Savannah Morning News
Jan. 29, 2017
“But do you think he heard?”
That’s the question. Or is it?
There we were, eight of hundreds of people from Savannah at last week’s Women’s March in Washington D.C. – at least 200 of us wielding colorful hand-painted signs compliments of the generous, bighearted, kindhearted Panhandle Slim, Savannah’s own iconic painter. We all traveled our own way. Post Inauguration Day. We bused, flew, drove or took the train. Twenty-four hours later, when we left D.C., disembarked on an early and rainy Sunday morning a conductor on the Miami-bound Silver Meteor No. 97 passed through the dark and narrow aisle, cautioned us to take all our stuff, looked at the battered signs under our arms and asked the question. “But do you think he heard, do you think the President heard?” She wasn’t hostile; she was curious. She wasn’t belligerent; she was, in fact, complimentary. “You all were the best-behaved group I’ve had all week.”
I think we were just tired. For 12 hours, from the moment we got to D.C. at 7 a.m. (the train arrived on time that morning because seats were sold out early on so there were fewer stops) until the time we left the jam-packed, drop-dead gorgeous Beaux-Arts station that evening we were bombarded with imagery, words, chants, faces, bodies, amateur paparazzi (“can we take your picture?”).
We heard instructions (“Call 202-225-3121 to talk to your representative in Congress every day” urged Michael Moore). We got reminders (“Don’t get frustrated, get involved.” This from Muhammed Ali’s daughter). We got admonitions (“Sometimes pressing ‘send’ is not enough,” warned Gloria Steinem). We heard words of wisdom from the once-fiery, now-wise Angela Davis who reminded us that, “We are agents of history, history cannot be deleted like web pages.”
Yes, there were probably too many speeches (some 44 listed in the original line-up but I bet there were more. At some point you just stop counting). Yes, some were better than others. Yes, I’m sorry I wiggled out of the scrum before seeing Cher (how often do you get to see Cher?). But to break free and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, to hear the cheers from people standing on the balcony of the Newseum when the press is so maligned, to run into people (can you say my neighbor with her two teenage girls?) or someone who recognized my Panhandle Slim sign, which meant I was from Savannah (“Do you know my friend Molly? Tell her hello for me!”).
The speeches represented the meat of the matter. We teared up when the impressive and young rhythm and blues singer Jonelle Monae introduced us to mothers of young black men who had been killed on the streets (think Trevon Martin), when she introduced me and other comfortable, middle-class white women to a hipster call-and-response African-American combination of words pronounced “talmbout.” This is when I say thank goodness for the online Urban Dictionary. Jonelle would yell out “talmbout” (short for “(What the) hell (are) you talkin(g) about?” And we would return with the deceased man’s name. That was powerful.
And the signs: so cool. “I can’t believe we still have to protest this **** again.” Or, “Computers took our jobs, not Mexicans. Learn how to use one.”
It takes stamina – and bags of almonds and raisins – to stand hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder for four hours in a mosh pit as speakers delivered their take on the world as we know it. We got there early with a good view of the speakers, set up somewhere between the curvy, limestone and stunning Museum of Native American History and the grey, bureaucratic Sam Rayburn House Office Building. People in the crowd were polite but it soon became clear: No one was moving. This was not a place for claustrophobes.
This was not my first march. There’s the Vietnam war. The Iraq war. Women’s rights. Gay rights. Equal rights. Before leaving, I appreciated but found it curious when friends said, “Be safe.” I never felt unsafe. Despite the media concentration on occasional incidents and the intensity of the subject, gatherings like this are more often than not peaceful and empowering. While you may not always feel you are among “your people” in everyday life – at the bank, the grocery store, the park – this time you know you are and that’s profound. While it’s helpful to have dialogue with people “on the other side,” it’s not always easy. It should be but it’s not.
At any moment I could look around the crowd and spot a teenager, an oldster on a walker, men, women, blacks and whites, babies on shoulders and feel as if I could weep. Odd, I know. But real. It wasn’t so much the kumbaya moment but a feeling of camaraderie. It was heartening.
And then there were all those knitted cat-like pink hats. While some of us arrived with hats made by friends (and care packages of cheese, apples and bread) there were others giving hats away – free! – along with the knitter’s name. They weren’t even asking for money. The hat I snagged for a friend was made by “Lynn from Lansing, Mi.”
When we got back to Savannah two more Amtrak employees screamed in delight at our signs, clapped when they heard we saw Angela Davis and hugged us for going.
“But do you think he heard you?”
I doubt it. But we heard. We gathered. We marched. That’s the important thing. For now.