The Boston’s Women March was the only experience I’d ever had with protest and the first significant one that involved voicing my civic dissent in more than 140 characters. Would there be counter protestors screaming and whipping Bic lighters at us? I wondered. After all, this was frickin Baaahston! We set cars on fire when Dunkin Donuts retires pumpkin spiced latte for the season. Would the rage, despair, and fear that each of us individually brought douse the possibility to feel hopeful? Would any of this really matter? That was the question sitting uncomfortably in the pit of my stomach and raised in different forms from various voices in the days following the march. “Trump is still president!” someone commented on another friend’s post who attended a march in a Midwest city. The finger wagging. Not. Helpful.
Sitting on my own doubts and uncertainty about what to expect, I painted my sign and made plans to meet up with a girlfriend and her husband in the city. Several friends had invited me to tag along with them to DC for the primary march and rally. That was a little too intimidating for someone like me, still rubbing the sticky film of my shattered liberal bubble from my eyes, groping my way toward a much greater and more urgent sense of shared responsibility. It felt particularly important for me to show up for my community, my home town. When it comes to activism, Boston is not the new kid in school. Our city put the “pro” in protest two hundred years ago with a little something called the American Revolution. “No taxation without representation!” citizens screamed in a highly theatric display as we heaved crates of the King’s tea into the harbor and then whipped our Bic lighters at people. We get it done.
By 10 AM the narrow sidewalks were already clotted with people making their way to Boston Common. Pink pussy hats bobbed around us like champagne corks in a swimming pool. Dads pushed kids in strollers. Moms walked with their arms around teenage daughters. An elderly coupled with canes, both sporting pink knit hats, breezed past us. Everyone sported some kind of poster or sign or sandwich board with messages of peace, equality, pleas for the recognition of human rights, for respect for our earth and first nation communities. The word “fuck” showed up liberally and not, I think, without a lot of grim satisfaction.
“I wish we were going to a celebration rally,” I said to my girlfriend.
“I’m glad it’s not. I would probably stay home,” she said. “I would think ‘yeah, that’s cool, we won and things are fine. I’m good.’ But this has really forced me to do something.”
She was right, of course. A lot of us harbored the discomfort of this truth and with it a bigger shame knowing that we had coasted for a long time on the gains won by other people who have never stopped fighting—not when the skies were dark with misery, not when they were streaked with the light of harmony. There was no passing the buck now. You were either called to be accountable or lived with the weight of denial bearing down upon your shoulders.
The Common was a burst confetti cannon of more than 150,000 people spilling across nearly every inch of greenery, overflowing into the Public Garden, a smaller parcel of land sitting adjacent to the main park. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, including the time I saw Springsteen at Fenway Park. We wedged ourselves into the mass, which wasn’t hard to do, and waited for something to happen.
Speakers took the stage to represent a buffet of issues-women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, immigration concerns, labor issues, environmental challenges. Politicians played their parts, vilifying the opposition and committing their efforts to work for the people. We were the enormous choir, preach on! I pumped my fist along with everyone else, I howled my support with the rest of the pack, and the voice of doubt that had been smuggled into the rally with me whispered, “Great, but now what? What fucking now?”
And then I remembered a conversation I had with a dear friend who was a routine activist when she was younger. I had admitted that I was on the fence about going to the march, not sure if it would really make a difference, if it would remotely matter. “In these situations,” she said, “I ask myself ‘What can I bring? What can I add here? And not ‘What will I get out of this?’” She does this. She’s that friend who drops these powerful, evolved wisdom nuggets at your feet as if they were nothing more than a handful of strewn flower petals. The anger, the activism, the criticism, the fight would all be there hours, weeks, years after moment ended. Those things were in no hurry to disappear; there would be time for all of it.
The sun had finally come out making an already mild January day seem more like a late-March afternoon. It’s a good thing we don’t need science anymore! I lifted my face to feel the warmth on my skin. Despite the dire nature of things, it felt luxurious to feel something so pleasant and ordinary. I let the speakers’ voices recede while I awkwardly shuffled around in my tight radius. Tipping myself up on my toes, I craned my neck as much as I could to take in the faces of the people standing beside me, to really see them. I made eye contact and smiled. I could almost hear our collective breathing. I imagined feeling the bass-thump of our combined hearts beating—all of us on the same human journey, given the extraordinary opportunity to remind ourselves what we’re here for. Not just why we all showed up on a patch of dirt and grass one Saturday afternoon, but why we’re here—cosmic, soul-level, higher purpose territory. That’s where it starts because that’s where it always starts: I see you, I hear you, I recognize you, I am you. It matters.