Would you like almonds or pistachios?
When you overhear a question like that, you know you are most likely in the company of women. And that’s exactly where I found myself at 3 AM last Saturday morning – on a bus with 49 other nasty women headed to the Women’s March on Washington.
I love women. We are nesters and that was ever so evident as I watched folks getting on our bus. Everyone carried at least two bags or a tote and a cooler. We brought pillows and blankets and enough food and water to last until Valentine’s Day. There was no room in the overhead bins. And this was a day trip.
Protesting requires protein and a lot of chocolate and we were prepared. I imagined the same scenario if it had been a bus of all men and I giggled out loud. I asked my seat mate and best friend Carla what her husband would have brought for the trip. She laughed and said, “His wallet.”
Irony never ceases to amuse me.
I initially had no intention of being on this bus. I was absolutely gutted by Hillary Clinton’s defeat (See Electoral College flunks out) and marching felt futile. And then the slow drip of disturbing post-election information came out – FBI Director Comey’s overreach, the verification of Russian interference and a general array of suspicious shenanigans.
In short, I got mad as hell and decided I needed to go to the march to rant and rave.
Cue the irony. I did go but I did not march and I did not rant. Instead, I stood in place, literally, with 500,000 of my new best friends at the biggest, most gentle block party protest in our nation’s history.
I’ll return to irony in a bit but let me go back to the bus for now. Carla was on board for the march from day one and only had second thoughts on inauguration day when she saw some scenes of windows being broken in DC. She called me on her lunch hour and in an only half kidding voice said, “I’m scared.”
I told her not to worry because this was a march for women organized by women and that it would be peaceful. Turns out I was more right than I had imagined. I just love it when that happens. DC police reported not one*arrest on Saturday. *not an alternative fact
When Carla spotted me on the bus on Saturday she practically squealed with delight and we hugged like two 13 year-olds away from our parents for a groovy field trip. I love Carla’s enthusiasm for everything – life, love and food. And she brought some good food. Breakfast was butternut squash pancakes with almond butter. The men’s bus would have had Pop-Tarts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
We sat behind my dear friends Lori and Sue. They are globetrotters and are the kind of travel partners you want – easy going, fun and resourceful. And they are really good with directions – the kind of couple who would do really well on The Amazing Race.
The only drag about a bus full of women is that when you make a stop for the rest room well, you’re going to be there a while. And we were – but it was okay because almost everyone else in line was heading to the same place we were. And everyone was surprisingly cheerful and energetic for 5 AM. We were nasty women on a mission.
We went from bus to Metro train as we headed to L’Enfant Plaza and the start of the march. Saturday was the second largest recorded ridership in Metro history – over a million trips, second only to Barrack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. I found myself nostril to nostril with a lovely woman from Canada. She was in her mid-60’s and told me she and her husband had come down from Toronto on Thursday to be a part of the march. I was humbled by how much she knew about US politics. I thanked her for coming and she said, quite solemnly, “What happens in your country affects the whole world.”
One of the most moving moments of the day was when we reached our final destination, riding the long escalator up to ground level and turning to see the sea of humanity. It was breathtaking and I forgot all about the fact that I wouldn’t pee again for seven hours. Democracy requires some sacrifice.
Back to irony. We didn’t march because no one really did. There simply was no room. There was one point early on in the day when we tried to get close to a monitor to watch the celebrity speakers that we literally could not move – not even a toe. That’s when Carla popped one of the Xanax she had brought for the trip. It was a good call and she probably could have gotten big bucks for the other two she had in her pocket.
Sidebar: Carla was the best march buddy. She brought two of everything – one for her, one for me. Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, granola bars and fingerless gloves. We were on the Protest Ark.
So we gave up on getting close to the main stage and slinked our way back to an area that was a wee bit more open. We looked like kindergarteners crossing the street in a rope line – we held hands and went single file. Our pixie friend Sydney was with us and she makes Hobbits look tall so we really had to keep a close handle on her. It was actually kind of sweet – most folks were ambulating this way – holding on to each other for dear life.
Yes, that was a metaphor – literally and figuratively.
Pinkapalooza, there were posses of pussyhats! Everyone was wearing them – women, for sure, but lots of men and lots of children. Oh my God, there were baby pussyhats! Sadly, I had several offers from friends to make me one but my head is bigger than Oprah’s – true story – and I would have looked like I was wearing a pink duffel bag on my head.
I know there has been a lot of negative chatter about the pussyhats and the conversational use of the word ‘pussy’. Really? I mean, really? For some reason I keep hearing Billy Joel in my head.
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it
Nope. You don’t get to play the role of the offended because women are now wielding the same words that the president has used. I will take it upon myself to speak for the Nasty Nation and say, “We ain’t got time for that.”
The Pussyhat Project began in Los Angeles shortly after Trump’s victory when two friends decided that women needed a platform to make their voices heard. As Jayna Zweiman, one of the women behind the project explained, “It’s reappropriating the word ‘pussy’ in a positive way. It’s a pussyhat – one word. This is a project about women supporting women.”
The impact of the hats was even greater when I saw the amazing aerial views the next day when I watched clips from the march online. We grabbed back and it was spectacular!
To compensate for no pussyhat, I brought along my “pocket” Hillary – the pantsuited action figure my sister gave me for my birthday last August. She was my constant companion for the weeks leading up to the election. I took her everywhere – out to dinner, to the Chicago Marathon, you name it. And I couldn’t bear to pack her away after the election – I even put her out with my collection of Santas for Christmas.
There was no way in hell I was going to that march without Hillary. I tucked her in my shirt pocket and I can’t tell you how many people noticed her and even asked to take a picture with her. In the mob at our first stop, I didn’t realize that she had fallen out of my pocket. A young African-American woman leaned into me and said sweetly, “You dropped your Hillary.” That was the kind of day it was. People just being kind to each other.
So we never really heard the A list speakers but we did get to take in all of the fantastic signs. They were so freaking clever! I really do hope that someone puts together a coffee table book of some of the signs as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. I would buy one in a hot minute. And I was thrilled to read the other day that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History sent curatorial teams out to collect signs and art post-march in Washington.
I’m not going to lie to you – there were a lot of vagina signs. Wow. Some people are really good artists and/or gynecologists. “I am not Ovary-reacting” and “Viva la Vulva” were a couple of my favorites in this genre. There were numerous tributes to Hillary which I found quite touching. And there were many just flat-out hilarious signs like “Melania, Blink Twice if You Need Help” and “We Shall Overcomb”.
In short, the signs were as unique and diverse as all the beautiful people who were there.
I think I was most moved by the number of older women I saw at the march. Women in their late 70s and even older. These women thought that they would finally see a woman elected president in their lifetime. Their dream dashed, they came out to be heard and seen. And I’m here to tell you – attending a big march like that is not easy. It’s not like a cocktail party where you can just drop in for an hour or so. There is no drive by democracy. Our group was on a bus for 12 hours, on our feet for about seven and oh yeah, the not peeing thing. It’s not a day to be comfortable and that’s the point.
Anyway, I wanted to gently pet each and every one of these wise owls as they passed by me.
Cell service was obliterated by the massive usage so we were out of the loop with what was happening all around the country and the world. When we made it back to our metro stop for our bus pickup, we were all on our phones looking at the marches in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, New Zealand and are you kidding me Antarctica? I had no idea that this would be a global day of protest and that’s when it hit me – the world is watching.
Oh, and I never got to rant either. I was too damn happy and exhilarated to be with so many good folks. It was the best I had felt since November 8th and I left DC with a big basket of hope.
The bus ride home was very quiet. We were nasty tired. Carla slept for a good bit of the trip, her head resting on my shoulder. I’m old enough to be her mother but she never makes me feel that way. She is a thoroughly modern and independent woman and this was her first real foray into political protest. I know it won’t be her last and it was very special to share the day with her.
I couldn’t sleep and I really didn’t want to. I love the odd but gentle intimacy of being with strangers at a time they are usually home in bed sleeping. There is a vulnerability in the darkness that is almost palpable. I heard breathing and snoring and a few whispered conversations. I felt like the night watchwoman, protective of these women, many of whom I had never met until this march. I wanted them to remain well long after this day was done.
I’ve always taken comfort in the adage “safety in numbers” and if that hypothesis holds true, judging by last Saturday, we’re going to be okay.
You can bet your sweet pussyhat on it.
My badass bus mates. We’ve still got a lot of fight left in us!