Cocalico Corner: Checking out the Mall on a Saturday with some friends

By on January 25, 2017

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I decided to meet up with some friends this past weekend in Washington, D.C.

I just never expected there would be upwards of 500,000 of them.

Saturday, Jan. 21, the day following the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, the nation’s 45th president, marked the Women’s March on Washington. As it turned out, it also marked the Women’s March on the World with marches in more than 600 venues domestically and internationally as well as on all seven, yes, all seven, continents.

Like many, I had decided early on after the election results, that I’d be in DC that day. My concerns about the verbiage used and actions towards women over the months and years preceding Nov. 9 by the-then president-elect were serious.

Now, as you are reading this in deep red Cocalico and Lancaster County, please take a deep breath.

Many of you may harbored concerns about our immediate past president in the days after the November 2008 election and perhaps also gathered to make your feelings known. That’s great. What’s fair for one is fair for the other.

There are serious lessons to be learned as elections cycle through the years. Protests created the Tea Party which in turn fueled the wave of conservatism that now dominates the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. But — what was it that Newton said? Oh, yes: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The reaction to this new president has been visceral on a number of levels. But there is no denying that the story of Saturday’s mass demonstrations is nearly without precedent in recent times.

Because I know DC well and feel comfortable navigating its streetscape, I decided to drive into the District that morning.

My friend and I left Wyomissing shortly after 6 a.m., coffeed and gassed up in Ephrata (gotta have some loyalty to your work town), and took the Route 222-30-83-695-95-495 drive south to the nation’s capital through the fog.

It was pretty clear early on we weren’t alone in heading that way. As occurs on a long drive, we found ourselves keeping pace, pulling ahead, or falling behind the same vehicles along the way. Many were filled with passengers and placards. Soon there were lots of peace signs flashing back and forth between lanes.

We segued through bus caravans filled with folks from the Ephrata, Lancaster, and Reading areas and cars with familiar local dealership logos.

The traffic increased as we neared DC, but opting to enter the district via Connecticut Avenue proved a wise decision. A popular radio station kept the traffic reports coming. After traveling down Nebraska and New Mexico avenues NW, we made our way to the cusp of Georgetown — and a free parking space — in just under three hours.

After refueling in a bagel shop and running into some relatives (yes, it is a small world), we shared a “Lyft” up to Capitol Hill with a couple who’d flown in from Dallas, Texas, and an upscale market DC real estate agent originally from Portland, Ore.

“There’s an influx of Range Rovers with the Trump crowd,” the Realtor chuckled and as we drove down Wisconsin Avenue NW, we saw she was right.

The good spirits of our fellow riders previewed the attitude we’d see and share over the next four hours.

Lisa Garrett, an East Earl resident, agreed. She escaped the drive by weekending with her brother in Centreville, Va. Along with her mother, daughter, brother and sister-in-law, and niece braved the Metro into DC around 11 a.m., figuring they’d miss the masses. That didn’t happen. So crowded was the mass transit that their train needed to pass by two downtown stations before the doors could release passengers at the Eastern Market stop near the Capitol. They reboarded and made their way to the Smithsonian stop where they entered the sea of people of which my friend Lori and I were already a part.

“It was amazing…so many people and everyone was so polite,” Garrett said, “there was no pushing, total patience to make way for those in wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.”

The demographics of the crowd was a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities, skin color, and orientation. There were so many people the main streets were rivers of pink and signs. And everyone marching, it seemed, was on their best behavior.

Garrett remarked, and I agree, that the chants we heard were primarily positive and that these were two we liked best:

“Love not hate — that’s what makes America great!”

“Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”

Taking a break in the center of the Mall near the Washington Monument, my friend and I shared a picnic table with three young girls from suburban Chicago.

Jenna, 16, a high schooler, and middle schoolers Emory, 13 and Lilly, 12, were tired but excited after a 14-hour bus ride to Washington.

I asked them why they’d made the trip.

The youngest was perhaps the most political and direct; she also made the sign the trio took turns carrying.

“I did this because Trump was saying some very bad and rude things and I don’t want him to rule over us,” Lilly said.

“I have two moms and I’m very concerned about his positions,” said Jenna. “I also have lots of trans and LGBT friends.”

Emory said she was new to activism, but proud of her mom who was one of the organizers bringing them and others on the buses to DC.

“I just started getting in to action,” she said. “She got me to go to meetings and now I’m in our school’s LGBT club which has 30 members.”

Jenna also belongs to her high school club which has about the same membership.

As my friend and I marched along we chatted with concerned history teachers from Baltimore, residents of Flint, Mich., who carried signs regarding their tainted water, and folks literally from scores of states near and far.

Lisa Garrett, who has Canadian relatives, was thrilled to spend time with a mass of our neighbors to the north who’d filled 10 buses for the long ride south.

While the speakers got most of the press coverage, we got our inspiration from our fellow walkers. It was not unusual to be in the company of folks in their seventies, eighties, even nineties.

When you are literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder for hours on end, you get to know a bit about those around you.

There were veterans of the armed forces and those reminiscing about having taken to the very same streets decades ago protesting the Vietnam War. College-age kids, some charmed by the stories, shared their own reasons for being there. Even the little ones had something to say, it seemed, and were fascinated, not frightened, by the sights and sounds. It says something about the day when you can’t recall hearing a child crying but you remember a lot of their smiles.

The signs, too, were original, motivating, funny, and touching. And, yes, some unfortunately were lewd. But, overwhelmingly, they were homemade and inventive, something that reinforced the personal commitment of so many who participated.

Garrett’s sign said simply: “Stop tweeting, start presiding.”

As my friend and I made our way back up 14th Street past the crowds nearing the Ellipse and the White House, we and others encountered some Tump supporters outside the Williard Intercontinental Hotel. I will tell you that those I saw wearing red caps or pink hats exchanged smiles and friendly nods. I witnessed no snarkiness on either side and that helped buoy my spirits even more.

Our drive home was filled with lots of anecdotes about the day and the realization we had shared an extraordinary day say in the history of this always great nation.

“My takeaway is that we need to coalesce and stick together and fight for common issues and support each other,” said Garrett, “and we have to start doing that by making ourselves known to politicians and officials on the local level.”

Responding to concerns about funding and other issues by making calls or writing representatives is critical, she said. Garrett has already begun that with concerns about cuts in library funding.

“We have to make sure our voices are heard,” she said.

I think we have and I believe, based on all I was lucky enough to see, we will.

Thanks and salutations to all who understand the critical importance of peaceful assembly and free speech — even if I don’t agree with you, I’ll always applaud your effort and initiative to practice that most fundamental of all American rights.

 

 

 

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