We Have The Numbers: The Women's March on Washington, D.C., January, 21st, 2017 by Stu Jenks
We’re shuffling along in front of the old wing of The National Gallery. The plan is to march to The White House, but there are just too many of us. (By the end of the day, 750,000 people had ridden the Metro. Others came on buses. They say it was a million women, men and children. Five million worldwide.) The vibe is so loving, so positive. I’m smiling so much my face hurts.
Then suddenly all the women around me begin to sing.
“This land is your land, this land is my land,” they quietly sing. “From the California to the New York Island. From the Redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me.”
I take off my glasses and wipe my eyes.
“It’ll be all right, honey,” says a woman behind me, placing her hand on my shoulder.
I turn around and smile.
“I’m OK,” I choke out. “These are happy tears.”
I came to Washington, D.C. that morning on the outside hope of getting a ticket for the new African-American museum. (That didn’t happen.) Plan B was to visit some old friends at the newly reopened East Wing of The National Gallery, sacred ground to me since Art School in the 70’s. And if I had time, I’d shoot some photos of The Women’s March. The March was Plan C.
That changed very quickly once I arrived by Metro into the heart of the District. When I popped out of the subway around 8 a.m., the party had already started. I did swing by the African American museum briefly, then got a cup of coffee north of the Mall, then walked to The National Gallery, and saw some art that also moved me to tears. (I’m not kidding about them being old friends. Picasso’s The Tragedy, the Modigliani room, the two new towers filled with Calders and Rothkos.)
But most of my day was spent marching, or rather shuffling along with almost a million people on the Mall, filling a camera, full with signs and faces and joy.
I did not expect it to be so joyful.
I’d came back home for a week to visit a friend in North Carolina, and to see my second mother Victoria, who has been on death’s door for over a year. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find Victoria’s mind sharp even though her body is weak. I met her nurses who take care of her at her home, a modest trailer on River Road, just outside of Nuttsville. One of her nurses, Gail, is quite the pistol. We laughed and then laughed. I call Gail a friend now.
I coincidentally visited Victoria around noon on Inauguration Day. I was going to leave after about 15 minutes but both Gail and Victoria suggested differently.
“Stay,” said Victoria.
“Stick around, honey,” said Gail.
“All right, I will.”
We watched Trump take the oath of office and then give his weird ass speech. When he got to the American Carnage part of the speech, I looked over to Victoria and said: “What in the world is he talking about?”
Victoria shook her head.
“I don’t know, Stu.”
Gail, throughout the coverage, gave a running commentary about Trump.
“It’s all about money. Money, money, money,” she said.
Gail gave many specifics about his conflicts of interest. She is well-informed I can tell you that.
Then Trump mentions God in his speech.
“You’re going to need Him,” yelled Gail, “You’re going to need Him.”
Took Victoria and I a good long while to stop laughing.
I got on the Metro before dawn the next morning, somewhere in Maryland. Almost all women had on pink pussy hats. One guy, a tall, lumberjack-looking-guy with a full beard, had a pink one on top of his camoflage baseball cap.
“Nice hat, man,” I said. “Where do you get it?”
“My grandmother made it for me,” pointing across the train car to a smiling, proud woman.
“Great hat,” I said to her.
“She made them for all of us,” said a young woman next to the lumberjack.
“Would you like one?” said the older woman.
“I’d love one,” I said.
“It’ll take me a while but I’ll get one to you,” she said.
I handed her my business card.
This is when my face-hurting grinning began.
A mention of the March would not be complete without talking about the signs people carried.
Oh my fucking God, the signs.
First sign that made me mist up, I saw when I exited the Metro. It was the iconic “We Can Do It” poster with the woman showing a flexed bicep but instead of Rosie the Rivoter, it was Princess Leia, the recently deceased Carrie Fisher.
It just got better and better after that.
“Viva La Vulva” was a popular sign.
Numerous very well produced graphic signs of Trump sucking on Putin’s teet.
A least a half dozen hand painted signs of Trump grabbing the crotch of The Statue of Liberty, and then Lady Liberty in return, either hitting The Donald on his head with her torch or lighting his orange hair on fire.
But my very favorite sign I saw when I was getting some coffee in Chinatown early in the morning.
A woman, short, pretty, very young, with straight black hair, exited from what I assume was her apartment building. She looked like a government staffer of some sort. The sign she had in her hand looked hastily drawn, black Magic Marker on pink poster board. It contained only three words.
“Shit’s fucked up.”
“It was great,” said this attractive women roughly my age. “It’s said: ‘Dumbledore would have never let this happen.’”
I recounted this to a woman I was marching with a few hours later.
She laughed than paused.
“Wait,” she said, then turning to the woman next to her. “Show him your sign.”
It read: “Voldemort would have been better.”
A few marchers were on the train with me but I noticed The Other Side now: Trump supporters wearing those god-awful, cheap, poorly designed red hats. When I got to Arlington, it was all Trump supporters.
Wandering the grounds, it was clear that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. No smiles, no laughter, no joy. Just a vibe of fear and dread. I tried to start up conversations with these white people like I had done minutes before on The Mall, but they just looked at me, frightened, like ‘What in the hell are you talking to me for?’ (I thought I could pass for white. I guess not.)
Noticably too was how all these white people avoided and purposefully walk away from the black Park rangers.
“Tough crowd today,” I said to a very nice ranger with an inviting smile.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “It is.”
“Can you tell me where John F. Kennedy’s grave is?”
“Yes, sir. It’s right up there,” she said, smiling, pointing up the hill.
There was a short line to go see John and Jackie’s graves and I queued up. I tried to start another conversation with white people. Same same as down the hill. Now it appears I’m scaring the white folk.
After paying my respects to JFK, I walked the short distance to RFK’s grave. I took a quick Nannie’s Mirror shot, then fell silent. I’m old enough to remember when Bobby got shot. That was a very bad summer.
During my five minutes with Bobby, maybe six people came by. I swear they all had puzzled looks on their faces like ‘Who’s Robert Kennedy?’ I could be wrong.
I swung by Taft’s grave then made a beeline back to the Metro. Get me the fuck out of here. Get me back to the party. But I’m glad I saw the contrast.
All those white folk acted like they had lost the election, but really they have lost. They are lost in fear. They have been sold fear and worry by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and alternative ‘news’ sites. They think their American world is coming to an end and maybe it is. White men have to share now. Share power, share wealth, share equal access with women, blacks, Hispanics, Native people, LGBTs, atheists, everybody who isn’t like them. And what really sucks for them is that the law is on our side now. You can’t obviously discriminate anymore. Subtly yes. But not brazenly. And their Great White Hope is Donnie Tweet.
Back on The Mall in the mid afternoon, it was even more packed with people. We all were asshole to elbow now, but again, everyone was polite, helpful, kind. The Mall was very muddy that day so we all helped women and men in wheelchairs to navigate the paths. We watched out for children. We helped old ladies with canes.
Many people sang loudly the first verse of The Land Is Your Land, and yelled many call and response chants.
“Tell me what does democracy looks like?” shouted one women.
“This is what democracy looks like,” we all yelled.
“Whose bodies? Whose rights?” she asked?
“Our bodies. Our rights,” the women said.
“Their bodies. Their rights,” I shouted along with the men.
And all the women around us said Awww and smiled.
I’d been up since 3:30 in the morning, so I headed back to the Metro to take the train to my car and drive back to the Northern Neck. My feet were killing me.
With my bag full of art books from The National Gallery and my Canon slung over my shoulder, I was filled with hope.
There are a lot of us. A lot.
And more and more children of color and white kids from curious families are reaching the voting age of 18, to replace the frightened, misinformed, Fox-watching Uncle Charlies who will be dead by the midterms. It’s like the reality show Survivor. We have the numbers and we are going to vote the small-minded white people off the island. Or The Grim Reaper will do it for us.
Trump and his ilk are simply the last gasp of an Idiot White America. He just got lucky this time. And I don’t even think he’s going to make it two years. He’ll either be removed from office for being mentally unsound and he will be impeached. And if the large conservative donors start giving less and less to Congress and they will, watch the Republicans drop Trump like a bad habit. President Pence doesn’t give me much hope either but at least he’s a stable white man. Pence hates women and gays but he’s not saddled with an incurable mental disorder.
Again people, we have the numbers.
And we have strong hearts.
And we have to courage to fight.
And we will fight.
And we vote.
Oh, are we going to vote.
With our hands, and with our feet, and with our pocketbooks.
It’s always darkest before the dawn, they say.
And the next big sunrise is November, 2018.
Photographs and words by Stu Jenks. "Josephine Baker" by Alexander Calder, "The Tragedy" by Pablo Picasso, detail of "The Gypsy" by Amedeo Modigliani, and detail of "Old Age" by Thomas Cole