Show me what democracy looks like, THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.
A rallying chant heard not only across this country last weekend, but worldwide, as people gathered in general outrage to protest a president who has become a symbol of modern oppression. I was one of the hundred thousand that descended on Boston Common, historical birthplace of dissent and rebellion against domineering rulers, to speak up for human rights, dignity, environmental justice, and religious freedom.
The morning of the march was cloudy and cold, but when I arrived a few hours before official start time, at least a thousand people were already milling about the Boston Common near a temporary stage set-up. TV cameras and crews were poised and reporters were giving early reports about the crowds and program for the day. There was giddy early morning dancing and photo-ops, eating breakfast muffins and drinking coffee, energy vibrating through the air.
After sound tests over the PA system, the crowd started cheering and a children's choir sang "America the Beautiful" before we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then came a stream of speakers and entertainment, a mixture of politicians, artists, and activists.
One of my favorite was an all female troupe of spunky Chinese dancers in dragon costumes to drive out all things evil and usher in the power of goodness and luck. Women were originally not allowed to participate in this particular dance, and these dancers were determined to prove how more than capable they were to express the steps!
Among the activists, Love Richardson-Williams, a tribal council member of the Fresh Water People of the Nipmuc Nation, spoke on behalf of Native American rights and environmental concerns, including the ongoing fight to protect sacred land at Standing Rock (Lakota Sioux Nation) from oil drilling. Tanisha M. Sullivan represented the Boston branch of the NAACP, the oldest in the country, and minister Mariama White-Hammond from Boston University School of Theology kept protesters entertained in between speakers with singing and jokes.
MA state senators Ed Markey and recent political rock star Elizabeth Warren gave rousing speeches, speaking of Massachusetts' long history of revolutionary protesting and keeping us on point for the day's meaning:
We are here today because of the power of women... to come up with good ideas like this rally, to organize, to make sure that as our country enters a new political era, that the voices of the people will be heard.
[see Warren's full speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oGzqrVlxf0]
Just as the final speaker was wrapping up, the sun burst out from behind the clouds, cheers erupted, and the protesters were on the move! I turned around and couldn't believe how many people had filtered in during the course of the speaking, spreading out across the park in waves of colors and signs, spilling out into the streets.
As everyone dashed toward the protest route, there was soon a traffic flow problem and we were at a standstill for at least an hour. Despite the tight quarters, there was only smiling, singing, dancing to the music pumping through the speakers, even efficient finding of a doctor when someone became ill. Finally, our section of the crowd picked up steam and we moved forward onto Beacon street.
And we marched, chanted, marched, laughed, marched, yelled. It was a sea of passionately painted and voiced opinion of all shapes, sizes and colors moving through the streets of Boston.
The afternoon sun started to sink, but as marchers came up on the Arlington Street Church, church bells encouraged the crowd forward.
A marching band with musicians dressed in Revolutionary costume played "This Land is Your Land," and a nearby group of grey haired ladies in bright flag leggings sang "She Works Hard for Her Money..." Variations on the theme of 200+ years of American democracy seamlessly flowed through the streets.
On the subway going home, I saw a woman still holding her sign that said simply: "this is just the beginning." The positive spirit of the rally hung in the air of the subway car as people smiled at her and raised their own signs in solidarity. This reminded me of one of the activist speakers, Minister Mariama White-Hammond, who in her speech asked that we turn to the stranger standing next to us and look directly into their eyes, to say to them "I see you." It lasted about 5 seconds but felt timeless as I stared into the friendly brown eyes of a middle aged woman next to me and realized that maybe the most important part of this whole event was for this exact moment. For a few moments I was forced to look away from my phone and into the face of someone I would never have otherwise met. It’s one thing to hear about shootings, or civil rights struggles, to see a post on Facebook about being threatened for skin color or gender. But to march alongside a stranger for hours and to hear their voice, it's impossible not to start to wonder: what does it actually feel like to be this person? We think we know, but how much are we relying on assumptions and stereotypes? Social media is an tremendous connection tool, but there is something irreplaceable about the rich social connection that takes place with physical proximity. And today, to feel the volume of emotion, seemed like just the beginning to a deeply resonant resistance to President Trump.