Something to Raise our Spirits

The election of Donald John Trump was so demoralizing that I could not write.  But yesterday, the 22nd of January 2017, has so lifted my spirits that I am again moved to put fingers to keyboard.

In December, I was in Portland, Oregon, that bastion of liberal thought, celebrating Christmas and looking after my mother.  She had invited me to participate with a group of her church cronies in a special showing of Andy Warhol’s art at the Portland Art Museum.  There we saw as well the work of Corita Kent, a follower of Warhol and a nun, who focused on more spiritual and ethical topics than he.  Fascinating and inspiring!

Following this outing, we all shared a meal at a rather fancy downtown restaurant, where Nan, one of our group, was knitting.  As a knitter myself, I engaged her in discussion of her projects, and it emerged that she had just completed a ‘Pussy Hat’—a simple pink hat prepared in contribution to the then-upcoming Women’s March on Washington DC.  The idea included reclaiming and redefining ‘pussy’ as something positive and womanly, and providing physical warmth to the women who would brave the elements in DC in January.  I liked this idea, and I downloaded the pattern, assembled my pink yarn, and proceeded to knit 2 such hats in Portland and 4 more at my home in Ithaca, New York.  As I knitted, I felt more and more a sense of commonality with the future marchers, hoping that their actions could reflect some of our dissatisfaction with Trump, our conviction about the worth of our values, and our resolution to be vigilant in preventing as much of the harm he planned as we could.  I sent off my 6 hats for distribution in DC.

I then learned that not only were several busloads going from Ithaca to DC, but we were going to have our own march here in Ithaca.  Despite being a child of the sixties, I had never marched before in any demonstration.  But I realized with some surprise that I really wanted to march in this one; that this one was likely to reflect my deeply felt anxieties as well as my faith in the American people.  I began knitting my 7th hat, for myself this time.  And when I finished that one, I knitted an 8th, initially to give my mother, but later to reserve as a spare for any women who might need a pink pussy hat on the day of the march.

Being something of a wimp about the cold, I worried on the morning of the 21st that the weather would be freezing and miserable; I wondered what to wear that would preserve my body heat; I worried about my hips, which usually begin to hurt after short walks.  I did not imagine that I would enjoy this task that I’d taken on, but I maintained my conviction that it was important to stand up and be counted at this time in history.

What a difference the reality turned out to be!  The gods shone down upon us, and provided a beautiful sunny day in mid-January.  From our parking place in front of a friend’s house, I walked with six other women, all wearing pink pussy hats they’d produced themselves—another one had a spare hat, in case someone needed it.  Someone brought three large blue banners with the Earth printed on them; another brought her dog, two drums and knowledge of the words to We Shall Overcome; another, an artist, had made a poster of the Earth saying “Global Warming is Real …Uncool”. 

We began our march.  The closer we got to the intended meeting place (City Hall), the more people joined in.  We never made it to City Hall, because there were too many marchers.  But the friendly police directed us along the intended route around several blocks (a mile) to the Commons.  There were women and men and children and old people.  There were whites and blacks and browns and yellows, native citizens and immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.  There were signs about global warming, about the Earth, about equity and justice, about feminism, and reproductive rights—all the values for which Trump represents danger.  And the people—some 8000 of us—marched with good spirits and friendly manners.  On the Commons, there was music along with speeches (the latter, we could not hear), but good fellowship among the marchers as we waited for those at the tail end of the march to catch up.  They just seemed to keep on coming!

There were so many different signs: “Love trumps hate,” “Women’s rights are human rights,” “Build bridges, not walls,” “Respect my existence, or expect resistance,” “Men of quality don’t fear equality,” and “My kids deserve better.”  One that spoke to me was “Trump has pissed off Grandma.” These days Grandma’s can be a powerful force.

When we finally wended our way back to the house from which we’d begun, there was waiting for us a lovely meal—One woman had made spicy potato quarters, a salad and cupcakes; another had contributed buttery squash; another had also made cupcakes; someone provided wine and cheese.  It was a mini-feast and shared repast that put a lovely cap on an invigorating day.

At home, my husband had the television on, showing images of the far larger Women’s March in Washington, DC.  There were inspiring speeches given to a sea of pink pussy hats—their wearers all cheerful, enthusiastic, and engaged.  Speakers included such luminaries as Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Madonna, Michael Moore; and others I’d never heard of but expect to hear from again, like Ashley Judd or the Indigenous groups who gave talks and performances. 

The estimates of the numbers are contested (by a childish Trump who cannot bear that ‘someone else’s is bigger than his’), but the media estimates over 500,000.  Photographic comparisons both with the Women’s March and with Obama’s Inauguration leave little doubt about the relative size of the crowds.   I looked to see if I might recognize my own hats among the marchers (impossible). 

But the good news goes on:  There were huge and similar and peaceful gatherings in Portland, in Seattle, in Boston, in Houston, in Chicago, and hundreds of other towns and cities across the nation.  In one small town in Idaho, literally half the town came out to march!  And there were marches in other countries.  Paris and London had huge marches.  In China, where marches were prohibited, women gathered together to knit pussy hats in solidarity.  In Antarctica, people on a ship marched around their deck in support.  One source said that all the seven continents were represented with supportive Women’s Marches.   It was an outpouring of both frustration with the current administration and a strong and vivid call to action for those of us who care about equity, justice, the Earth, and women’s (and all humans’) rights.

Donald Trump has the lowest approval rate of any president in US history.  He lost the popular vote.  And he has shown in so many ways his unsuitability to lead the country and to protect the rights that we now enjoy.   These marches give hope to those of us who were feeling despair.   They, like Obama’s undying optimism as he left office on Friday, the 20th of January, remind us of the indomitable human spirit and the American tradition of speaking out and standing up for what we believe.  It is definitely time to honor and strengthen that tradition.  What an inspiring way to begin!

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