Anger and Empathy: The Lasting Accomplishments of the Women’s March on Washington — Part III

By David Himmel

"Anger and Empathy" is a three-part report. This is its final chapter. Read Part I and Part II.

Love is a Warrior, Not a Battlefield

The ride back home is never as exciting as the ride out to wherever because reflection is not nearly as exciting as the unknown.

We stopped for breakfast in Clear Spring, Maryland at the Clear Spring Country Diner smack in the middle of Trump Country. A huge blue Trump sign lurked through the fog across the road from us. It is a poorly laid out restaurant that at first glance looks like someone gutted their home and tossed a grill, a few coffee makers, and some tables and booths in place of a washer and dryer, couch and TV. The folks at the diner couldn’t have been any nicer.We received assistance from a crippled man with a camouflage cane and vest. He recognized we weren’t sure where to go or what to do without a host sign. Just a customer himself, he directed us to the dining area in the back with open seats. We received smiles from the other patrons as we passed their booths.

As we looked over the menu, I considered a number of women I saw at the March wearing t-shirts and holding signs that read “The Future is Female.” I asked Jessica and Nicolette what their interpretation of the saying was. “Because,” I said, “it can be construed to some as a call for a totalitarian-women takeover. But I don’t think that’s its intention.”

“Shouldn’t women take over?” Nicolette said. “Men have had control long enough.”

“But is that fairness?” I asked.

“The pendulum swings both ways,” she said.

“But that’s not equality. That’s trading one gender in power for another. I don’t think that’s what you were marching for.”

Nicolette backed down. She was tired—we had left early—and the buzz of yesterday’s march had begun to wear off. She was feeling the weight of that wet, depression blanket again. It was making her angry. The dreary weather gawking at us out the window while we ate our eggs and marble rye toast in direct view of that giant Trump sign wasn’t helping her mood.

“For me, it’s a balancing of power,” Jessica said. “I interpret it as egalitarianism. It’s shared power.”

Nicolette said, “We need heroines. We almost had one.”

We dipped briefly into debate about Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign and all of the things that helped it fail including its marketing efforts. Which led us back to my question about the intended meaning of the phrase, “The Future is Female.”

“We need to explain ourselves better,” Jessica explained better. “We have to connect to how we are the same and not how we’re different. Trump won because he was a great marketer. He did that better this time.”

 

Footage by Dean Berdusis.

 
 

 

As Jessica navigated the westbound roads, Nicolette used her phone to play select speeches from the prior day’s rally. That helped her mood. It immediately lifted her from her funk. She and Jessica wept and held hands, invigorated once again, as they had been yesterday. Sisters in arms, always. Dean and I sat in the backseat. He did his best to preserve the moments with his camera as delicately as possible.

“I need to save these and watch them when I’m feeling dark. Eating blueberries, and Gloria Steinem is good for the soul,” Jessica said.

With the distraction of feeding the soul, however, we nearly ran out of gas. We considered doubling back to the last known exit with services. Our math against the map and the road signs told us we’d be better to stay the course. Jessica kept the Prius at the eco-friendliest speed as possible. I suggested that we move into the right lane so we don’t become the most hated people on the road. The Prius is an incredible machine. It was interesting to watch the miles left to empty actually increase as we continued to empty the tank just by driving it.

 

 

So what next? People wondered what the point of the Women’s March on Washington was. What did it hope to achieve? Its mission covered a lot of items. Women’s rights or human rights are encompassing things. And anyone who thought that any one political issue would be swayed or goal achieved with the March was either fooling themselves or didn’t march, or both. I’m in favor of women’s rights and human rights, and I, too, wasn’t sure what the March hoped to achieve. I knew that only by being there, could I understand its purpose and by being there, I understand what it did.

It rallied the troops. It showed the disaffected that they were not alone. That even within their masses there were even more masses in other cities and in other countries. And every single one of them—of us—in those masses gathered and protested and inspired themselves and others in a completely democratic and peaceful way.

“Perhaps the most important gift of the March is a restored sense of optimism,” Jessica told me after we’d returned to Chicago. “Hope doesn’t feel dangerous anymore. For the first time since [Election Day], I believe that we can affect change. That we can remove the wicked crowbar that was thrown into the spokes of our wheel and use it to leverage something better for the future. There will be damages. We won’t come out unscathed. But like a re-knitted bone, perhaps we’ll emerge stronger and sturdier, better equipped to deal with the rough and tumble of a vicious political storm.”

And in the month since the March, we’ve seen that. Almost daily protests and gatherings to speak out against what Trump and the Brotherhood of Evil CEOs are doing or trying to do. And what’s more, the charge sparked by the March is speaking for those who have less, it’s speaking in support of and favor of helping those who have no support and cannot help themselves. It’s more than the protests and marches. It’s the people in action, working hard to defend true liberty, and in the case of (legal) immigrants and refugees, remind us and inform the Brotherhood of the words inscribed at the feet of Lady Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The March inspired awareness and action. “It’s still easy to fall back into the depths, even after such an incredible and uplifting experience—possibly because of it,” said Nicolette. “I’m starting to realize that the only way to stave off the depression of the next four years and their echoes beyond, is to continue to take action.

The March rallied the troops. It showed the disaffected that they were not alone... And what’s more, the charge sparked by the March is speaking for those who have less, it’s speaking in support of and favor of helping those who have no support and cannot help themselves.

“I have loaded all of my representatives contact info into my address book. I’m vowing to myself to contact them daily to demand they represent me and my voice. I’m demanding to be heard on issues and legislation surrounding human rights, civil rights, environmental protection and reproductive rights. I’ve signed up for my senators’ and representatives’ mailing lists to keep abreast of the legislation they're working on.

“I’m planning to further educate myself about local government and how I can become involved and support it. I’m planning to continue the work of the Women's March on Washington by creating, and helping facilitate, a small action group to participate in the 10 Actions in 100 Days action which the movement has set up.

“I want to help—through fundraisers and sponsorship—get large groups of people to the many rallies and marches that are sure to sprout up. There’s already talk of a march on Washington again on Apr. 15 in order to demand that Trump release his taxes and I will definitely be there.

“I’ve begun advising a small group of friends about where their upcoming fundraiser dollars might be best allocated, and I’m incredibly honored and excited to be asked for my council. I’d like to start to hold monthly fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and NARAL, with a focus not only on generating dollars, but also on raising awareness about our impending loss of rights and access.”

This kind of hope is not limited to Jessica and Nicolette. The March energized and organized and that’s exciting. Maybe this is the decade where we do what the 1960s and 1970s couldn’t, which is initiate real progressive change that sticks. Where we learn from our mistakes and don’t fall back into bad habits.

But that’s the hard part for me. I’m skeptical that we can’t and that we’ll find ourselves facing another vicious enemy again soon.

 

 

There were lots of “Love Always Wins” signs. And I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that love always wins. Not ultimately, anyway. Love wins battles but it has yet to win a war. Because, like other signs said, “I Can’t Believe I Still Have To Protest This Shit.” Love wins battles then rests on its victory. It gets comfortable and the bile and hatred and fear rise again. That’s human nature. It’s happened at every turn throughout all of history. Peace, war; three steps forward, two steps back.

If love always wins, we’d all still be floating on high from the camaraderie 9/11 gave us. If love could hold a win, we wouldn’t have seen the greed of banks and their CEOs decimate the people and the economy as has been the case since the days of the original Robber Barons. We wouldn’t have allowed them to get to that powerful point. Not again, anyway. But we forget. If love was always winning, police brutality wouldn’t be an issue. And neither would gender bathrooms.

Love doesn’t always win because love is hard. It takes a lot of work and it can be exhausting. Love is harder than hate, and it's a helluva lot harder than indifference. So no, love does not always win and justice does not always prevail. Maybe love will win in the long run. But the long run won’t be known until we’re all gone from this planet. Until we have drawn human history to a close. And because love doesn’t always win, it will likely be by our own hands that we exterminate our time on this planet long before our solar system goes dark.

But I believe that love is worth fighting for. And yeah, nihilism can get the best of me. And depression can weigh me down. But love is worth fighting for. Because we have to try. That, too, is human nature. We fight to survive despite how hard we often fight to ruin ourselves. It’s a strange balance between the ego and id, between selflessness and selfishness, between awareness and utter idiocy. And if we fight hard enough, long enough and never stop, we’ll keep winning battles and we’ll stay in the war. And because love won’t always win, there will always be a need to keep fighting and we’ll always need true heroes.

So what did the March do? Showed us that we were going to fight and the weeks that followed have proven that we will. We’ll fight for our rights and the rights of those who hate us. Because we’re fighting for human rights and despite their grotesque behavior and vile ideas, our enemies are human, too.

Jessica said it best when she told me, “The diversity of the other marchers is where hope shone brightest for me. So many people of color. And so many men! Scads more than I thought would attend. When I feel discouraged about how far we still have to go, I’m buoyed up by the reminder of how far we’ve come. And the hard evidence for that was obvious in the makeup of the crowd.

“When you see photos or footage of feminist marches from the ’70s, it’s almost all white women. Fast forward forty years and the sons of those feminists and open-hearted men are marching through the streets with and for their daughters and wives. Not to rescue or protect them, but stand beside them and behind them charging into battle. That’s progress.”