Protest marches on Washington have marked the great political movements of my life (and before) but I had never been to one, so when I heard that a bus would be leaving Lexington Friday night for the Women’s March on Washington, I signed up.
I packed Ibuprofen and, per the FAQs, bought a clear plastic zippered bag — it has a University of Kentucky insignia — in which to schlep my lunch and essentials.
What I never expected was to experience a searing flash of empathy for Donald Trump voters. More about that later.
First we happily tromped through D.C. neighborhoods, greeted by residents delighted to have another throng clog their streets the day after the inauguration.
An older woman held a sign that said “Repeal and Replace Trump, Not the ACA.” A little girl, perched on her father’s shoulders, hoisted one that said “I Can Be President.”
My UK bag caught the eye of a young woman from Michigan who said her mom and “about half her family” moved to Michigan from Sandy Hook in Elliott County in the 1970s and are still Cats fans and regular visitors to Kentucky.
Because our bus was late (long story), my three friends and I had to worm our way past literally thousands of people to get to where we could hear, though not see, the speakers.
As the advertised 1 p.m end of the rally passed and the start time of the march arrived with no apparent movement, we were all wedged into about one square foot of space each and had been standing for a long time. The good-natured crowd chanted, “Start the March.” Someone on stage said, “This is a song about victims. Can I get you to sing with us?” The crowd replied, “No.” The speeches went on, each nearly the same, each speaker checking off the same identity-politics grievances. And then, with my feet aching, the revelation came: This is what Trump voters must have felt like. This must be how the Democratic campaign felt to them. Kind of noble but not that relevant to my current circumstances. Angela Davis is one of my heroes but my feet hurt too much to care when she spoke of Leonard Peltier.
When your concerns are unheard by the people in control, you get surly, even when you believe in what the people on stage are saying. I bet a lot of Trump voters felt just that way.
I should stress that I was the only surly one. This was the most genial, gentlest and largest crowd I have ever been in. Despite all my worming past people who had staked out their space before I got there, just one dirty look came my way from a woman also was worming through the crowd. “Imagine if the ratio of men to women were reversed,” I said, “fistfights would be breaking out?” She shot me a look of reproach for voicing such a shallow stereotyped slur against men.
I’m also not criticizing the inclusive program. Any repetitiveness from the stage was more than offset by the originality and humor of the homemade signs. Singers Alicia Keys, Maxwell and Madonna were fun, though Trump’s people seized on Madonna’s crack about wanting to blow up the White House, which I assume got lots of airplay.
The Washington Post reported not a single arrest in a crowd estimated at around 500,000. Later, sipping drinks and waiting for our Balkan food (Mediterranean with beets and cabbage) on Barracks Row, we understood why the throng hadn’t moved. The crowd was so huge that the space that people would have marched into was already filled with people.
I know that my aching feet are nothing compared with the pain of unemployment and under-employment in once-bustling industrial places, like Ashland, and the little towns around them, like Sandy Hook, where big-shouldered men once stoked steel mills, ran rail cars full of coal and built the dorms and classrooms at Morehead State University.
Now they’re hit up by beggars at Walmart and see their neighbors shuffling around like OxyContin zombies.
I also know, from empirical evidence, that a lot of Trump voters are not suffering economically, certainly not in comparison to black Americans and other marginalized minorities. Still, as someone who works in facts (not “alternative facts”), I’m grateful that I felt that flash of resentment and empathy. If Trump’s victory should teach us anything, it’s that feelings can be as powerful as facts. And when people are hurting, successful campaigns give them something to hope for.
The massive show of resistance to Trump (5,000 marchers in Lexington and smaller marches from Murray to Pikeville) is really not surprising. Fifty-four percent of Americans who turned out in November voted for someone other than Trump, and there’s a pretty good case that he only got as many votes as he did because so many people thought he couldn’t possibly win.
Trump has provided more than enough reasons to resist his agenda, and his graceless inaugural address only compounded them.
As all the pundits are saying, the question now is whether Democrats can channel in any meaningful way the popular groundswell that was so evident on Saturday.
The Wildcat fan from Michigan who liked my UK bag was wearing an American flag draped like a cape over her back. I asked her why she had traveled all the way to D.C. for the march. She said, “I love my country and I don’t want to see it go to s*#t.”
Succinct, to the point and highly relevant.
Editorial writer Jamie Lucke can also be reached at 231-3340.