LEONARD QUART: Time to march again
New York — The day after Congress failed to continue funding the government – a tragi-comedy of political futility mostly caused by Trump’s incompetence, racism and constantly shifting positions (according to Sen. Chuck Schumer dealing with Trump is like “negotiating with Jello”) – my wife and I set out to the 2018 Women’s March. From an event that brought together more than two million people around the world last January, it has seemingly become an annual affair, and the hub of a variety of social movements from opposition to Trump and empowering women to anti-racism.
We took the subway to Columbus Circle, and it was crowded with fellow marchers – mostly young women, many wearing pink pussy hats. Though there was one arty older woman with a big drum, and a 9-year-old girl carrying a sign declaring, in bold letters, “UNAFRAID.”
But when we got to the march, it turned out to be impossible to hear the speakers, as the police closed the streets leading to the area around the bandstand that was crammed with marchers. At first, the whole scene felt utterly chaotic with throngs of people milling about or walking uptown on Columbus to try to find a way to enter the spot where the march was to start. I spent some of the time briefly interviewing a middle-aged couple, asking them why they were participating. Their response was that they were native New Yorkers who believed in the city as a melting pot that is defined by a diverse population including immigrants. It was one of the motifs of the March – affirming the DACA dreamers and a nonracist, open society.
When we finally circumvented the maze of gates thrown up by the police to insure safety and reached the march, we saw people with placards stating “Truth Matters,” “Trump has a small Pence” and a man carrying a sign reading, “Yes, the Women are Smarter” (there were some men and children on the march, though the preponderance of marchers were women). Most of the marchers seemed, at a cursory glance, middle-class, white and, of course, much younger than we were. Though, happily, there were many more black women than last year. Still, the largest contingent of working-class people at the march were the T-shirt hawkers — all of them black and Hispanic.
There were roughly more than 120,000 marchers and, at one point, the rally stretched more than 20 blocks along Central Park West. One could feel the high spirits coupled with the anger of the participants, and much of the focus centered on sexual assault victims and their rage at sexist behavior. There were placards calling for “Girl Power,” Equal Pay and Equal Rights” and “Men of Quality do not fear ‘Equality.’” Some of the women I spoke to mentioned the need to be counted. Another said she was repelled by the shift in one year from “distinguished President to the sewer.” There were chants as we passed Trump’s ugly, monolithic International Hotel and Tower (formerly an office building) –“Tear it Down,” “Shit….” And there was music – Beyonce and Robyn songs that some danced to while marching, but I craved Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger or Odetta singing protest songs (a sign of how old I am).
One great difference from last year’s march is the emphasis on ”Power to the Polls,” a nationwide voter registration drive targeting first-timers in swing states ahead of the midterms. Women are also organizing to wrestle control of Congress from the Republican Party and there is an unprecedented surge of Democratic women running for office this year, from city councils to the Senate. The commitment is to concrete and practical politics, and can make an incremental difference in how we live. To me, it feels more effective than just indulging in angry rhetorical attacks on Trump, despite their cathartic value.
It was stirring day and we hope we can continue marching, if necessary, for a few more years.