In the streets of old New York

(Photo by Nancy Jainchill)

New York City — it was perfect marching weather, 50 degrees with a slight grey overcast. Among the approximately 400-500,000 people who took over the streets from 42nd Street from one end of Manhattan to the other, up and down the East Side avenues to 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, where the barricades had been erected (one block before Trump Tower), all genres of gender identity, age, and ethnicity had assembled. I couldn’t interview the world but I could ask my fellow Woodstockers (white women of varying ages): Why now? What do you think will be the impact? What happens next?

“When was the last time you did something like this,” I asked my friend, one of the ten women who were part of my Woodstock contingent that had assembled at 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, on our way to the March.

“The last time I participated in an ‘action’ I took off my bra and threw it away.” The freedom-from-bras era was the late sixties.

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So why did my friend along with so many others, come out now after years of watching and silence? People who didn’t come out to protest the Iraq War, or participate in the People’s Climate March in 2016? For some, involvement and awareness has come with getting older. For others, it was the perceived urgency of the cause — a very threat to the tenets of our democracy, of basic human rights. Once again, our nation is in a political maelstrom that reflects the tenor of the sixties. Many of us are experiencing protest redux — “I protested for my rights in 1969 and didn’t think I’d have to do it when I was 69.” August 26, 1970, I was with 50,000+ women who marched for equality down Fifth Avenue in New York City. January 21, 2017 there were an estimated 500,000 of us once again hoping we can make a difference.

Love Not Hate. That’s What Makes America Great.

This wasn’t the first time Wendy had participated in this kind of event. In 1970 she was involved in peaceful protests against the Viet Nam War, and around 24 years ago she marched in support of Planned Parenthood in Washington, DC. Since then she’s been living her life, as many of us have, more or less on the sidelines of the political agenda. This was an exhilarating day for her, for everyone with whom I spoke. “But at times it felt almost tragic that we feel there’s a possibility for transgression of these rights and that’s why we’re in the street…The point is we have a voice, we love this country. We have the right to express these opinions. The world needs to know, our neighbors need to know, we’ll act on these principles.”

Hey Hey. Ho Ho. Donald Trump Has Got to Go.

The last time Jeanne Newburg took to the streets was when Reagan came to town. The cops were at the Hilton putting up barricades and saying, “in or out, in or out.” “Out” Jeanne, thought, and it wasn’t until now, after Trump’s remarks about grabbing women, that she changed her mind and decided she was ‘in.’ “That got personal. That was it. I had to put my body on the line even though it wasn’t going to be comfortable.”

I spent most of the day with Jeanne. “How was it?” I asked her the following afternoon. “I was so happy to have the opportunity to march in New York where I was comfortable and it was familiar. I was never worried. And there wasn’t even one problem. It was fantastic to be in solidarity with my sisters all over the world. It was wonderful marching, wonderful marching with the Woodstock women.”

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like.

Nina Shengold grew up leafleting, and in 2000 she brought her daughter with her to the Million Mom March in Washington, DC. This year she opted to participate in the New York City March.  Arriving at Grand Central Station, like so many others, she needed a bathroom. A police officer was officiating: “Urinals on the left. Toilets on the right. Everybody pees. Everybody pees.” And so began a day that was “a high.”

“What was the difference for you?”

“I didn’t notice a single counter demonstrator. No sore losers. This was one of the most energetic and positive marches. Meeting up with others at the Writers Guild, because there were so many people they were penned up for 1 ½ hours. The barriers were removed and all of midtown was opened up when it was realized there was no other solution to feeding people into the march route. What could have been chaos was joyous. People were respectful. The signage was off the hook.” The people she walked with reflected this country: “People of all ages, families marching together, all races. This is what this country is.”

Nina wasn’t surprised at how many men showed up. Some people were ambivalent about the name of the march — the focus on women’s issues, but the signage was all encompassing. “I was proud to be with half a million people today as estimated by the cops. They said we made history.” Returning to Grand Central at 5:30 p.m. to go home, there were as many people in the street as when she arrived.

(Men) Her body her choice. (Women) My body my choice.

The first political involvement for Paloma Mele, was when she protested our involvement in the Iraq War in 2002, and she was 22 years old. The march was life changing for her, that glimpse of feeling like you’re making a difference, but the virtual absence of media coverage left her discouraged. Now, 14 years later what brought her out was her anger that we have legitimized racism, misogyny, and megalomania through the election of this president. More personally, she’s an Obamacare person. She marched because she wanted to be with others who feel as she does. “Being with like-minded people is validating.” She noted that the March was criticized for having too general a mission, that it didn’t have a real focus or objective, which weakened it. “I wished there were more black people. There is anger about white people not coming to Black Lives Matter rallies. And so there was protest about not coming to this. That’s fair. If all the blacks and Hispanics who hate him had come out would have doubled in size. I hope it’s going to make a difference, even if it’s as small as putting fear into the opposition it will be worth it.”

At 16 years old, Grace Tytus was the youngest among “my” Woodstock contingent. She is a sophomore, honors student at Onteora High School. “I’ve been following the elections, and the actions against women and minorities were deplorable. So I wanted to March against that.” She felt she had a voice, and that it will make a difference, that something was accomplished, maybe not in how he’ll treat women, but that it will raise awareness that we won’t accept it. And she offered thanks that even though she and her peers are young, that they can’t vote, they feel respected. And that they share in the responsibility to do something. “Something about this election had people notice what was going on in the world. It’s been liberating. Eye opening. People should get out. It’s totally worth it.”

I was told me about a church along the Fifth Avenue route with organ music piping out “This Land is Your Land…” and the crowd bursting into song. And there was the feeling from everyone with whom I spoke, that we were stronger because we were together. If you can portray a March as happy, the NYC Women’s March was a happy, “short long walk,” with creative, humorous and colorful signage, and pink pussy hats galore.

But then, Sunday morning many of us awoke with a common concern: this was the first step but we’re not sure what to do next. How do we hold on to the momentum that was motivated by fear and anger and despair? How can we be most effective, insuring that much of what is threatened — health care, women’s rights, climate change — remains intact? Speaking with Barbara Heppner, she urged involvement on the local level, emphasizing the importance of the elections that are coming up in two years. Whatever each of us chooses to do, it’s a shared belief that we have to be more involved than we were. The glue holding this effort together was women’s rights, which perhaps suggests the role we must assume going forward.

There is one comment

  1. Nancy

    A great day, story and those placard sayings. Love this. Made me think about why I hadn’t felt pulled before this since Vietnam to march. Trump changes things, things we’ve worked hard for, believe in, deep gut stuff. Thanks Nancy

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