I didn’t cry until I was in my neighbor’s kitchen waiting for the Steelers to lose their playoff game against the New England Patriots. We women were in the kitchen getting the food organized for halftime.
My neighbor’s mother and sister attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. the day before. I went to one of the sister marches in Seneca Falls. We talked of the crowds, the signs, the sheer magnitude of what had transpired. As we shared pictures from our phones, I cried.
Women marched that day for a variety of reasons, but what I experienced, affirmed in my neighbor’s kitchen, was a sense of deep connection. We were strangers, we marchers, yet we held each other’s gaze for an extra moment, acknowledging our shared experiences as women – as mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and friends.
The sense of connection was palpable in the politeness, the gentleness of the jostling, and the reverence with which we treated each other during the marches.
Seneca Falls is a beautiful hamlet in the Finger Lakes Region of Western New York. Thought to be the model for Bedford Falls in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it has a nostalgic feel. Those of us marching on January 21st were thinking about a different nostalgia: its significance as the birthplace of women’s suffrage in America.
There, in 1848, a group of women and men convened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel to adopt the Declaration of Sentiments, stating that “All men and women are created equal,” and calling for women’s rights to vote and hold property. It took almost 75 more years for women to be granted those rights.
On the highway on our early morning drive, we stopped at a rest area and began to experience it: a rumbling of women. Tattooed young women, bundled up older women, women of all shapes and sizes. Women wearing white, wearing purple, wearing pink hats.
When we arrived, our small group was enveloped by a very large group of other women and men at the same chapel where our foremothers gathered so long ago. It was crowded and chilly, but the sun came out and warmed us. We took pictures and took in the signs, costumes, and sheer volume of the crowd.
We strained to hear the speakers as they related the great story of the founding of the women’s suffrage movement on the very ground we now occupied. Speakers reminded us that our Constitution is based in large measure on the Iroquois Constitution, and of the principle of the seventh generation, whereby Iroquois leaders are expected to make decisions that will benefit the seventh generation into the future. We looked up to see flocks of noisy geese on the wing against the cloudless sky.
Then we walked. Organizers expected about 3,000 of us to show up. Ten thousand came. It took over an hour for the entire group of us to traverse the five blocks to the First Presbyterian Church. Women marched, and sang, and onlookers waved and honked their horns in solidarity.
Outside the church, we listened to speakers talk about the importance of women leaders in politics, of maintaining quality public education for our children, protecting the environment, and providing affordable health care, including reproductive health care, for everyone. At one o’clock, we shared a moment of silence for women’s equality with our fellow marchers around the world.
Driving home, our conversations were gentle and quiet. We needed some time to think about what we’d experienced. Each of us was still shaken by the election and by the unleashing of chaos we feared would result. We didn’t come away with an agenda, but we felt a little less alone.
I don’t know why everyone marched, and don’t claim to speak for anyone else. But my sense is that what binds us women right now is that old-time feeling of unrestrained male-ness that Donald Trump represents. To me, he represents the worst kind of man. The crude hyper-male who will hurt you because he can.
It is a primal fear that we women have. It is about the guy at the fraternity party who comments on your nipples as he swills his beer; the rapist who gets a slap on the hand because he is a star athlete; the guy who catcalls as you walk down the street. The dad who hits, the lecherous stepfather, domestic violence. The boss who tries to shove your hands down his pants after he offers you a ride home. The guy who hurts your daughter. The unwelcome comment, the unwelcome kiss, the guy who grabbed you by the pussy because he could.
We marched because we had to do something instead of letting our fear eat us up.
We marched in empathy for the refugee parents who spent their life savings trying to get their children to a safe place and are now being demonized and denied entry, and for law abiding immigrants who are stuck in limbo because we can’t agree on a comprehensive immigration policy. For children who need good educations in public schools, especially if they’re poor or have special needs, and for teachers who are not respected even as they do our hardest jobs.
We marched for women’s rights and women’s dignity, and for equal rights for all people.
We marched because we want the environment to endure so our children, grandchildren, and seven generations down inherit a healthy planet, and for all Americans who need affordable health care.
We marched in empathy for men and women, no matter who they voted for, who feel left out of mainstream politics, who have lost meaningful work, who feel no one has listened to them, and who see no way up, or out.
We marched because we demand a return to civil discourse and dialogue. We reject the vulgar, coarse and incendiary language that is inflaming our enemies, alienating our friends and dividing America.
We marched because we are fierce.
We marched because there aren’t enough tears, and because tears aren’t enough.