LEONARD QUART: What do we do tomorrow?

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By Sunday, Jan 22 Viewpoints  2 Comments
In New York City, the Women's March protesting the ascension of Donald J. Trump to the presidency drew between 400,000 to 450,000 demonstrators. Nationwide the figure was 4.6 million.

New York — During my lifetime I have gone on a number of marches, and attended countless demonstrations and rallies. But I have always been more at ease with writing and teaching than marching, especially when the marches engaged in chants for causes (e.g., “Bring the War Home,” and “Free Huey”) I didn’t support. Or invited speakers who were narrowly sectarian and slogan-ridden in ways that felt wrongheaded and alienating. And though I feel that the many anti-Vietnam war demos and the 1963 March on Washington clearly had a powerful effect on government actions, I remain skeptical about the impact of many of the other marches and rallies I have participated in.

Still, that wariness does not prevent me from making another political gesture — important to me personally, if its meaning may not be clear in the larger scheme of things.

The Women' s March on 5th Avenue in New York City, as seen from the University Club. Photo: Carole Owens

The Women’ s March on 5th Avenue in New York City, as seen from the University Club at 54th St. Photo: Carole Owens

On Saturday, January 21, I am off with my wife to attend the New York version of the massive Washington Women’s March, to protest Donald Trump’s election. For me it’s not a protest against the legitimacy of the election (though all the facts about Russia’s ominous role remain unknown) but against a compulsive liar of a president-elect who feels morally odious — bumptious, obsessively egocentric, impulsive, and instinctive rather than reflective — and a threat to the country’s basic liberties.

He’s a president who has largely failed to address concerns about the many conflicts-of-interest posed by his business dealings, and has run a campaign that was implicitly and explicitly misogynist, racist, and anti-immigrant. He has also picked a set of generally unqualified and reactionary cabinet members, who, in the main, give the feeling they were perversely appointed to antagonize Democrats, and the voters who voted against him taking office.

However, being a masochist, I still can’t turn away from listening and reading Trump’s angry, slightly dystopian inaugural address on the 20th. Some of its essence can be found in these lines: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer…. I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.” That notion lay at the core of his campaign speeches — advocating an outraged faux populism where he would express the voice of  “the people” (who were almost always white) and, at least rhetorically, take away power from the elite.

The address also spoke of transforming education and stopping “the carnage” in American cities, without explaining how. The implication being that once he was in power inner city violence would miraculously disappear (channeling Duterte — the Philippines’ strongman) as, of course, will all our ills — the real ones and those inflated for demagogic effect. And there was an affirmation of nationalism, which had an un-American undertone that implied a suppression of dissent in the name of unity and the patriotism of the people: “We share one heart, one home and one glorious destiny.”

It was an address aimed only to win the hearts of his core supporters, and deepen the revulsion and fear of much of the rest of us. It gave us even more of an impetus to join the marchers in Midtown on Saturday.

However, since I’m not being able to stand in one place for any length of time, we merely walked two blocks with thousands of peaceful marchers at the end of the March route to 55th Street and Fifth Avenue. Not the kind of commitment I would have liked to make, but it was the best I could do. It gave us a chance to observe the enormous number of people of all ages — many women, but men as well, and all races and ethnic groups that were marching.

There were women and girls wearing knitted pink pussy hats, and older women walking with canes and walkers, a rabbi wearing a prayer shawl, Senator Schumer, the archetype of the establishment pol, greeting constituents (good that he showed up), and many carrying signs that were much more incisive and imaginative than the ones we carried during the Vietnam War protests: “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”; “Make America Trump-less Again”; “Only a Twit would Tweet such Twaddle”; “My pussy, my choice, my body, my voice;”; “Putin’s President is the Biggest Loser”; and “Strong Women, Strong World.”

There were few traces of dogmatism and sectarianism on this March — nothing for me to feel wary of. When the church bells chimed and the crowd burst into cheers and chants, and clerks applauded from store windows, it all felt stirring and hopeful. It was reinforced later when I discovered marches took place in 20 countries and U.S. cities from Boston to Oakland. Still, the question lingers as one protestor said: “What do we do tomorrow?” It’s an open question, and the hard job of defining an alternative set of policies, and organizing in local communities and for the next election will have to be sustained. Still, for one day I felt a sense of oneness and a political high.


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  1. Susan Pettee says:

    Thank you, Leonard. I am with you on this. We went to DC by bus. I was delighted by the variey and originality of the handmade signs and hats. This was no crowd of mass produced poster holders, nor were the signs limited to a single issue. Instead, signs reflected dismay about how the the PE’s attitudes and policies and appointments will affect the environment, education, and many other issues in addition to women’s rights. It was an amazing experience to be in such a diverse crown of men and women of a wide range of ethnicities and to know that we all shared positive values of inclusion and love for each other. I had been a bit afraid of a terrorist attack (a big crowd of uppity women would be a logical target for radical Islamists or Twitler’s thugs) but there was none, the huge crowd was exhilarated and friendly. We chatted with women from Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Iowa, as well as Massachusetts and Connecticut. Two women from Atlanta, John Lewis’s district, told us they were appalled at DJT’s nasty attacks on Lewis and they thought that tweet was a really stupid thing to do, as well as insulting to Lewis, whom they revere. Lewis is an icon for them and where they live isn’t a mess at all.
    Because I could not sleep on the bus I was too tired on Saturday to follow the surging crowed as it poured out from Independence Avenue to the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, but it is gratifying to see from photos that the marchers filled those areas, too. At first the word from the organizers was that we would not march because the parade route was already jammed all the way to the end, but then enterprising people found a solution by claiming more territory. Like you, Leonard, we felt had sent our message by showing up.

  2. GMHeller says:

    Too bad Democrats couldn’t field a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, the weakest, most flawed of all the candidates fielded by Democrats. Clinton and her vice prresidential running mate Sen. Tom Kaine repeatedly drew embarrassingly small crowds and to get larger turnouts at rallies had to promise the appearance of big name live entertainment.
    Mr. Quart needs to remind readers why it is that Bernie Sanders, the lone Democrat in the campaign who actually drew massive crowds and who garnered the bulk of Democrat votes in party primaries, was not chosen at the Democrat National Convention as the party’s nominee to face Donald Trump in November’s election.

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