I expected to cry a lot. I am a crier, after all, the type not prone to sad tears, but apt to get choked up when I’m feeling moved, angry, nostalgic, or touched by the world’s surprising, astonishing beauty. So yesterday morning, before heading out for the Women's March in Los Angeles , I put my mascara and eyeliner – with a playful but subtle cat-eye flip – on my upper lids only. I did it hastily. I needed to run down and meet Molly, a top candidate for my personal “most punctual friend” award, who was five minutes early despite the fact that she’d driven to my apartment from Long Beach, 22 miles away.
Maybe I should have skipped the eyeliner, I thought. Maybe I should have worn no makeup, or no bra…maybe I should have held a small ceremony in which I ritualistically burned all my bras, or at least the ones I really hate, the extra wiry ones. Or, maybe I could have gone in the opposite direction, the look-at-what-hot-shit-I-am direction, and worn my black skirt and leggings instead of jeans, my bad-ass black boots instead of my comfy, roomy sneakers (the only shoes I own that really accommodate the special heel guard I’ve been wearing to combat some serious plantar fasciitis pain in my left foot). Don’t get me wrong — this entire debate took place over the course of about five seconds. Today was no day for staring nude at the closet, deliberating. Today was a day for action!
I followed my gut and split the difference: eyeliner, jeans, sneakers, the shirt I’d painted earlier in the week (“Hell hath no fury” it read, hoping readers could fill in the rest of the quote and get my drift), and, of course, my Pussyhat. The seventh such hat I’d knitted in two weeks, I’d finished it at about 11:30 the night before, crafting it from the various yarn leftovers of all the other hats I’d knitted. I almost walked out of the house without my sign but that was quickly remedied, as I knew right where I’d left it — it had been propped on my bookshelf for the two months since the post-election march for which I’d made it, and to which I’d taken it.
This previous march would factor heavily into my conversation for the day. Because of it, I knew many of the chants we were chanting, was prepared for the wide range of banners we’d be marching under, the gorgeous diversity of humanity we’d be marching alongside. Because of it, I would be able to compare the vast size of that jaw-dropping November march to the one we were now a part of and see that November's crowd of tens of thousands had been minuscule in comparison. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Unbeknownst to Molly and I, we were already marching as we left my apartment. We marched over the big hill on Marathon, down Melrose to Hoover, down Hoover to Santa Monica, over a mile to the nearest subway station (Los Angeles, amiright?) and while we didn’t have our signs held up, we were nonetheless treated to fist pumps and smiles from the Silverlake beardos and East Hollywoodians we passed on our way. The station was crowded, and when the train came, we nearly didn’t push on; the car in front of us was already packed to the edges with people. But then we tried the next car, and while it was just as full, two young women — just the first two of many, many strangers we’d speak to that day — called out to us. “Squeeze on!” they said, giving us the permission we couldn’t help but seek, in spite of ourselves. And we did. Women and men filled the car to beyond capacity, but not all were headed to Pershing Square for the march. When someone needed to get out, various passengers (always female) would call out to the rest of us, asking us all to make way. And we did, smiling, laughing at the community of it all, saying, “Some people gotta go to work!” One woman joked that she’d be happy to ride the train with all of us every Saturday. The press of bodies in the car eliminated the need to hold on to anything. We held each other up just by being there.
The march didn’t start until 10 and, miraculously, Molly and I arrived at 8:39. I say “miraculously” because I got off the train to see several texts from friends who’d had to drive home when there was no parking at their train stations and then start the trek all over again on foot. And no wonder they couldn’t find parking — it felt like half of Los Angeles had already arrived at Pershing Square.
Have you ever been to a popular city bar on a Friday or Saturday night, gotten there early, and watched it go from merely crowded to sardine-style-packed right before your eyes? So packed that you cannot walk from the bar to your table without pushing people out of the way, or trying to follow behind strangers who’ve already pushed their own thoroughfare into existence? Great. Now, imagine that exact scenario, only you’re not in a dark, tiny bar, you’re outside, at the corner of 5th and Hill in downtown Los Angeles, and every square inch of the sidewalk, the neighboring park, and the street itself is full of people. Instead of dank house beats, that pounding bass you hear is coming from a small drum corps banging away, and when a cheer washes across the assembled crowd, it’s not at the behest of a DJ, but a reaction to the news choppers that circle overhead. Now you know what it was like as we waited for the march to begin in Los Angeles.
Now you can understand why I had almost no cell service all morning, making it virtually impossible for half of the people Molly and I hoped to meet to find us at the designated meeting point, and why, at 9:15 am, it took me nearly ten minutes to snake half a block up the street to where two other friends were standing (they’d walked here, two miles from Echo Park), check in with them, and then return to Molly at the rendezvous point. As I squirmed toward these friends, I heard a woman’s voice behind me, frightened, saying, “I hate this, I hate this, I hate people!” I turned to see an older woman, likely (I say this because of her demeanor and her attire) one of the homeless who live in Los Angeles, one of the people whose streets we were turning into the world’s biggest, soberest block party. Earlier this week, I wrote that I wanted to "proclaim my intention to shine magical rainbow rays of love into every dark, frightened corner of this world that I encounter", and here was a chance to put my money where my mouth was. So I spoke to her. I said it was going to be okay. She said she didn’t think so. I insisted we were almost to a clearer spot. I called ahead, inquiring as politely as to why our line of humans had stopped trickling forward. Then we moved, the dense crowd parted, and I turned to her again, saying, “here we are, more space!” And, damned if she didn’t look right at me and say, “thank you so much.” As if I’d really helped her. And the march hadn’t even started yet.
So maybe that last story sounds really fucking self-congratulatory, really “look what a great person I am,” and if so, fine, but I’m not sorry. I say I’m sorry far too often and I’m trying to stop. I needed to tell it here, because I want to get across the mood of the day: it was not (or, rather, not merely), “what the fuck is happening in this country, ‘cause this boorish, entitled, wheel-greasing propaganda artist is not an acceptable leader, and fuck all y’all who, by not taking issue with the hateful and sexist and fear-mongering things he says, implicitly assert that such talk is acceptable for any leader at all, let alone THE leader of our nation…” (deep breath) BUT RATHER, “We are here for each other, and this, this putting one another’s needs first, accepting the humanity of all people, and striving together toward a more just and vibrant world, is the America we want to be.” My favorite march chants sum this mood up nicely: (1) “Show me what democracy looks like: This is what democracy looks like.” (2) “The people/united/will never be divided.”
Can you tell I have a lot of feelings about this day? It’s hard to stay on topic.
We stood, facing southeast, at 9:45 am, waiting for the march to begin at the prescribed hour, 10:00 am. We waited as drummers drummed, as chants of “March! March!” started up and died down and started up again, and as people from the apartments above opened their windows and cheered to us, flashing peace signs, home-made signs, and even tossing down a pussyhat to some lucky lady in the crowd. We did this until about 10:40, at which point rumors were swirling that marching would not be possible at all because the entire march route was full of people. We resigned ourselves to the possibility that this would be it: we came, we shouted, we waved our signs and shook our booties a little. I told myself that this would be okay. And then, word came down the pipeline that we should all turn around. A new chant started up, but it made no sense; were they chanting about olives? Why? And then it became clearer: the chant was, “March down Olive! March down Olive!” Olive Street, the street that had been behind us, the one which we’d turn to face, was being coopted by the People, for the People. And then the firetrucks came.
Remember how I said it was crowded? Well that street full of people was now crammed even tighter as we parted to either side of the street to make room for three VERY slow, VERY careful LAFD vehicles. As the firetruck and ambulance mirrors passed within a few inches of my face, I took up a new cheer, “Don’t get whacked! Don’t get whacked!” but no one joined in. But no one got whacked either, so I’ll call it a win.
In the wake of the firetrucks, we were now able to slowly walk down 5th Street, and as we inched toward Olive we could see that we were joining a throng already in progress. For some reason, this was the moment that the AT&T gods smiled upon me and my cell reception returned for JUST LONG enough for me to touch base with all of the people I'd planned to meet. My dear friend Katie (who’d driven home from a full parking lot and then returned via Uber to the Pasadena Gold Line station only to be unable to board four full trains in a row before squeezing onto a fifth) had managed to make it to the march, and was only a block away from us! My friends Jess and Brian had spent two hours on the Expo Line from the west side but they’d made it at last as well! As had my friends and former roommates who drove in from Westwood! And even my current roommate had made it downtown, not deterred by the 45 minutes she’d already spent driving back and forth from a different full parking lot before walking to a different train station and coming in by herself (instead of with the friends she’d planned to join). She was marching with a friend she’d made on the train instead — another woman who’d come alone. Not the plan, but still so lovely I could cry.
It was 10:40, and we were finally marching, presumably toward City Hall. Had I cried yet? My eyes had welled up countless times (walking to the train, on the train, when I saw the early crowds, reading certain signs, etc., etc.), but I’d strategically avoided any out-and-out weeping. Though I felt a little guilty for not lifting my loud voice when an elderly man (in a wheelchair, wearing a handmade rainbow-striped scarf) started singing “We Shall Overcome,” refraining had definitely kept my cheeks dry. But I nearly lost it when, out of the sea of untold thousands, I spotted Katie just a few yards away, looking for me. I pulled my last pussyhat out of my purse — the one I’d made just for her — and on we marched, moving more swiftly now.
How can you tell the size of a massive crowd when you’re standing in the midst of it? While there was no question that we marched alongside thousands, it was not until we reached 4th and Olive that I got a chance for some additional perspective. Downtown LA has a pretty dramatic topography, and at Olive, 4th Street slopes downhill. So we looked down and saw that 4th Street was full of people. And at the bottom of the hill, (the aptly named) Hill Street was also full of people. And then I looked Northwest (the direction, not the celebrity baby) and saw the Grand Street Bridge, arching over 4th. And it, too, was full of people. And on the balconies of the skyscrapers we passed. And leaning over the bridges we marched under. And even pressed against the railings of the parking garages. People, people, people. Happy people. Angry people. Women, children, and men of every race, every generation, calling out in their happy-angriness, raising their voices in a worldwide pep rally for women’s rights, human rights, and an America that holds these things to be self-evident.
We got to Grand Park, which stretches uphill from City Hall across multiple blocks. I heard someone calling my name and turned to see Jess and Brian — somehow, against all odds, they’d found me in this sea of humanity, and by accident at that. It was one of those coincidences that feels like more. Another such coincidence was the beautiful sunny sky we marched under, the only break in a week-long stretch of much-needed storms here in Southern California. Coincidence? Sure. But in the moment, it sure felt like God had cleared the very skies for us, and for precisely the necessary period for our celebration, before returning to a program of precious, prayed-for rain.
We took a break, sitting down on a ledge in the park. An older man came up to me and asked about our hats, saying that he wanted to learn to knit just so he could make his own; little kids played tag wearing matching “Love is Love,” t-shirts; a smiling, 9-year-old boy held up a pink sign that read “Feminist AF” while a grown woman held one reading “Expect Patronum.” And one member of our marching party, whose baby son was at home playing with Dad, whipped out her portable breast pump and went to work like the bad-ass mom she is. We wondered aloud how many people were there. 50,000? More? It was so hard to tell. It was a lot.
We didn’t hear any speakers. They spoke, and their words were likely moving, but their speeches were not the point. If the speeches had been the point, the crowds would have dispersed. But instead, as we wandered our way closer to the steps of City Hall, we saw that masses of people were standing in the streets outside. Five teenagers who looked to me like the cast of Captain Planet 2: Topple the Patriarchy actually stood on top of a covered bus stop, and though there were several police officers in front of the government building, no one asked them to come down. We overheard a young girl speculate that this is what she imagined Coachella would be like. And when we ultimately decided to walk back to Union Station to catch a train back home, we noticed that, the advertised march timeframe of 10-11:30 having long since passed, people were still arriving, signs in hand.
Blocks away from the center of things, we got another moment of perspective. We had to cross a bridge over the 101. The 101, recently rated #1 among the most congested highways in America, was flowing uncharacteristically clear, and yet the cars that passed were honking like crazy. They weren’t honking at each other, though. They were honking in solidarity at those of us standing on the bridge, and on bridge after bridge full of marchers who looked out at them, encouraging these most elemental of Angelenos — the cars — to add their voices to the still-audible roar of humanity.
It took us a while to get onto a train, and a while longer for that train to reach our station. The ride home was slightly less cheery than the one Molly and I had taken that morning, but the atmosphere of Women Helping Women still permeated. The older women (employing what seemed like “Mom-mode” to me) begged that people not crowd a young mother who was trying to hold up a folded stroller while keeping a toddler on her lap; they repeatedly arranged for a vacated seat to be taken by the most eligible elderly woman, as that was only fair — keep in mind that these were strangers, talking to each other, advocating for one another, observing each other’s needs and agreeing together that we’d all abide by the Golden Rule. This spirit of communing with strangers had started early that morning and continued after we got off the train. As we walked down Hollywood Boulevard, a young woman in a long black coat broke away from her friends and walked up to us, beaming. “Did you hear? We were just reading about the march, and they’re saying there were 750,000 people!” Our jaws dropped as the women rushed off to catch up with her friends. 750,000? Could that be right? I’ve seen this figure reported several places since, and still, it seems astonishing. Then again, it felt like everyone on earth was there. I believe it.
By the time we ate and I got back to my place, it was after 4. My bad foot hurt, my back ached, and I hadn’t had any coffee all day. But I was humming with an energy that wouldn’t quit. Reading about the marches all over the world, it occurred to me that this same energy was humming through millions of people who now have conclusive proof that there are so many others out there who want this to be a planet of people who hold each other up, who guide each other through the scrum, and who speak up for each other’s needs. Like good moms do, and good dads too — my dad and I talked on the phone for a long time that night, comparing notes about what happened in Chicago versus Los Angeles, and hoping out loud that this energy will be carried forward into action, organization, and actual sustained change. This, of course, is what must — MUST — happen next. This unprecedented day of solidarity cannot be just one nice memory in a world that’s melting, literally and figuratively, into noise and oblivion. It needs to be one nice memory that we mark in our history books as a turning point, a pivot toward progress and healing.
Of course there are people who are angry that these marches occurred. They’re mad, or perhaps offended. There are people who would write off the whole endeavor as a waste of time, people who don’t understand what the problem is. Of course there are these people: if they didn’t exist, if everyone “got it,” there truly would be no reason to march. The world would already be the one we’re marching to. These people bitterly mark us down as crybabies. But I didn’t cry at this march. I spoke, and shouted, and laughed, but I didn’t cry until later that night, sitting in my car, when I watched back the video of those cars honking on the 101. I turned up the volume, and in the distance, below the noise of the horns, I heard voices. Thousands of voices. Millions. And they were saying, Lies won’t stop us, hate won’t stop us, fear won’t stop us. We aren’t going anywhere. We will not be silent.