Pink beanies walk along and up the escalator. It’s feet making noise in the lead up to Independence Avenue. The smell of pretzels cook over an upturned shopping trolley and melting its plastic. It’s a cold day and there is only so much to stand for when the muscles start shutting down.
In the walk between the hotel and the rally point proper it takes maybe 20 minutes on foot. The subway is a lure. The national guard stands at each entrance, and the platforms heading into the heart of the protest meeting point are choking back three deep from the platform’s edge. The crackling voice on the train intercom keeps threatening to unload all the cars if people don’t lay off leaning on the doors.
It’s typical to jump a train the other direction to catch one back a few stations. The second attempt is at Arlington Cemetery, four stops away and beyond overflowing. It’s another ride all the way to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Here it’s sane and cars are empty enough to sit down. With the load and body presence the train system manages to keep itself well. The flow is still going on and the traffic manages to ferry the hundreds of thousands without incident. Almost an hour later by train.
Never mind the fact that all the parking garages are closed or not even going to stay open by the day’s end. Ever wider the circumference looking for some place to stash a rental because it’s a cracker of $50 at the hotel valet from the driver too eager to look at the lone folds of dollar bills ready for his tip.
Waves of people turning up to the march layer down along Independence Avenue. The train exits around 12th street and some school excursion is caught in the throng. Each intersection or so has a large relay screen showing off whatever speaker or act they have at the main stage down at 3rd Street.
Signs are everywhere. The split is fairly on either for women and issues that relate to being a person. Or those straight up denouncing Trump and his greasy hands. It’s not necessarily an anti-Trump protest gathering at this meet. It’s more about the energy that comes from having a figure like that drive both ends out of the woodwork.
Headlights along the back roads before the interstates are crawling too close behind. They’ll use your car for cover as they blind you from the rear-view.
A chain link fence keeps falling over in the distance like a waterfall. Over here a security guard takes down those sitting along a wall and breach before gathering applause while he himself dances back and forth along the wall’s edge.
Speaker, speaker, speaker. The talks go on and the people up on the stage are never ending. Actors, film-maker, talking head, figure head, organisers, mothers, singers. At first it’s on point. There is a variety that makes it interesting. Refugees, safe abortions, education as a serious matter, survivors of violence from police. As time crawls past schedule that’s when things drag out.
It’s one after the other and they have something interesting to say. Personal, evocative and drilling in the need to be active, aware. A few cut off into silence when their time runs long. One of the march organisers promises to keep to a time limit and does so. By 14:00 (beyond the expected 13:00) the crowd majority is still standing in place, listening to the speakers speak. The beat of messages themselves are important. The flow is not helping matters. Knees are brittle. The shins are without feeling. There is no twitch left in the thigh muscles. The whole body is shutting down.
Or maybe that’s what happens walking right into standing still after a twelve hour drive in the bleak fog dense of night. Cover so thick the skin around the face keeps pulling itself back. It’s eating half a whole roasted chicken with chopsticks from a mixing bowl (it’s less messy that way) that drives the predawn.
There are calls to action. To getting more involved in the stream of things. To put the energy of the day into social and political activism in the weeks ahead. There is a plan beyond staying inside online social networks. It’s being on the ballot. To run for local elections as a start. Being on the boards and in the town halls. That’s where it counts. Taking it to the ground and the voting booths.
After the second hour standing in the cold getting colder, more and more people walk by with their signs on the way to start the march. It’s over the third hour now and more of the protesters rally to start the march already. And they do. One of the organisers runs on stage to remind us all about the route plan. Head toward the Washington Monument then something something. The speakers are still going on. The crowd starts walking anyway.
Dozens attempt to walk through the Smithsonian Castle, only to find that the bottleneck is themselves. The clearer path is the one with no sight-lines along Independence Avenue toward 14th Street. There is shuffling and walking is a stretch. The lines are massive and the direction at least flows. Back again with movement in the limbs and blood returns to being more than a solid block.
By the time the masses reach the monument they’re all over. Or maybe it’s the walking set from earlier. Either way there are people walking toward, back from it, or hanging around like snakes at all the available (few) portable toilets in the area. Dreading in the air is the smell, the rank odour, of some foodstuff that is more along the lines of molten plastic on bark. Not even mixed with salt.
The world may burn.
The wholeness, the inclusive nature of being out on a chilly day among a half million or more in the same mindframe, it zings the air. It’s scores deep in either direction for the same cause and creates this communal sense that perhaps it’s not all ashes and the soot rubbed along the teeth. May yet there be a fruits of this action that takes pride in pushing forth the kind of agenda that allows for people to feel welcome. Not of safe spaces, but the kind of atmosphere where being civil, and taking knowledge forward is a champion for itself with a throbbing nod to do something positive.
And with the walk back to the hotel, a little sit down waiting for takeaway ends up with the manager of Nooshi asking for you to wake up off the drool. It’s only before another ten hour drive back the other way the next morning.
Published on Sunday, 5 March 2017
By Ethan Switch
Well doesn't that just look tasty.