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The Women’s March: Notes from New York

by on January 24, 2018 4:45 AM

NEW YORK – Signless and sporting a navy-blue ball cap with “USAF Vet” stitched on it, Philip Jenks stood out among the pink pussy hats and anti-Trump signs on West 71st Street. But his reason for being there fit right in.

“I’ve never been more aware of how much I love my country and its values,” he said. “All those values are being diminished and taken away by the current administration.”

Jenks’ companion during Saturday’s Women’s March was Martha Cruz, who wore a minister’s collar. Cruz came to the United States from Cuba in the 1950s and is not happy about the way the Trump administration has “demonized” immigrants.

“Our faith tradition teaches us to welcome the stranger,” she said. “That’s important to who we are and what we believe.”

The Republicans lost the pussy hat vote a long time ago. But if enough voters like Jenks and Cruz turn out this November, the window for Trump and his fellow swamp creatures to enact their far-right agenda is going to slam shut by this time next year.

Turnout is all, especially in non-presidential election years. Going from electing Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to electing Donald Trump in 2016 can make it feel like the country has swung wildly to the right. In fact, as Louis Menand pointed out in a recent New Yorker piece, the country has been pretty evenly divided for at least the past 50 years, with elections going to one party or the other for reasons that have less to do with major ideological shifts than with such factors as which candidate ran a better campaign, which lost votes to a third-party candidate (Nader, Perot, Wallace) or which lost voters who supported the loser of a fierce nomination battle (Sanders, McCarthy).

Since the turn of the millennium, turnout has been averaging about 60 percent for presidential elections, 40 percent for midterms. Both numbers are pitiful, but we can readily see what a difference even a small uptick in turnout can make for one side or the other.  

The looming midterm election was very much the focus for many of the marchers. It’s what made the gathering more than a back-scratching exercise (although it does feel awfully good to have your back scratched).

A reporter for The New York Times, which often takes a dismissive tone in its coverage of protest, wrote that “thousands of marchers gathered” all across the country, “galvanized by their disdain for Mr. Trump and his policies.”

Thousands?

The Centre Daily Times reported that 300-500 people marched in State College. Local papers reported that hundreds marched in Hollidaysburg, Bethlehem and Erie. That’s a thousand or more in just a handful of small-to-medium-sized Pennsylvania cities. At the high end, the totals from Los Angeles, New York and Chicago added up to more than a million.

Then there’s that mild word “disdain” in The Times story. Disgust might be more like it, or outrage. The Times reporter should have read the signs:

  • “My outrage doesn’t fit on this sign.”

  • “I’m 365X more angry than last year.”

  • “Please wake me from this nightmare.”

  • “Childbirth is less painful than this presidency.”

Can people be really angry and really jolly at the same time? Apparently so. The throng on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Saturday was a shuffling, snail’s-paced party. A brass band played “Down by the Riverside.” Whenever the police, using metal barricades as spigots to control the flow of marchers converging on Central Park West, opened the floodgates for a minute or two, cheers erupted.

When some young guys on a first-floor ledge took pity on thirsty marchers and dropped one end of a long, reticulated tube to the street and poured beer into the other end through a funnel, there was another cheer. (The State Collegians on the block, unpleasantly reminded of home, were less enthusiastic.)

Impossibly, in such a crowd, people bumped into people they knew, cleared a path for a newborn asleep in a stroller and swapped phones with strangers to get better-than-selfie photos.  

Renee McLeod, a baker from Cambridge, Mass., with the word “Resist” painted on her forehead and a pink shawl covering her head, said, “I’m really optimistic. The tide is turning. People are starting to understand this is unacceptable.”

Sarah Baldwin, a toymaker from Maine chimed in: “It needed to get this bad to get people off their asses.”

The encouraging thing for the marchers and those who agree with their messages is that if people were motivated to march the day after Trump was inaugurated, and if they remained motivated to march a year after Trump was inaugurated, they now seem that much more likely to stay motivated right on through November and beyond.

Here we must give credit where credit is due. The stable genius in the White House has a genius for stoking the determined anger of those who oppose him.


 

 



A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for Statecollege.com won second place in the Humor category in the 2018 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. The winning columns: One Day at the Zombie Apocalypse Poultry Auction, Deux Nuits à Paris: A French Farce and A Shaggy Dog Story. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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