By Paula Voell
I’ve never been an ardent protester. I stood outside Fort Detrick many years ago when the United States was deciding whether to invade Iraq.
A few months ago, I walked in front of Buffalo’s Erie County Hall to say that we are the City of Good Neighbors and refugees should be welcomed, not scorned.
But after Donald Trump was elected 45th president, I felt more compelled to say out loud that I can’t support his stated plans and proposals.
So, when I heard about the Women’s March it seemed the perfect means to do that. My husband signed on immediately, so did the rest of our family. When our final team was assembled, there were 10 of us, including our two daughters, two sons (one son was in the D.C. march) three grandchildren and two friends.
We dubbed ourselves the “Buffalo 10,” wrote “Women’s March or bust” on our van windows and headed for New York City. We ranged in age from 9 to 75, but we were united in purpose and spirit.
We didn’t know what we’d find. Would there be tear gas? Arrests? Angry chants? In preparation, we swapped phone lists; as advised, we inscribed one phone number on our wrists; we carried water and bandages. We laughed when one daughter showed up with a small roll of toilet paper, but she reminded us that porta-potties aren’t always well supplied. It turned out – in the words of the New York City cop we talked to – to be “a really peaceful event.”
Our main possessions were the pink hats that gave us solidarity with so many others. It was a satisfying feeling to knit them before the march and know that we were among hundreds, maybe thousands of others, spending time in this common cause. The activity was called the Pussyhat Project. To me, the knit hats symbolized the differences: we created something, we shared it with others, willingly and joyfully.
Our group took the train for part of our journey and got dumped into Penn Station, where we immediately became the city neophytes that we are, staring at a subway map, trying to figure out if we should walk, negotiating the Metro ticket machine. We were surprised that people stopped to ask if we needed directions or advice. Thanks, New York.
When we neared the starting point, it was clear that thousands and thousands of fellow citizens had the same idea as we had. We were struck by the energy and unity we experienced, all day. And noticed that although it had been billed as the Women’s March, it attracted people of every age, gender, color and religion.
The experience was just the antidote that our broken spirits needed. It united us with like-minded spirits not only in this country, but worldwide. Just browse through pictures online of marchers from all around the world.
Their signs said it all. One of the dearest was held by a storybook grandma whose small sign was raggedly ripped from the corner of a box and quickly scrawled with a magic marker. It said simply: “I’m marching for my grandchildren.” Me, too, I nodded in response. One of ours said “65,844,610” to remind us of the popular vote.
So what did we get out of it? On a personal level, it was a blessing to be with our family at this moment, which we hope turns into a movement. It was significant to be part of democracy in action. And although Trump’s first tweet said that the marchers didn’t vote, he was wrong, still another of his “alternative facts.”
For now, the question hangs in the air “What next?” It starts with keeping informed. Check out the website indivisibleguide.com for ideas. It moves to letting our representatives know what we are thinking, what we want. It escalates to contributing financially to groups that represent our interests. And it means speaking out.