I left upstate New York on Friday morning with a group from the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church (PNECC) in Saratoga Springs. The drive down to Washington went smoothly. When we got to our first rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, I could already tell that this march was going to be big: there was a line for the ladies' rest room.
"How many of you are going to Washington?" someone asked. Nearly every woman raised her hand.
PNECC's Pastor Kate and others had done some amazing networking and planning for this trip. Kate had linked us up with a church in northern Virginia so that motel rooms and dinner and transportation to the actual march on Saturday were already set up.
The good folks at Emmaus Church in Vienna, Virginia, had laid out a spread of homemade food to feed not only us but also groups from churches as far away as Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota. Dinner Friday night was followed by a moving candlelight interfaith service. So lovely.
Early on Saturday morning, we boarded buses and headed into Washington. The First Congregational United Church of Christ on G Street opened its doors early and had offered its facilities to any who needed it: for bathrooms, a place to warm up, as a back-up meeting place for groups who may have gotten separated. They, too, laid out food for visitors: bagels, fruit, bottled water, granola bars. Such kindness. Such generosity.
Our group began to make our way toward the rally site. The crowds swelled. The police and National Guard folks on duty couldn't have been sweeter. They all seemed to have a twinkle in their eyes. One D.C. policewoman was wearing a pink Statue of Liberty crown. I didn't post her picture here. I don't want her to get into trouble.
You have all read the stories or have seen the newscasts by now. Hundreds of thousands of people marched and not one was arrested. Zero. Nada. In the crush of all of those people, tempers might easily have flared. None did. It was a long day, chilly and damp, with nowhere to sit and rest. But people looked out for each other, smiled, chatted talked about why they were there and where they had come from.
After the rally was over, it was time for the march to begin. The trouble was, there were too many people to fit into the streets that had been the designated march route. So the police directed folks to turn around and walk down the mall.
How do you turn around a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom couldn't hear any of the directions or had any idea that there was a change in the route? Well, there was a little confusion at first but slowly a chant of "March down the mall!" passed through the throng and we all began to turn 180 degrees and slowly walk in the other direction. This seemed like a miracle to me. No one pushed, no one panicked. We moved as one and somehow, it all worked out.
I am holding on to the feeling of that moment, the moment when a mass of humanity, without barked orders or any real clear leader, peacefully turned itself around and moved together in another direction. Our only goal was to keep each other safe and to do what was logical and needed at the moment. I hope that will be a metaphor and a model for the next four years.
But, as everyone is asking, what's next?
Joshua Rothman wrote in The New Yorker this week, "The march didn't, to my eyes, feature the kinds of gestures that might sway voters moved by Trump. Almost none of the signs focused on the economy, or on economic issues, such as student debt, that interest both liberals and conservatives."
I think he is absolutely right.
And while there was an awful lot of (very) clever snark in many of the signs at the march on Saturday, I don't think that will do much to win over the voters we Democrats lost during this past election.
We Democrats haven't been making a convincing case that we care enough about our neighbors and their very real worries. Now is the time for us to show that we will work for things like a financial system that will reward people who save, not scam them with balloon mortgages and student loans that they may not live long enough to pay off.
We need to become a party of authentic compassion and of solutions that our neighbors can get behind. If we don't start working on this immediately, we will be no better off four years from now. This is important, not just to "win" the next election, but because many of us feel the urgent need to become a society that is better, fairer, healthier for each person and for the planet.
Let's love our neighbors and get busy, very busy, on their behalf and for ourselves, as well. Let's get active and JOIN our town's Democratic or Republican party committee. Let us WRITE and CALL our elected officials at all levels. Let us SUBSCRIBE to a reputable newspaper. We need to be accurately informed and we need to SUPPORT the journalists who are trying to help us get there. Let us CONTRIBUTE to the causes we value. Let us talk. Listen. Do.
Thanks for reading. Peace be with you.