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New Yorkers, We Get the Job Done

Marching up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan

At about 1:30, I slithered into the crowd of marchers at 43rd street and Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Although cars were still trying to navigate the streets of the East Side, it was a losers’ game. We were not just activists after all, we were New York activists: cars are nothing to us. We were veterans of the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, the antiwar movement and the Mobe, gay liberation, ACT-UP, #BlackLivesMatter, and Occupy. We have participated in at least a dozen  marches on Trump Tower and other Trump-branded buildings since The Donald became president-elect of the United States in the wee hours of November 9 2016.

In other cities they might have been having Women’s Marches: in New York City, we don’t mess around. This was an anti-Trump march, pure and simple. Some of us were marching as individuals, families and groups of friends; others were marching with our unions and neighborhood Democratic Party clubs. A very large contingency, including veterans of New York’s original radical feminist groups, were marching with The Lady Parts Justice League.

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As the crowd around me streamed up to the main march, a Lexington Avenue MTA bus pulled across 43rd street and got stuck in traffic. Protesters, many wearing  “pussy hats” that look oddly like pink wool versions of the liberty cap formerly sported by eighteenth century French revolutionary sans culottes,  surged forward into the intersection. “Move that bus! Move that bus!” we chanted in unison. The bus driver laughed good-naturedly, shrugging his shoulders and opening his hands to the sky in the international gesture that translates to: Whaddayawantmetodoabouddit? And at that moment, a little girl just ahead of me said to her mother in an exasperated tone of voice, “But Mama! What is a pussy?”

Days I Am Grateful Not to Be a Parent, Part Eleventy!

“Pussy,” the woman who seemed to be her mother explained reasonably,” is a name some women call our vaginas. If someone else says it to us in a nice way,” she continued, “it’s really nice. But if someone says it in a mean way, we know that person is really mean and not our friend.”

Awesome!” I said to this hero mother under my breath, as I squeezed by to take a picture of someone dressed as Susan B. Anthony.

“I’ve been working on it,” she replied. Mothers, I thought:  they get the job done.

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Being in a New York demo is like this: a mosaic of little moments that make up the whole. Little snapshots throughout the event remind you that every march has a micro-level: accidentally running into friends, connecting with strangers, the great signs, the man in the yarmulke demanding justice for Palestinians, the children at their first feminist march, the costumes, the gay men in their twenties that have to this day refused to peel the “I’m With Her” stickers off their jackets. There are the “Hey, Hey — Ho, Ho” chants. There are the clever chants: “Tiny hands! Tiny feet! All you do is tweet, tweet, tweet!” There are the ones you learned from your queer elders that you teach the next generation of queer kids: “Ho-ho-homosexual! The ruling class is ineffectual!”

If you lift your eyes, though, there’s a big picture: the masses ahead and the masses behind, on this day a sea of pink and bobbing signs. Blocks and blocks of fellow New Yorkers are all there in solidarity with each other, and with the nation. There is that delicious feeling when you begun to hear a wave of sound from behind, and you raise your voice to roar “Yeah!” as the shouts engulf your group and move on. Saturday’s special pleasure was singing with hundreds of  strangers as the carillon of St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church led us in one song after another: America the Beautiful, We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, and The Star Spangled Banner. Corny as it might be, when we got to my favorite line of the national anthem, I thought — as I always do — of the Potters I am descended from, Union soldiers in the Civil War, who lived through a time more terrible and politically divisive than this one. “And OUR flag was still there!” I hollered with everyone else.

And so is our nation, that even bigger picture, not a Trump-branded nation being falsely marketed to economically desperate people, but the real one, the one that I saw on television when I came home on Saturday. At 4:00 the New York march wasn’t ending as it was supposed to have ended: instead, it went on, and on, and on, until late into the evening, new marchers feeding it from behind as those at the front were guided into side streets just before the security zone began at Trump Tower. I saw reports on marches around the country and around the globe, bigger and noisier and more insistent than anyone could have known, in some cases doubling and tripling the numbers of people expected. In Antarctica, a group of eco-tourists had a brief march (in order to limit their impact on land) and tweeted a picture of their rally on the deck of their ship.

At Public Seminar we decided to create some space this week for what may be, according to preliminary numbers provided by Peter Dreier, the largest protest in American history. Last week, Jeff Goldfarb and I put out a call on Facebook asking people to report from the march or rally they were attending. In the coming days, we will be posting them as letters in our First Drafts section so you can see what we see. Today we begin with the first reports to come in from:

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  • urbanexile

    Wonderful post. That’s the real New York City, the one I (still) love. Thank you!

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