Marching Orders

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Beasts, by Wu Cho Bun (Chinese: 胡藻斌; 1897–1942); Hong Kong Art Museum Exhibit

I’m junk but I’m still holding up/ This little wild bouquet/ Democracy is coming to the USA. 

– Leonard Cohen, Democracy

By Samantha Wright | 1/20/17

Last fall, Hillary Clinton inspired my daughter Molly to run for student council president at the Ouray Middle School. Molly won. Hillary didn’t.

This Friday, as Donald J. Trump puts his hand on Lincoln’s bible and gets sworn into the highest office in the nation, my mother and Molly and I will be blasting Beatles music and the Hamilton soundtrack as we drive across the state through the snowstorms in a little mint-green Subaru to join the Women’s March on Denver.

My aunt Beth and cousin Kate will be sitting on busses full of women on their way from New Hampshire and Boston, respectively, to march on Washington, DC. My aunt Meg (who recently declared that “Nobody can polish a turd like Kellyanne Conway”) plans to drive from Dallas to Austin to join the marchers there.

Looks like marching runs in my family. Although I didn’t know it until now. It just took the right incentive.

I’ve not been much of a marcher in my life. Once, in college, I joined in a “Take Back the Night” march against sexual assault that wound its way through the tidy CU Boulder campus and ragged, creepy bike paths alongside Boulder Creek. When the Iraq War started a decade or so later, I put my newborn daughter in a snuggly and took my small son in hand and joined a thin thread of local protesters that marched up and down Main Street in Ouray. (It took about 10 minutes.)

Both times, to be honest, it kind of felt like “What’s the point?” It didn’t make me feel any better. It didn’t change anyone’s hearts or minds.

So, I thought I might let myself off the hook from the whole marching thing this time around. Journalists are supposed cover marches, not participate in them. And no matter how you happen to feel about our president-elect and the new world order he promises/threatens to usher in, he did win the election. This is what democracy looks like. Win some, lose some. A lot of us are pissed and terrified. A lot of us are celebrating. 

But when you are feeling this numb and sick inside about the direction things are headed, perhaps the only way to loosen the spike of fear from your heart and find the path forward is to hurl yourself into the thousands-strong throng, the collective Yes, the swirl of incessant forward motion, the whole hot melty mess of nasty women, chanting love slogans and holding up homemade protest signs and wearing pussyhats.

As Barbara Kingsolver wrote in The Guardian this week, “Standing in the streets with a huge crowd of fellow believers really does change something, not just through the message sent out, but also the one that’s absorbed.”

This is what democracy feels like. The whole freaking catastrophe. And it’s not comfortable.

The morning after the election, my little Facebook world filled up with brilliant reflections from my writer friends, along with condolences and messages of disbelief from friends and relatives in different corners of the planet that can basically be summed up as “WTF, America?” I didn’t know what to say. I felt the same way.

Pinned to the couch, I watched Hillary as she stood in that horrible New York hotel ballroom and delivered her concession speech, crisp soundbites punching through dead air. “For all young women, nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion,” she said. “Never doubt you are valuable, powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your own dreams.”

Then, from D.C., it was Obama’s turn to talk. “Donald Trump is going to be our president,” he said – just to be clear – to those of us who were in denial. “The path this country has taken has never been a straight one. We zig and zag. That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right. Then people vote. We lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena. We go ahead.”

In between the speechifying, I sat there googling Chinese proverbs. And it turns out the Middle Kingdom has some heavy words of wisdom to lay on our democracy: 

A yellow weasel victimizes a sick duck. 黄鼠狼单咬病鸭子 (Huángshǔláng dān yǎo bìng yāzi)

Butcher the donkey after it finished his job on the mill. 卸磨杀驴 (Xiè mò shā lǘ)

Please restrain your grief and adapt to the mishap. 节哀顺变 (Jié āi shùn biàn)

Good medicine tastes bitter. 良药苦口 (Liángyào kǔkǒu)

Insist on venturing into the mountain knowing well that it’s the haunt of tigers. 明知山有虎,偏向虎山行 (Míngzhī shān yǒu hǔ, piān xiàng hǔshān xíng)

And perhaps the most salient of all:

A long march starts from the very first step. 千里之行始于足下 (Qiān lǐ zhī xíng shǐ yú zú xià)

Lately, when my mind goes dark with the thought that our Mighty Ship of State has morphed into the Titanic, sailing on a collision course with a giant – huge! – iceberg freshly calved from a melting Greenland glacier, I find comfort only in the notion that those who will be cheering and getting ushered into power on inauguration day will go down with the ship along with the rest of us (although they probably have a plan to steal the lifeboats).

Then I am awakened by a sharp, stinging slap in the face from those feisty Dems who have been circling Trump’s cabinet picks all week, like an army of white blood cells attacking a malignancy. And the gauntlet that the US Press Corps threw down at the foot of Trump Tower.

And I have this feeling that is the opposite of numb. A hunger to eat bitter, to embrace the suck, to go to Denver with my mom and daughter, and take the first steps of the long march. To care for this gorgeous corner of our fevered planet and the people with whom I share it. To try to better understand the deep, raw gashes within our democracy, and within myself. And to love those places fiercely, knowing well that they are the haunt of tigers.

This morning, Molly was invigorated, full of plans to attend a school board meeting with me in the evening to learn more about why we might not be able to afford to have sports or activities or performing arts when she starts high school next year. She came into my office at 6:30 a.m., already dressed for battle in her red flannel shirt and high-waisted jeans, with a black scarf knotted around her neck, asking for a needle and thread to sew cat ears onto her favorite hat. She’s joining the pussyhat revolution.

“There are actually knitting patterns for pussyhats,” she told me. “But we won’t have time to make one, before Saturday.”

She’s excited. Texting her friends in Denver and making plans to meet up with them at the march. Talking about how 30 years from now, she’ll be able to say that she marched alongside 25,000 other women in protest, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

I’ve been trying to stay away from Facebook lately, but I was glad when I checked in earlier today, and saw what a friend from Telluride who is also marching in Denver with her daughter had posted: “May the election of Trump bring forth the fiercest, smartest, toughest generation of ass-kicking women this country could possibly imagine.”

When Molly came home from school today, she had some writing on her knuckles. I checked it out.

A friend had written: “G-R-A-B  B-A-C-K.”

Yeah. That.

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About the Author

Samantha Wright

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Samantha Tisdel Wright writes and raises two red-headed children in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, dividing her time between Silverton and Ouray. She has worked as a reporter and editor for a variety of publications throughout the region, and is proud to be a founding member and co-editor of the San Juan Independent. samantha@sjindependent.org