When I was first trained at a journalism school in the 1980s, I was taught that journalism was about witnessing. I quickly learned that it wasn’t possible to see everything, but my eyes didn’t lie. I trained my eyes and ears and memory to see and write down and remember and write it down fast. The eyes don’t lie. It’s important to be there; journalists call it shoeleather reporting. It’s work; you don’t guess but you could be wrong. That’s why it’s called the first draft of history.
Here’s my first draft on the Chicago Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, and I am glad I didn’t have to file this right away. I was in the crowd of an estimated 250,000 marchers, standing in the street on Congress Parkway, a couple blocks south of whatever was going on by way of a program with speakers. There were signs, signs, signs, and the best ones were homemade. My favorite was “Toddlers against Trump,” written on cardboard in red crayon and smeared with crayon. YUUUUUGE MISTAKE was good. The Devil Wears Pravda. Paws Off Women’s Bodies (this from a pug in a backpack, with bonus joke #puglife). Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Human Rights. Reading the signs was better than hearing the program; they roared with wit. My own sign was pretty staid: Diversity is Reality.
As has been reported, they did cancel the march but we marched anyway, flowing down Congress to Wabash to the main stream of marchers on Jackson to LaSalle. Yes, there were grandmas and strollers and a Muslim man whose sign said “I respect my wife and her rights.” I was attuned to the symbols of religion: clerical collars, a woman wearing a kippah and a prayer shawl and pushing a stroller. I’m white and I saw young and old African-American women, young and old white women, young and old white men. I didn’t see a lot of young African-American men, but there was much I didn’t witness in a crowd of a quarter-million.
This wasn’t my first demonstration, but it’s been a while. I decided fairly last-minute to go after figuring out how to travel so I could get to work immediately afterward. I thought the event would be predominantly angry, like my Facebook feed has been. But the crowd was cheerful and polite and I couldn’t stop laughing at the clever signs. It was easy to talk to strangers. For a while now I’ve been growing slightly fearful of strangers, anticipating some sort of hostility or contempt. On Saturday I chatted all the way back on the train with my seatmate, Cindy, a preschool teacher who had been to the march. I love being able to talk to strangers and smiling at them. The march was an antidote to some sort of social toxin that has been accumulating in my system, in the air somehow.
I marched to get my own energy back and so I wouldn’t miss history. I marched for my children; my older one Adrian has lately been the marcher, but she had to work. I marched for, and with, my best friend from college. I marched because black lives matter, especially the lives of my friends. I marched because I don’t want the planet trashed or the DPAL built or the EPA gutted. I marched because I don’t want my Muslim friends having to register. I marched for my journo friends and a world of real facts, not alternative ones. I marched because I don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned. I marched because I love flowers and peaceful classrooms and playgrounds and streets for kids.
I cried for a little bit while marching. It felt like all these people had lifted a weight. We can do this. Si se puede.