The two divergent themes that seemed to be on the streets, both going to New York City and marching in the Women’s March in midtown, were the intense burning anger against the Trump administration and the incredible spirit of solidarity among those who protested.
We took the train into the city via the Metro North commuter rail from the Wassaic station in upstate New York. What’s fairly amazing about these demonstrations is how many people begin to board the train at the rail system’s terminus point and how many get on at each of the many stations along the way. At the station in Southeast, the train switches from a diesel-powered engine to an electrified system that ends its journey at Grand Central Station.
The first people I encountered were standing on the platform, protest signs in hand, at Wassaic. The person I talked to was incredibly angry about what blatant disasters had taken place since Trump et al took office exactly one year ago. His sign mirrored, and those of the group that accompanied him, the anger of the words he spoke. “How can such a mean-spirited, awful bastard be the leader of this nation?” A person traveling with him had the word “Moron” handwritten on brown cardboard.
Getting off at Columbus Circle at 59th Street and Broadway on Manhattan’s West Side, I was struck by the fact that the foot traffic around the subway station almost seemed normal for a Saturday. But the series of police barriers that surrounded the station were what gave it the effect of normality. Stepping off into the huge crowd beyond the barriers was surreal! Thousands of people stood almost in place not moving. The march had begun about an hour earlier on 72nd Street, but police barriers and a massive police presence were everywhere. The march left the station and was herded off toward 64th Street before heading back south toward downtown. Because of the barriers, masses of protesters were forced to inch north before going south in Manhattan. Cross streets were blocked by police and there was no way of deviating from the line of march. When we tried to get across around 60th Street, a person handing out Women’s March buttons to allow residents to get across the barricades to their apartments began shouting at me. “Didn’t you hear me!” was the scream uttered. “You have to be a resident to get across this barrier!” But that was not the tenor or sentiment being expressed in this protest march.
The crowd was almost at a standstill as we approached 64th Street. The force of the crowd could have easily turned into a catastrophe near the massive plate-glass windows of businesses, but unlike the world outside of the demonstration, cooperation and friendliness were the order of the day.
The march participants ranged in ages from young children to the old. Most marchers were young women. Signs included calls for diversity, immigrants rights, reproductive choice, intersectionality in the feminist movement, and a host of other calls for justice and equality. One girl standing at the edge of Central Park, a guess would be that she was about 11 years old, held a sign that read: “Tweet the way you want to be Tweeted.” A women on Central Park West had a sign that read: “We are the ones that we have been waiting for.” That was a personal favorite after being on the streets for 50 years.
The march picked up its pace when we reached Central Park West and it moved effortlessly as it passed the heavily guarded Trump International Hotel & Tower at the “prestigious” address of 1 Central Park West at the junction of 59th Street and Eight Avenue. The building looked as if a war was taking place with its perimeters set off by a series of barricades around the front of the huge, gold-clad phallic symbol of the capitalist system. Its siege appearance spoke for itself, with some of the tower’s employees shielded behind this show of force.
Just above 42nd Street near the end of the demonstration we peeled off of the march and headed further west on foot. The official estimate of the march was about 200,000 demonstrators. That figure would be hard to prove since there are no exact ways of judging great crowds.
I was struck by the friendliness of marchers. The last year and the campaign that preceded it have been a watershed for women’s issues. Masses of immigrant families, often headed by women, have been torn apart by Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant policies. As I write, the fate of the so-called “Dreamers” is at risk. Reproductive rights continue to be attacked by both the political and fundamentalist right. Wages stagnate. The welfare state and the faux safety net have been dismantled in a bipartisan push of both the far right and the neoliberals in the Democratic Party. Sexual assault has become a national issue, with Trump being the poster boy of that horror.
A fellow marcher wondered where all of this was going. She voiced the often spoken and always felt belief that the entire society, and much of the rest of the world, was moving right in ways that left people without the prospect for positive change. The marches weren’t doing anything to halt the juggernaut of the right (with help of their fellow travelers) that had so decimated the globe. Protest marches alone, while a beginning of dissent, will not change a recalcitrant system. The antiwar movement and civil rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s were protest movements that included direct action and gave rise to the women’s, environmental, and LGBTQ movements. That those movements have been mostly rolled back tells much about the nature of the economic, political, and social systems that we fight!