Yesterday I re-entered the protest world. What joy! What a crowd! What energy! If you didn't make it to Washington DC yesterday to stand at the foot of the Washington Monument and to march around the White House with tens of thousands of like-minded activists, then you missed the chance of a lifetime.
I want to share the day with you - let you live a little vicariously so that maybe the next time, you'll be the one out there sharing your story. I'm fortunate to live in DC at this moment time but all of us live in communities that need activists. We need more peaceful protest to push our government to the next level of action. Without our stories, without our boots on the ground, without our energy, there will be NO ACTION.
As Van Jones said yesterday, "Don't be a chump."
People were everywhere, most pouring in towards the Washington Monument. A few were headed away, still holding their posters and signs, but I figured out why. The blasts of arctic air coming across the National Mall were brutally cold. People who had been waiting outside needed a chance to enter a museum for a short time just to thaw fingers and toes, to sit on a warm toilet as opposed to a frozen port-a-pottie, or just grab a warm drink to fill that empty belly. I know because after an hour or so I did the same thing so that I would have the energy to last the entire afternoon!
I was outside to listen to Van Jones - what a speaker! He can fire up a crowd. And he knows how to speak truth. I like to think that the roars of protesters during his speech were the loudest, reverberating off the buildings on the National Mall and bouncing back at us. If you were a tourist anywhere within a mile or two, you were beginning to wonder where that noise was coming from... you might even have been attracted to the sound because it was a noise of action, of agreement, of outright we must do the right thing and we must do it now! I only wish President Obama had been in the White House at that moment in time because he could not have failed to hear us.
I was outside to listen to Crystal Lameman from Beaver Lake Cree First Nation who was there to speak for her children, for her ancestors and for future generations. She riled up the crowd with good reason - she spoke of the rape of the land in Canada and the horrors of modern energy extraction. We all stood in strong agreement, filled the expanse with cries of anger, and cheered her on the speak more.
It was about this time I cut across the lawn and was taking photos by Winged Victory near the Vice Presidential Offices. Tourists that were visiting the First Division Monument were looking down in wonder at the surge of peaceful protesters heading towards the back of the White House. It is here that I overheard a young boy asking his father, "Dad, how many people are there? It looks like a jillion!"
Believe me, that young man will never forget the people he saw this day. He will never forget the positive energy coming from this crowd. He will never forget the awe he felt and maybe, just maybe one day he will help make a difference because of the jillion people he saw marching.
Here is where I joined the throng and fit myself into the marchers pulling around the corner onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Imagine being a short woman trying to take photos of all that is going on - the signs, the happy faces, the costumes. Occasionally, I used a handy lamp post to gain an extra foot or so in height or I held a camera high up over my head just to get a better view. Not once, however, did I ever feel worried in the crush. These people were here to celebrate our right to peaceful protest and although there was rightful anger that President Obama has not yet stopped the Keystone Pipeline, there was not anger with each other. The crowd maintained an aura of togetherness and even as the crush became a little thicker, the organizers moved us a little further ahead.
The Inauguration Committee has been a little slow in removing the huge Presidential reviewing stand and it's companion across the street so the parade route necessarily had to tighten as we forced thousands of people into a man-made bottle neck. Many protesters posed near the fence, documenting their participation, standing proud with their signs, then swapping places with friends so that they could have a picture proving their place in history as well. I could tell that these tens of thousands of people just wanted it known that we want change and we want it now.
The chanting took on new energy once again, hope against hope that ears in the White House might report the event to the ears that matter the most, to the one man that can make a difference. My heart leapt at a chant I had often led myself at rallies in San Antonio, Texas -
TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
And the crowd response -
THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!
For those of you that have never marched, that might believe this kind of action is meaningless, I encourage you to give it a try. Even a counter rally can bring a sense of togetherness that is not found in many places. Once, at a Tea Party Rally in front of the Alamo a group of unhappy Tea Partiers was hounding our small contingent of Obama T-shirt and button wearing counter protesters. When they had nothing left to say, they started chanting USA, USA, USA! And we started chanting with them. The shock on their faces was priceless. They had forgotten we were American. A simple chant changed all that in a moment.
Once past the White House, the route opened wide once again and the crowd thinned. Too many wanted to stand right in front and the energy was left right there at that moment in time and space. Those of us that moved forward back to the starting point marched with different energy, but with energy nonetheless. No chanting going on but you could see people talking to one another. It was a time for conversation, people exchanging names and places, asking how to contact one another, how to continue the conversation, where to meet again. This was a group that wasn't ready for an event to end, but for a new beginning.
As we returned to the stage, music awaited. The crowd danced to keep warm. I snapped a few more shots. I danced a little. I took a deep breathe to take in a last moment of positive vibes, maybe catch just a whiff of marijuana on the wind, and said goodbye to my fellow activists. They didn't hear me - they were wrapped up in the celebration of hearing that our numbers reached 50,000 people. What great news to walk away with.