I participated this weekend in the Women's March, like more than a million other people. I went with my mom, my daughter, and good friends, and I met other friends along the way. Marching was an incredible feeling, amplified by the growing understanding that we were part of the largest protest march ever in the world. It also felt different than I thought it might.
Before the march, I was working with a literal interpretation of the word "protest": "a statement or action expressing disapproval or objection to something." In that definition is a strong sense of the negative, because disapproval is the opposite of warm words like "support," and "for," and other such words that make you feel strong and powerful. I felt fine with that notion of protest, because I do strongly disapprove of and object to Trump and think he is dangerously mad.
But along the way, as cars blared their horns in solidarity and drivers cheered out of cars stopped for the procession; as hairdressers and baristas who couldn't march because of work stood at their windows with their hands in the air, clapping and chanting along with us; as friends met up with other friends and hugged each other for far longer than usual; as strangers squeezed up against each other and shared their stories; as happy tears welled from beautiful eyes; as tiny kids sitting on their parents' shoulders waved hand-drawn posters in the air; and so much more, I understood that this march was about more than protest.
It was also about recognition. Recognition of our universality and of how many good people with fierce and loving hearts exist in the world, and also recognition of ourselves as political citizens with voices. In many ways North Americans have become consumers more than citizens, which is reflected in depressing voting behaviour statistics and created, in part, by privileged classes having everything they need in a material sense (but still wanting more) and by poorer classes not having everything they need and being too busy trying to get what they need to be politically active. When we act as consumers more than citizens, it breaks down the potential for us to feel connected as people, because there is only so far a shared love of Pokeman Go or slow-cookers can take you emotionally. By contrast, a sense of shared values and what we want our country to stand for? A conviction that we need to save our world before global warming destroys it? A knowledge that human and women's rights could be dismantled by one terrifying man? These pressing concerns have awakened that dormant sense of ourselves as citizens, and they have also compelled us to peek out of our social media bubbles and look at each other right in the face.
I was talking with my brother last night (he marched with his family in San Francisco) and he told me about his favourite protest sign: "It's so bad, even the introverts are here." We both laughed and then shared our observations of our respective marches. He noticed people just being aware of each other. Looking at each other. Making eye contact. Being shy, then less so. And smiling. I saw the same sort of thing, this kind of astonishment and wonder at seeing so many real people all in one place and at being able to be with them so easily. My brother noted how surprised he was to see people he never thought he would see marching. How many different people there were, from all walks of life, marching. And how powerful it was, how strong we felt. How many children there were, how much we love them and how glad we were that they participated in this march with us and with all the other children there.
People ask what effect the Women's March on Washington, and all the sister marches, will really have, whether it will actually change anything. This article makes a compelling case for why it will, because there is no way the political class in the US – including both Democrats and Republicans – can ignore how quickly and massively their citizens can respond to threats to the American democracy. I want to believe this, and as I say, the argument is compelling. But what I know for sure is this: we felt our power on Saturday, and we did so in an incredibly supportive and loving environment where everyone was cheering for everyone else, for all the good in the world. We will not let go of that. We are awake and ready, and that is what has changed and keeping awake is our only hope. I think we know that now.
So what next? This is the very urgent question we're left with.