Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Marching in Austin

It was bigger than anybody expected.  The march organizers told us they were expecting 33,000.  They ended up with twice that amount.  The final tally worldwide will be around 3.9 million people.  It was the largest protest in American history.  I’ve had several friends who are mystified and have sincerely asked me to explain.  So here goes.

I had one previous experience with a protest march.  People think I was a hippie/rebel in my younger days when I was actually pretty tame in college.  I wore a lot of pleated skirts and I didn’t smoke pot or sleep around or do anything wild. I did, however, go to Austin for Gov. Ann Richards’ funeral in 2006, mostly because I heard Willie Nelson was going to sing. I will do just about anything for free music.  As it turned out Willie got busted in Louisiana for smoking dope and couldn’t come and all we got was a speech from Hillary Clinton but it was a great road trip for Elizabeth and myself.  And she and I noticed something interesting: just being around the folks who attended the funeral was something special. Everyone was of one mind and had come for one reason: to honor a special woman. There was something else very special that day--an atmosphere of love and honor.

The minute I heard about this march I had a hunch it would be similar to what Elizabeth and I had experienced at Ann Richard’s funeral so I called her up and suggested that all the ETC women go.  That’s what we call ourselves:  The ElsThomasCarrell Family.  This included both of my daughters and granddaughters. 

We got there early and there was plenty of room to wander around on the grounds of the Capitol.  It was going to be a glorious day.  It reminded me of going to the State Fair except they didn’t have any food for sale or souvenirs.  The weather was perfect.  Our state capitol is roomy with lots of grassy areas to move around and trees to sit under when we got tired.  We picked out a meeting spot and felt like we could come and go in comfort and confidence that we would be able to find each other again.

The main walk to the front of the Capitol had tables set up with different organizations giving out information. You could sign a petition or get on a mailing list or just find out more about an organization. Most were the predictable:  ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Gay Rights, various local, state and national political organizations were all there.  This was one of the things I had been looking forward to, believe it or not, this was one of the places I wanted to get on mailing lists. Because that’s the kind of extrovert I am.

It was Extrovert Heaven; a Convention for Extroverts.  One of the most popular signs that was repeated in other cities because it was such a BASIC TRUTH was “This is so bad even the Introverts are here.”  Both of my introverted daughters appreciated that sign.  In fact, my supremely introverted granddaughter, Sarah, had remained behind at home because she knew she wouldn’t be able to take the crowd.  She had the self-awareness to know her personal limit and I was proud of her for that.

Once we had all our pamphlets and stickers and had made the rounds of what was where we still had over an hour before anything started.  I headed out for the porta-potties.  If I have learned anything in my long life it is that you want to use the porta-potties early in the day. 

Before we start let me salute one of the most important groups of people in the march and you probably won’t read much, if anything, about them in the newspapers:  the drum corps.  They can’t be overestimated for their contribution.  First of all, they gave a rhythmic undercurrent, a primal musical score to our movement.  There had been an appeal go out ahead of time on Facebook for drummers and there had been an organizational meeting and all the while I’m thinking, “huh?” but now I know. Now I know. The drum corps for our march was made of two or three different groups of men and women with big rawhide drums and an equal number of folks with smaller percussion instruments.  Their contribution was invaluable.  It gave a cadence and a life to our “being there” and I’m not talking about while we walked—it lifted us up while we sat on the curb waiting or in the grass afterwards resting in victory. They varied the cadences: some were the standard ones you heard at football games and some I had never heard before. Because it wasn’t the kind of drums you have in a high school marching band the sound was different—deeper, richer. These drummers also possess some of the finest sets of biceps on earth:  playing basically non-stop for about three hours.  The sound was a constant but non-intrusive backdrop to the day.

and here's a youtube of what they sounded like from the front of the march.  You could hear them from blocks away.

The posters were the stars of the show.  There was such a variety of posters it made you realize this march was about everything.  When people asked me what we were marching for it was hard to come up with an answer.  And it sounded strange to say “Everything,” but that was really kind of true. And I think that’s why this march was so widespread—there are so many things the incoming Trump administration has said they intend to do that have worried so many people—so MANY things that the word “everything” isn’t too much of an exaggeration. 

Let me use photos and pictures of posters to take us through the various issues and I’ll start with the most popular:  the pussy hats. And, of course, now that I want to show you a photo I can't find one. I can't believe I don't have a single photo in my camera of one because they were everywhere.  Not so much in Austin, I guess, as in the colder states where they needed the knit hats to keep their heads warm.  We were marching in 80 degrees, mind you. (But if my sisters who marched in D.C. or Tennesee, like Kat or Susan would send me a snap I can add it here. Or maybe Colleen?)

What was the deal with the pussy hats?  To start with, they were cute.  And they must have been easy for women to knit because they were all over the place.  And if you didn’t knit one, you could sew one out of fleece.  They weren’t much more than a pink square that could go over your head with two corners sewed off to make a tab into a kind of ear.  I’ve seen enough now to think that I could probably make one myself. 

The kitty cat/pussy hats were a reference to Donald Trump’s comment about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission.  By far, this was the biggest issue at the march.  And my own sign came under that category.  I got the phrase from Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony and I found another woman who thought the same thing: 

I have had presidents I didn’t agree with before.  About half of them, I would say.  I didn’t like most of what George W. Bush said or did but I never, never questioned whether he respected women or minorities.  My argument with past leaders was an honest disagreement based on mutual respect.  With Trump, I do not feel any respect reciprocated towards me or anyone else.  And, like Meryl Streep says, “Disrespect Invites Disrespect.”

I honestly worry and wonder about women who can excuse his behavior.  How can they overlook this?  They say he did these things in the past but then in the debates he reverted to old behavior and called Hillary Clinton “a nasty woman,” mocked a disabled reporter and made fun of women for their appearance on the Apprentice show.  And this isn’t just rumors, he did this on national television, we saw it with our own eyes.   No other politician has ever done anything like this.  Or allowed his followers to chant “Lock her up!”  This goes beyond campaigning and speaks to the core of who a person is in their character. 
That is why my poster said “Disrespect Invites Disrespect.” 

I never much cared for George W. Bush’s policies but I never felt he disrespected me.  And, more than one person has told me lately that they miss the guy. Yes.  And we all agreed that we never thought the words would leave our lips, either.

Yet here we are:  I miss George W. Bush.  And The Introverts are Marching.

OK, now I want to say, we were not marching for the right to kill our babies.  Nobody in this crowd wanted to kill babies. It was the opposite. The Capitol grounds were full of women with children and babies in strollers, good mothers who were very attentive to their children.  Please, if you say you want to understand then understand this because it’s really no more complicated than this:  all we want is for each woman to have the right to make her own decision. Each pregnancy is unique.  And it’s nobody else’s business. 
Planned Parenthood gets no government funding for abortions and it performs so many important health services to the poor (like PAP smears and mammograms) that it would be a national health disgrace to lose them. 
On Monday morning one of Trump’s first acts in office was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule to cut off abortion funding abroad.  This made a lot of people happy and they voted for him for just this reason.  But I’m not sure they really understood the full extent of what this would mean because in one of life’s ironies we will end up with more, not less abortions out of the deal. In fact, according to a London based aid organization called Marie Stopes International, the estimate is that there will be an additional 2.2 million additional abortions worldwide because of this move.   Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in:  this move is going to cause MORE abortions, not end them. MORE. Here’s how:  One of the many things cut in the executive order was plain old family planning like education and contraceptives.  And when you have better family planning you have less unplanned pregnancies.  Trump’s executive order to reinstate the Global Gag Rule cuts out family planning resources in other countries. The honest truth—let’s be real here, folks, -- is that without contraceptives and educations you will have pregnancies.  That is the way the world works.  God created us to have sex.  We are hard-wired to do this.  And when you have unplanned pregnancies you will have abortions; the best you can hope for is to have safe ones.  Also, now that we can expect to have unsafe abortions we will also have mothers who will die, also. The measure Trump signed on Monday also closes clinics around the world that has cut childbirth mortality by 2/3 in the last eight years. So, we can expect those deaths to go back up again. Shutting down these programs also shuts down HIV/AIDS clinics.  Also, it shuts down clinics treating the Zika virus.

If anyone thinks we are doing the morally correct thing with this move you might want to re-read that last paragraph and remind yourself that the developing countries and people affected by this move have nowhere else to turn.  Nowhere.

There were a lot of rainbow flags and logos in the crowd but not as many as you might have thought. Or maybe rainbows just don’t draw a lot of attention anymore.  It was almost an afterthought of rainbows.  Kind of like, “Oh, yeah, rainbows.”  A few women held hands but it seemed so natural that it didn’t stand out. 
There is a worry about what might become of Marriage Equality in a Republican Administration.  Trump has given no indication that he intends to change anything legally but there was a move in the Texas courts Tuesday morning to revisit the issue so the LGBT community is a bit nervous. I have had two young lesbian friends express deep concerns that they won’t be able to marry once they find their soulmate.  I have a transgender friend who can’t go to the bathroom in public because he is so afraid of being outed.  These are my friends.  They are worrying about things that I never had to worry about.  They are worried about things that nobody should have to worry about—normal things.  It’s not too much to ask to get to go to the bathroom or get married. 

By the way, trans people do not molest kids.  Child molesters do that and there are laws against it.  There always have been.  My trans friend just wants to pee.  Thank you.

A couple of people had huge inflatable world globes and signs about global warming.  This is one of the things that folks worry about Trump.  He had said that he thinks global warming is a hoax and refuses to acknowledge the scientific evidence on climate change.  When I was in the depths of despair and worrying about all the things Trump could do to screw up in the world I realized I would go nuts if I tried to worry about everything so I listed the top three things I worried about the most and tried to limit myself to only those three things.  Climate Change was on the top of my personal list.  I am reading Thomas Friedman’s new book “Thank You for Being Late.”  I’ve gotten past the first third of the book where he is citing all the scientific evidence for how everything is accelerating.  The science is there.  The facts don’t lie.  The earth is warming and it’s not stopping until we make some dramatic changes.  And things are about to enter a dangerous phase where we won’t be able to stop the process.  We’re not quite there, folks, but it’s getting scary.  We are on the verge of killing our planet, the one thing that feeds us.  I am dead serious.  This is the one area the President of the US could do to screw up things bad enough to destroy the future of humanity. Seriously. If Trump pulls the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement other countries will follow us and there is no predicting what will happen.  The world is on the brink right now and just a few things could change everything.

The immigrant community was there.  A lot of signs said build bridges, not walls.  One of the most widespread feelings in the whole group was that of friendliness.  Everybody was so friendly:  taking pictures of each other, holding each other’s babies, complimenting each other’s signs, asking where are you from, meeting and greeting, just having conversations with total strangers like they were your best friends.  Everyone was instant friends.  It was like a gigantic group dating site where we had all been pre-selected as a match. 

There were signs for Gun Control but I’m not sure I got pictures of them. This is Texas, after all, we gave up long ago. Back when we were allowed to have gun racks in our pickups it kind of cut down on road rage so we have our own perspective about those things around here.

All of these posters and the march hadn’t even started yet.

We picked a good spot on the curb near the front gate and waited for about an hour.  This gave us plenty of time for people watching and poster critiquing, some posters were quite elaborate.  People wanted their pictures taken with the more popular ones.  Gradually I realized the Capitol grounds had filled up and we still had thirty minutes to go yet women were still walking in.  Then the grounds became so full nobody could walk around anymore.  Then, at the stroke of noon, as promised, things started moving.  Women began holding their signs in the air and walking.  Just a little at first.  The first major challenge was getting out the gate and onto the street.  That took almost half an hour just to get there.  Once out onto the street we had to straighten out and get oriented into an actual direction.  It was a long time before somebody said, “Hey, we’re actually walking!”  After a while, we left the drum cadence behind us.  They may have stayed behind on the Capitol grounds.  We walked about a mile away from the Capitol taking up both sides of Congress Ave.  A couple of times we passed people on balconies cheering us on, then folks on the street gathered and cheered.  Some buildings had banners overhead with signs.  Then we turned onto another street and marched for a few blocks and turned again and I realized we were headed back to the Capitol. 

All in all we walked for an hour or two.  It wasn't hard.  It wasn't too hot.  When we got back to the Capitol we could hear the drummers once again and saw the flags that had been leading the march:  the US flag, the Texas flag and the Rainbow flag plus a standard with some feathers or something attached that looked like maybe they might have been American Indian.  That was emotional for me.  I hadn’t seen them before, I had no idea they had been leading us the whole way.  Everybody needs to be led by something they believe in and those were good things to lead me.

We found a spot of grass with a tree and collapsed under it for a while to rest.  Then we went over to listen to the drummer’s circle for a bit.  Finally, a couple of us were thirsty and wanted to go back to the hotel for water so we headed back in that direction.  It started getting really crowded at the south gate to the Capitol grounds and we realized there were still marchers who hadn’t even marched yet, they were still pouring out to begin their march. 

There were that many women.

The girls all took naps but I got restless back at the hotel and eventually went back to the Capitol just in time to hear the last of the speakers and the music wrapped it up.  The march organizer thanked everyone and then told us all to pick up our trash before we went home.  I looked around for litter to help pick up and didn’t find any.  We had been a pretty tidy bunch. 
One thing the women had done with their posters, though, was to line them up on the ground in front of the Capitol making a blanket. Nobody was quite ready to pick that up.  I’m not sure who picked it up but it had become sacred ground of sorts and I wasn’t going to touch it with a ten-foot pole. 

I saw some Facebook posts about how trashy the marchers were in other cities but I can say with authority that the Austin ladies were not.  I was content to leave the tidy array of posters there at the front door of my government.  I consider it a large letter to them to read without needing their bifocals. However, my girls and I took our posters home as a souvenir.
Seriously. The crowd resembled a bunch of Sunday School teachers.  There were no arrests at any of the marches that I know of   in any of the cities. The whole city of Austin was in Love Fest mode.  As we walked to dinner after the march there were still a few police monitoring some blocked off streets and I heard one woman go up to an officer and thank him for all his work that day.  He was smiling and relaxed and told her that she was welcome.  I went up to him and asked if everyone had been minding their manners.  “Yes ma’am! Everybody has been just great!” was his reply.  He sounded like he had had a good day.  We all had.

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