This weekend, I went to the women’s march in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a small post-industrial town with a population less than 20,000. I came to the rally thinking that I would join a handful of other protesters on this small city’s green. I imagined I might harass pedestrians and encourage passing cars to honk in defiance of a potentially regressive executive and legislative administration. However, today, I was surprised to take my place alongside more than a thousand others to show our solidarity and our commitment to basic human rights, rights the current administration has and will call into question.
With tears welling up in my eyes, I pulled out my phone to browse through pictures of friends on social media – of pink pussy hats, of children bundled up for their first demonstration, of clever signs, and people cheerfully and willingly walking with a confident defiance to demonstrate their commitment toward basic human rights, rights the current administration has and will call into question.
I was shocked and delighted to see how many of my friends and family were amongst the truly enormous throngs of protesters in Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York. My cousin who is barely old enough to drive marched on D.C.’s mall today; I read that a disabled woman who often can’t move out of her apartment walked at the sister march in New York City. These marches, along with similar ones in LA, Boston, and Chicago did not number in the thousands, but in the tens and even hundreds of thousands. In these cities, people took to the streets to show their commitment to basic human rights, rights the current administration has and will call into question.
I, along with many progressives in America, found last November to be a complete shock. I had assumed that most Americans shared similar values to me – if not on each specific issue, at least on some kind of basic plane. After all, I’m a gay man, and I got married in the state of North Carolina, a state which until recently had an explicit legislative ban on homosexual marriages. I believed that the world I lived in was committed to moving forward with LGBTQ rights, with women’s rights, with respect for the diversity of humanity. I had assumed that America would obviously reject a presidential bid associated with xenophobia and women’s degradation. I had assumed the world around me was too committed to basic human rights to back a candidate who called those rights into question.
Of course, the many frustrations of the American electorate superseded these concerns. For better or worse, we elected an administration that calls into question the rights of many minorities— those of women, the LGBTQ population, immigrants, along with many, many others.
But today, I got to see that I was not the only person who was thrown into an ideological vertigo. I also saw that these people had not only gotten their political balance back, but were marching in groups of tens of thousands towards the centers of the United State’s largest cities. My assumptions about my fellow Americans were not wrong. Even if our numbers were not enough to win the last election, we were enough to mobilize in terrifying numbers to peacefully demonstrate for basic human rights, rights the current administration has and will call into question.
But, I believe, these enormous marches in America’s urban centers do not constitute the core of this movement’s strength.
Dotted throughout my social media feeds, I saw this movement’s backbone: marches in small urban and rural hubs, similar to the thousand-person march in Greenfield. In towns across America – towns that I would have erroneously assumed had no marches – I saw thousands of people massed. Even though the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh, had a huge turnout, Greensboro NC – only 75 miles away – drew a crowd of hundreds, filling their downtown. Norfolk, Virginia’s downtown was swamped with protesters. Hartford, Connecticut pushed 10,000 people. Lexington, Kentucky. Santa Rosa, California. Urbana, Illinois. Topeka, Kansas. All of these places drew huge crowds of people, all to show their commitment to basic human rights, rights the current administration has and will call into question.
There’s a google doc circulating with high and low crowd estimates for each of the some 650 odd Women’s Marches that occurred around the world. If you count just the 538 marches that had less than 10,000 attendees, you get between 700,000 and a million people (depending on the estimates used). A million people gathered in small cities and towns around the globe to show solidarity for these basic human rights.
Obviously, enormous crowds are important. We need to raise groups of people whose numbers supersede those who may mass to support bigoted, xenophobic, and exclusionary policies. We need to show the current administration that they do not have the support of the majority of Americans. We need people to mass in city centers – to take the train into D.C., to fly into LAX. However, as our resistance moves forward, our backbone will be – our foundation will be – the people who come into the streets of Greensboro, Greenfield, Topeka, Norfolk, and Santa Rosa. It is here that we will be working to elect local, state, and national representation to reflect our values and to change the direction of our country. These demonstrations show that America is made of people – is inundated with people – who love this country, who will work for its future, and are committed to basic human rights. And these are rights the current administration has and will call into question.