I always need to have a firm purpose for what I’m planning to do. Otherwise, I will talk myself out of it. The January 21st rally’s purpose was initially hard to discern. It was billed as a “women’s march,” and I could list women-related issues I care about. Access to health care. An end to discarding untested rape kits. Subsidized childcare. But how was walking with others going to lead to progress on these issues? It wasn’t, at least not directly.
In the end I decided that it was enough to add to the numbers attending, to be a body among many, to stand up and be counted. That is all one person can accomplish, isn’t it? Although I’ve disagreed with presidents before, this was the first time I felt compelled to march in protest.
Everyone I knew was going. Members of my writer’s group. Neighbors. Assorted friends from college, past jobs, soccer mom days. A group from my old church. My son-in-law’s mother, who lives up in Elk River.
A fellow writer’s Minneapolis church had reserved four buses. I called too late to get a seat. I decided to go with Sally, a friend from my walking group. She and I traveled to India recently and, although she is nine years older than me, she is much more energetic.
I had an early-morning wake-up call to help my mother who lives in a suburb north of St. Paul on Saturday morning, but I returned to south Minneapolis by 8:30. I quickly put on some warm clothes: a ski turtleneck and a heavy sweater, and then a rain jacket. A scarf. Warm boots. Leather gloves. I picked Sally up at 8:45.
We were on Interstate 94 just after 9:00 am (marchers had been asked to gather at 10:00 for a 11:00 start) and I planned to turn south on Lexington and park along Grand Avenue. I knew the roads would be crowded and we’d have to walk, perhaps several miles, to get to the site of the march.
But Sally had another idea. “Don’t get off on Lexington. Wait until Dale.” Dale Street is closer to St. Paul College, the start of the march.
I thought we’d be driving right into a traffic jam, but I complied. And Sally was right. There were plenty of places to park, much nearer than I thought. We left the car at Marshall and Mackubin, only four blocks from St. Paul College.
When we got to the college, we turned left and walked down a curving driveway to a huge parking lot adjacent to Interstate 94. There were already several hundred people standing in the lot, and it was starting to drizzle. We stepped into an adjacent parking ramp and climbed a few levels, then stood in the stairwell looking out onto the open parking lot.
There were others with us in the ramp. We stood near a handsome family with three young children, mother nursing the youngest one, dad and grandma standing close by.
We waited and watched as the parking lot below us filled up, becoming more and more packed with people. Most were white. About a third were men. The curving driveway also held throngs of people, and we peered up toward Marshall Ave, but couldn’t see the end of the crowd.
I had read about people knitting pink hats but, as usual, had forgotten about it. Now I saw hats on perhaps 30% of the marchers, including men. Many were made of a kind of bright, lavender-ish pink, a pretty shade. Others were sewn from fleece. Still others were lighter shades of pink, some dappled with white.
I took some pictures with my phone; we had a splendid hilltop-like view of what looked like a long quilt dotted with bright pink. I had not expected to see something so beautiful on a damp, wintry Minnesota day, and was exhilarated, drinking in the color as much as I could. I often talk with my sister-in-law, Nimmou, in India, about bright clothing, typically worn there, but not so much in the U.S. I wanted her to see this vibrant display, which reminded Sally and me of what we saw only a few weeks ago in Delhi and Rajasthan.
Of course I was also exhilarated being with so many like-minded people. We all want a president who is respectful.
Signage was great. There were vagina drawings; we had to stare for a moment to figure out what they were. There was “Repeal and Replace Trump,” there was “Get Your Tiny Hands Off My Rights,” and “Hate Won’t Make Us Great.” We were entertained just reading what people carried. My favorite—and perhaps my personal motto—was, “So Bad Even Introverts Are Here.”
Finally, at 11am, the march started to move. We climbed down from our stairwell and headed at an angle toward the front of the crowd. It moved slowly along the frontage road. 11:30. 11:45. The sun was trying to come out, and being in motion helped us warm up. People were so nice; whenever Sally and I stopped to take a picture of each other, someone would ask if we wanted a picture of both of us.
I couldn’t help think that, if we were in Turkey, food vendors would be lining the streets. This was true a few years ago when that country erupted in protests against the Turkish prime minister. Friends of ours with three small children took their kids to the protests for the carnival-like atmosphere—and the food. But not here: vendors had not obtained permits. Too bad: a hundred thousand people and it was lunchtime.
When we turned onto John Ireland Boulevard, we had more room, and could walk as fast as we wanted. It was close to noon. We headed toward the majestic white capitol building. By this time, Sally and I had agreed that we weren’t going to stay for the rally. We were simply too chilled. After reaching the capital steps, we turned left, walked between some government buildings, crossed a street, and went into Sears.
Three guys, clearly from the march, were also standing in the aisles, and Sally said, “Oh, you’re also trying to warm up.”
“Our wives are nursing our babies,” they replied. “They needed a place to go.”
I love the younger generation. So supportive of each other, so much less bound by gender stereotypes.
Warmed up, we walked out the west door of Sears and crossed a bridge that was closed to marchers but open to stragglers like us. Then we had to cut through the large group of marchers still making their way along the frontage road. “Prepare to use your India moves,” Sally quipped, but we didn’t need to push. Everyone was polite and let us through. We found our car and headed home.