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."
Arriving at the rally; sun and blue sky helped set the tone.
Bus with a message!
I arrived at about noon just as the speakers were getting started. Streets had already been blocked off, police car lights adding to the festive feel of the day. The sky was cloudy but with that occasional bright winter sunshine that promises warmth as long as you can stay out of the wind and shade.
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!
"Don't Frack Your Mother"
One Green Grandma!
I was outside to listen to Bill McKibben - what a great man. An ordinary guy, just a college professor, who decided he needed to do something. And he just keeps doing. I can't thank him enough for leading us on this day.
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.
Listening to Bill McKibben.
"More Trees, Less A$$holes"
Listening to Van Jones.
During this entire time, I was moving around the crowd, admiring those who had a way with words and had crafted a message that just resonated with only a catchy phrase or maybe just an image. There was the young teenage boy who held a cardboard sign that read, Don't Frack Your Mother
and an older woman whose poster board read One Green Grandma for this Fragile Earth
. The connections between generations were clear - I saw Baby Boomers and Gen-x-ers, Greatest Generation and Millennials, all braving the cold together. There was some diversity in the crowd though not as much as I've seen at an Obama Rally. Even with the support of the Hip-Hop Caucus, youth of color were disappointingly few. A point was made, however, that the most unusual meeting of the minds was happening - the appearance of a recent alliance, the CIA. Yes, the CIA, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance. The farms and ranches of the midwest and Texas are under threat from this pipeline just as native lands in both Canada and the US are. This movement isn't only crossing traditional boundaries of age but of culture.
GenXers and their Millennials.
Signs were everywhere - handmade to professionally designed.
Veterans for Peace
Best view was from the Washington Monument.
The youngest braved the cold.
The famous bag man... people couldn't stop looking at him.
So proud to hold her sign!
Occupy in the house.
Simple and to the point.
"Only you can prevent faucet fires."
About this point, I headed to warm my frozen fingers and toes. Upon my return, the crowd had started marching. What a picture to see - Constitution Avenue which runs between the White House and the Washington Monument was packed full of chanting protesters, waving signs, and organizers trying to keep it all on the street and to stop the overflow from using the sidewalk. Looking ahead, the crowd filled 17th and I could hear the echoes of HEY OBAMA, WE DON'T WANT NO CLIMATE DRAMA!
. My camera couldn't fit the line into a single shot - solid people for 1/2 of a mile.
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.
Marching on Constitution Avenue.
Foreign press was there... not sure of the dialect but thought it sounded like Russian.
Many signs in Spanish or Spanish on one side, English on the other.
Press trying to capture a more nuanced story.
Many Occupiers came dressed as the Grim Reaper.
"We the People is more than white & wealthy men."
Lady Liberty stuck out above the crowd.
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.
"Please Help Me Save My Baby"
More documentation - it seemed especially important in front of the White House.
"Killing Our Kin"
"Solar Power Now on Every Rooftop"
Nos Afecta a Todos - It affects Everyone
This day was also a reminder that we Americans were protesting our Government. Enough people in the crowd carried American Flags that the entire parade route was spotted with red, white and blue. A lone woman carried the Gadsen Flag, the green snake on golden yellow field most recently made famous by the Tea Party. I asked her why she carried it. In her opinion, it is a flag to be used when the people are not being heard. She was no member of the Tea Party but she was not ready to secede its use to them alone.
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.
Came all the way from Minnesota!
"Would we let terrorists poison our water supply if they said it created jobs?"
Even on the return, it's people as far as the eye can see.
Marching down 15th Street NW.
Watching the Parade go by.
"Even Voldemort Does Not Support The Pipeline"
The Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club.
Back by the stage, the atmosphere is a happy one.
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.
"Save the People of Earth"