Until yesterday I had never participated in a political march. Although I have always had strong opinions, the thought of protesting made me a little uncomfortable. But I was devastated by the results of the election. I tried to understand the millions of votes cast for Trump, but I just couldn’t get there. I felt like I didn’t know my own country anymore. I was powerless against the outcome of the election, but participating in the Women’s March Minnesota was something I could control. I could show up and be counted. And if enough peopled showed up to be counted, at least our new president would know that he was going to have a force to reckon with throughout his term.
I marched with my friend Alix, her mom and aunt, and a few of her friends. We started on the roof of a parking ramp overlooking thousands of people gathered at St. Paul College. The massive parking lot and lawn below us was a sea of pink hats and positive energy. Signs ranged from inspiring (I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept) to clever (Thou shalt not touch thy neighbor’s uterus. Fallopians 2:28 – one of my favorites!) to downright angry (It’s 2017. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit).
We made our way to the crowd below and eventually starting marching slowly towards the Capitol. Occasionally someone would start a chant – “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” A member of our group pointed out that we Minnesotans were a little passive in our ability to shout. And it was true. I felt awkward yelling out those words, even though I believed them.
The crowd walked faster as the road widened. It felt like there was a huge mass of people ahead of us, but as we marched it became clear that we were relatively close to the front. The moving sea that had started in the parking lot at St. Paul College continued to rise and overflow, with people still squeezing in from every possible corner. This was the America I thought I’d lost.
Our group of seven separated when we arrived at the Capitol. Three people wanted to try and find a spot on the steps. I stayed with Alix and her family and we found a place next to a fence and open area where we could hear and partially see the speakers.
For the next two hours I stood, feet in the melting snow, and listened to Ilhan Omar, our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, state senator Patricia Torres Ray, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota Sarah Stoesz, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, and explorer and activist Ann Bancroft, among many others. The speakers were both hopeful and frustrated. They inspired a call to action. I yelled with a little more volume and confidence as the afternoon wore on.
I watched a woman climb the statue of former Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson and stretch a pink knit hat over his head. She then sat back-to-back with Floyd holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Later someone poked a hole in their Stay Nasty poster and hung it on Floyd’s thumb.
Alix and her family decided to leave and I was still enjoying the speakers, so I stayed at the rally alone. I occasionally received texts and saw Facebook posts from friends in the crowd, delayed in their arrival due to the sheer number of people overwhelming the local cell towers.
My hands were numb by the end of Ann Bancroft’s speech and I could see the lines at the light rail station beginning to form from where I stood in the snow. I decided to miss the last speakers and joined the crowds waiting for the Green Line. I made it to the platform in 15 minutes. The next train arrived a few minutes later, but marchers inside the train were already pressed into every available space. Instead of expressing irritation, when the doors opened everyone standing on the platform began to cheer. Marchers inside the train followed suit, shouting and raising their signs yet again.
Metro Transit had planned ahead for the large crowds and just five minutes later a relatively empty train pulled into the station. We all piled in, crammed body to body for the 45-minute ride to Minneapolis.
I got off the light rail at Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis and sprinted towards the 6E bus that would take me home. I missed it by just seconds. I knew it would be another 15 minutes before my next bus appeared. A man waiting at the bus stop looked at my sign. “Revolution? What’s that about?”
“The Women’s March in St. Paul!”
“Women are taking over,” he stated in a surprisingly light-hearted tone. “Women are in all the positions of power in Minnesota.”
I racked my brain. “What women? Amy Klobuchar?” She was the only one that immediately came to mind.
But he was thinking a little more personally. “All the bosses are women. I’ve had all lady bosses. They were stressed. They were emotional. I’ve got to find myself a male boss next.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me was thinking Know your audience! Clearly a woman coming from the Women’s March is not going to agree with you on this! Another part of me wanted to bite back at his comments. But I didn’t want to end my day of hope in an argument with a stranger at a bus stop. Instead, I just stopped talking.
A minute or two later he spoke again. “I kind of like Trump.” By this time a few other marchers from the light rail had also gathered at the bus stop. Their ears perked at his comment.
“What do you like about him?” I tried to remain open despite the frustration rising in my chest.
“He was great on The Apprentice!”
“But as our president?”
“He just became our president yesterday, he hasn’t made any decisions yet. You have to give him a chance!”
Another marcher jumped in, “One day was enough of a chance!”
I questioned him further. “What do you think about what he’s said in all of his tweets?”
“I don’t know about any of them.”
At that moment his bus pulled up and he disappeared. This is why I marched, I thought to myself. An hour earlier I had been surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded individuals and here I was faced with the reminder that there are just as many people who believed that overly emotional women were taking over the world and supported Trump because of his performance on The Apprentice.
My bus arrived soon thereafter. As I climbed the stairs and scanned my transit pass, the driver looked at my sign, smiled, cheerily pumped his fists, and said “Today’s the day!”
I smiled back. Yes, it was the day. But not just one day. It’s tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. It’s the day we call our legislators to tell them what we will not tolerate. It’s the day we go back to the polls in the mid-term elections and vote for change. It’s how we teach our children to respect differences and show empathy. It’s the conversations we have with those that see the world differently from us and try to understand their point of view. It was not just one day. It’s every day.