold for us? Where were the porta-potties and food trucks? Where were the people marching up from Pershing Square? When would they get to City Hall? So many questions, so much adventure ahead.
I got off the train at Union Station, located a couple miles north of where the beginning of the march was to take place, but only a half mile from where it was to end. Several of us on the train had thought that, rather than try to get to the where the march was starting, we could just walk south and meet up with them in progress, since the train’s arrival coincided with the official march starting time of 10:00 AM. So that’s what I did… along with hundreds, no, thousands of others getting off that train. (According to Wikipedia, each MetroLink car can hold up to 360 passengers and the train I missed at the station had 6 or 7 cars which would have been 2,160-2,520 people. The train I had just gotten off was easily the same size as the one I missed. That’s about 5,000 people in just those two trains!)
Once we were outside the station, I stepped aside and pulled up my Maps app to check the walking route I wanted to take to downtown. (You know me, I’m not following the crowd if I can help it 😀 ) I took pics of the almost-empty steps of the LA City Hall, which later in the afternoon, were full of people. I walked to the stage area where the speakers for the day would be starting soon. I continued to walk through the crowds of people, knowing that soon they would be packed in like sardines and getting from one side of the street to the other might be problematic, even for me out there on my own. I decided to stop at a porta-potty while it was still early in the day – no lines, still clean, and still full of toilet paper – and then I sat down on a concrete curb behind the stage area and watched the people pouring in. And pouring in. And pouring in. I sat there for what seemed like a long time, but was probably only 15 minutes or so, and watched the people who kept streaming past as if there was no end to the procession.
Indeed, there was no end in sight! As I walked up the block, the stream of people coming down the wide sidewalks from the public transportation stops was seemingly endless! So many people! People everywhere! Gobs of people! From where I was standing, from where I could look down on the crowds below me, it seemed like the grounds, the streets, the sidewalks were paved with people. I stopped at a grassy area where there were little groups of people, sitting, standing, milling about, eating snacks, taking pics of other people’s signs, chatting with their neighbors, feeding the little kids, just hanging out. It was glorious! I was alone – but surrounded by people who were there to stand up for the rights of women, the rights of human beings, the rights of Americans, the rights of the planet.
There were other things that continued to happen all day long – things that uplifted me and others around me, that showed us all that we could have a peaceful demonstration, that made us feel like we were just one great big, humongous family standing up for those of us who were marginalized and left out. I don’t have words to express what it felt like to be with a group of people, a tribe of people, if you will, that was thousands and thousands strong, and who felt the same way I do about human beings and our planet.
Somewhere in the early afternoon, I realized that this was probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for me, even though I had participated in anti-Vietnam rallies in the 60s and love-ins in the early 70s (or was that the 60s, too? I can’t remember!). But the sense that we were all coming together to stand up for human beings and the rights of people everywhere, to voice our support for women, to lend our supportive presence to people of color, to LBGTQIA people everywhere, to Muslims and other non-Christian believers (and at the risk of leaving anyone out, to anyone else who doesn’t fit into a “white/male/cis-gendered/straight definition” – and even to those who are part of that definition because really, I hate labels and I want everyone to just be accepted and honored and supported as a person without a bunch of words or letters trying to define who they are) was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. This was not a protest march, not an anti-anything demonstration, not a violent act; it was a coming together to voice our desire for positive change. (Yes, there were some who shouted anti-something slogans or carried signs that shouted negativity, but overwhelmingly, people were standing up for and supporting the rights of people.) To see the men who marched for their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers touched me at a level I didn’t even know I had. I want this wave of generosity, of confidence, of positiveness, and yes, of love, to last a long time. I want to know that we stand together for the good of all.
It’s time to be vigilant, pay attention, keep a look-out, be aware. I know I will be. As long as one person is left out, the vigilance continues.
I marched for unity. I marched for inclusiveness. I marched for no more us vs. them, for no more you vs. me, for no more good vs. bad, for no more polarization.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As a child, my voice was smothered.
As an young adult, my voice didn’t matter.
As an older woman, my voice was not heard.
Now, as a part of a something much bigger, my voice is important.
Now, as an individual, my voice is important.
I will no longer be quiet. No longer be stilled.
I will no longer wait in the shadows for someone else to validate my voice.
My voice, my heart, my mind are all integral parts of the whole, as are yours.
We move forward as human beings into a positive place of growth, into a world of peace, into a life that says all of us, yes, all of us are important.
Be with me. Cry with me. Open your heart with me.
We are together in this. For ourselves. For each other. For our country. For our planet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In the late afternoon, when I was finally able to return to my car parked at the train station, I sat in the driver’s seat for over an hour before I could leave to go back to the house. No music was playing; it was just the quiet of an empty parking lot. It was so peaceful sitting there by myself. I wanted the day’s events, the feelings, the experiences, to indelibly ink themselves on and in my being. While I love the people I’m staying with right now, I knew I would be alone with my experiences when I returned; I knew there would be nobody I could talk to about what the day had been like who would understand what I was talking about because no one else had been there. I wanted to remember what it felt like to finally know that my voice was important, to really understand that my female self was okay, no, not just okay, it’s perfect exactly as it is, that being a part of something positive was far more important than being negative, watching negativity on TV, reading negative comments on Facebook, hearing negative comments about “how bad it is.” I wanted to remember that I had participated, had actually done something, had been a part of something bigger than me. I wanted to remember the uplifting, the sense of belonging, the being part of a greater good.
And I don’t ever want to forget what that feels like. Ever.
I marched for Love.
I will march again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The “final attendance count” is somewhere between 500,00 and 750,000 people that marched in downtown Los Angeles last Saturday. I can’t even fathom how many people that is… and I was there! I couldn’t get high enough to take any decent overall pics of the crowd so here’s one that was taken from one of the many helicopters that flew above all day long. The stage area is in the lower portion of the pic; this intersection is but a small area compared to how far this sea of humans spread out. I walked through the area in front of the stage before settling on the curb that I mentioned above, which was located just out of the frame in the lower right-hand corner. (I’d give credit to whoever took the photo but I have no idea who it was. If I find out, I’ll edit this to add it.)