Women’s March on Washington – Portland Edition

I woke up at 11:30 on the morning of the march feeling, as usual since November, like garbage. I opened my eyes. I’d overslept. The sunlight was coming from the wrong angle.

I didn’t want to be late. But I’d been waffling about going at all, and hadn’t set an alarm, and now being on time wasn’t an option.

And The Man and I had breakfast plans.

I thought about having breakfast with him instead of going. But – I didn’t want muffins to keep me from a march I really believed in. It felt like a cheap cop-out, you know?

Because it was.

So I told The Man I was going, and that I was going alone, and that I was scared and waffling about it. He gave me a hug. He told me it was okay to be late. We moved our breakfast plans to Sunday. I ran out of excuses.

Since I hadn’t really committed until then, I was totally unprepared. I had no safety gear in case it got violent. No milk, no vinegar, nothing but laces to secure my shoes, nothing. No water, no snacks. Just heavy boots I’d bought for the snow, and a really nice puffy coat that I didn’t want to get damaged, but it had zippered inside pockets, and was kind of my only option. I put my ID in one pocket, some money in a different one, my phone in a third, and barely remembered to take my knife out of my pocket before I left the house. The knife is more for opening boxes than self-defense, as I seriously doubt I have the constitution to stab someone – but under the circumstances, I didn’t want to have a weapon on me. Cops, you know?

I got on the bus.

I had hoped to see other marchers on the bus, but I was late, so it was nearly empty. Near the city, a family with signs came on – mom, dad, three early-teen girls, and a toddler, and it felt nice not being the only one.

Also, I was out of data and not sure exactly where the march was, and they said I could follow them.

Turns out, I didn’t need to follow them – as soon as the bus entered the city, there were streams of people in pink pussy hats all heading in the same direction, and a huge crowd that was easily visible between the buildings. It was unmissable.

I went with the family anyway, and helped them stay together in the chaos of joining the march. I tell you, it is hard to see a twelve-year-old girl holding a sign saying she’s not up for grabs.

I marched because it’s wrong that she had to hear those things from her president. Being young and politically helpless while the world becomes something that doesn’t want you is terrible, and I’m glad she was there, even though I’m sad the world is such that she wanted to be.

I stopped paying attention to them, and lost them in the crowd. I was marching alone.

I don’t recommend it.

Talk to people about going to protests like this, okay? Find groups to go with. It’s not just for safety. Marching alone like that was so lonely, so weirdly isolating – I was marching with people who hold similar ideals, who also refuse to sit quietly when healthcare and voting rights and the environment and the small advances we’ve eked out against racism are under attack, and wasn’t really part of any of them. I was all by myself in a crowd, and nobody reached out to me.

This isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes, in large crowds of like-minded people, I have been pulled into established groups, just because I look lonely and cute and scared. It happened in a gay club, and at a concert. I had thought this might have been a similar environment. It wasn’t. People were busy. Bring your own people with you.

So, when I started to get overwhelmed, I found another twenty-something who looked alone and shy and was holding a sign I liked, a long sign that was really too big for one person, and asked if I could hold her sign with her. We didn’t really talk, but that’s okay. When she chanted, in a voice nearly as small as mine, I was able to chant with her. I even yelled a few times, to give her some courage. I couldn’t have done that alone.

The noise was immense.

And then it was gone.

And then it was immense again.

Is that normal?

I feel like it should have been loud the whole way through – there should have been unending chanting, singing, drums maybe. But it was intermittent. I’ve never been to a march before, though. That might be normal.

About an hour and a half in, I started to feel faint. I was overwhelmed, intimidated, touch-drowned by the crowd, and hadn’t eaten that day. I figured it wouldn’t be safe to faint in the middle of a march. I bailed and got a burrito from a food cart. The girl said it was nice marching with me. I hope she meant it. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, when I’ve intruded and people are just being polite.

I scarfed the burrito.

It was three thirty, and the march was starting to wind down. I jumped into the very back. I am ashamed to say I got in the way of a power chair user – I thought I had enough space to just squeeze past her real fast, but I miscalculated. Turns out those things don’t have a good “slow” setting. She ran over my foot. It was entirely my fault. I apologized. She was pretty pissed, which was fair. She’d probably been dealing with idiots like me all day.

The problem is, just telling people to give power chairs plenty of space is wishful thinking. In a crowd like that, it’s not going to happen. People get pushed into the way no matter how hard they try to leave space. Getting bumped and stepped on isn’t a problem for me, but getting your chair pushed is scary and running a several-hundred-pound device over people’s feet is dangerous. So, serious question, what can we do? I’m thinking cowcatchers.

All along the entire route, I saw only one counter-protester (a very shouty man with a 8.5” x 11” sign that I didn’t bother reading), shouting about how whiny we all were. He planted himself at the very end of the march and didn’t move even after nobody was left to listen. I don’t think he really wanted to be heard. In my petty opinion, between him and the march, we weren’t the whiners.

And that was the march.

I’m glad I went.

I’m sorry I went alone.

I’m glad The Man supported me. I would have gone anyway, but it was nice.

I felt very weird about a few things:

  • Cops in pink pussy hats. I’m grateful the cops were cooperative and supportive, but I don’t trust cops. They are not on our side. Wearing our hats is just a cute film laid over the reality of how cops treat us when we need help. Trans women get sent to men’s prisons, mentally ill people get shot, black people get shot, undocumented women get deported without warning and without their kids, sexual assault victims and stalking targets and domestic violence victims get completely ignored until they get killed. Cops are not on our side. The cognitive dissonance was real.
  • Pussy/vagina iconography. Sisters not cisters, right? I get what you’re trying to say but this isn’t about pussy, it’s about womanhood, and you can’t equate the two without saying some really fucked things about both trans women and trans men. I don’t really care about trans men* but seriously, it’s not hard to come up with a sign that doesn’t equate your womanhood to your vag.
  • On the other hand, there were some really great dancers styled after Pussy Riot. On the other other hand, like, arrange something with a trans advocacy group? Even just having trans flags marching behind them would have helped. If you’re going to use pussy as a synecdoche for womanhood, the least you can do is make your “and women without pussies also count” footnote really, really big.
  • God damn Portland is white.
  • 100% peaceful march. I have mixed feelings. I’m glad it was peaceful. I’m glad no one got hurt. I’m really glad no violent people used this as an excuse to break things (I think the massive number of children probably contributed). I also feel that the lack of violence could indicate people not taking us seriously enough to think it’s worth it to counter-protest. I’m glad there was no violence. But I feel in my heart that there should have been some conflict. I don’t know what to do with these feelings.

And since there’s a lot more to this movement than just one middle-class able-bodied moderately-crazy cis white woman’s experience – links! 

Malika Michaud of Jet magazine on the untrustworthiness of White women, one of many voices showing how much harder we need to work if we want to be worthy of WOC’s trust.

Karen Grisby Bates of NPR, same topic

Jamilah Lemieux, personal piece on not attending due to White women’s lack of solidarity with Women of Color

Janelle Monae’s Speech

Janet Mock’s Speech

Attending the Women’s March as a Trans Woman – Diana Tourjee

Disability March, an online sister march for people who can’t join the physical march (does not appear to be officially endorsed)

The massive disabled turnout – Brittney McNamara of Teen Vogue

NY Times on What’s Next? (I disagree with their statement that Black Lives Matter has failed to enact real change after the marching; Black Lives Matter is a movement that is still very much alive and most political action does not happen in easy-to-observe places. It will be hard to see how much of an effect the movement has had for several years yet.)


*To clarify, they are certainly worth caring about, but my priority will always be women.


2 thoughts on “Women’s March on Washington – Portland Edition

  1. I marched in D.C., and Janelle Monae’s call & response with the mothers of Black Live Matter victims was one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced in a long time. The mothers shouted the names of their children & we the crowd responded with “Say their name!” It made us all accountable. I’m ready to keep fighting. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. I can’t imagine. Just the video was too much for me – I was watching it at work and I had to stop. It’s going to get so hard so fast, but I can’t let those women down. Thank you for marching in DC.

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