Saturday at the Women’s March LA
At the Women’s March LA last Saturday, there was a lot of competition for Cleverest Sign.
“UterUS!” “NYET MY PRESIDENT.”MAKE RUSSIA GREAT AGAIN” “RESISTANCE IS FERTILE” “OY!” “WHEN THEY GO LOW, WE GO CHAI.”
It was entertaining, but it also made me face an inconvenient truth: one side has by far the best comedy writers; the other side has both houses of Congress and the Presidency.
I wasn’t planning on attending the march. For one thing, it was billed as the Women’s March. I felt I’d be crashing. Also, I believe our new President deserves a chance to actually do something before people take to the streets. Better to outrage over policy than reality. At the very least, I thought, give the guy a chance.
But then came the bizarre “American Carnage” inauguration speech, where President Donald Trump laid out a vision of America so dark and counter-factual that it felt like a patriotic act to speak up en masse against it. He is my president, but that's not my America.
I woke up Saturday morning to find out my son was at the New York march, my daughter was already on the Expo line headed downtown, and my 86 year-old mother was on her way. So many friends were already posting march selfies on Instagram. As the song goes, “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear….”
By 11 am I was among the estimated 750,000 marchers downtown.
It was massive. Peaceful. Entertaining (those signs!). Uplifting. They came more in joy than in anger—the energy of each person’s decision to get up and go affirming and feeding the next person’s. If the election results, transition and inauguration filled these people with a sense of gloom, this was the massive antidote. I realize if you love Trump you feel duty-bound to hate or disparage the marches, but trust me, when Americans of all different creeds, backgrounds, colors and ages get together peaceably as one, it says something good about our country, and to the world.
The protest posters grouped around several concerns: women’s rights, climate change, Russian influence in the election, immigration rights, tolerance. There was the ubiquitous “Love Trumps Hate,” a slogan I always found hypocritical at best. My guess is that most of the people who say it do in fact hate: they hate Trump.
Many, many signs used the P word. Trump, the evangelical’s candidate of choice, has managed to make the P as much a part of our everyday language as Bill Clinton did the BJ. That Obama was such a prude.
As a Jewish journalist, I can say it was likely one of the largest–ever single gatherings of Jews in Los Angeles. Of course, they melted into the larger crowd, but do the math. Not just did Jewish groups like National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish World Watch and synagogues take part, but a good part of the 70-80 percent of LA Jews who voted against Trump—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—came out as well. How do I know? I recognized them. I saw their signs. People stopped me and asked if the Jewish Journal was covering the march. (We did.)
And for those who wonder where the next generatiuon of Jews have gone, what's happened to the millennials, why aren’t they involved, what gets them up and motivated? All you had to do was be at the march. They were there.
It was partially a Jewish march, and it was also a men’s march. At least one third of the participants if not more were men. They were there in support. But they were also there in shared outrage and concern. One woman carried a sign that read, “I'M MAD ABOUT TOO MANY THINGS FOR JUST ONE SIGN!” As she passed me, the flip side read, “My husband stayed up and made this poster for me. How great is he???”
From afar, it’s easy to be cynical about these kinds of things. Where were these people were when Hillary Clinton needed voters and foot soldier? What can come out of a lot of people chanting and whining?
After all, just a day after the marches Trump went ahead and instituted the so-called Mexico City rules, which prevent American overseas aid to NGOs that fund abortions as part of their family planning services. A 2012 study found that when the policy was in effect under George W. Bush, unintended pregnancies in sub-Saharan African nations increased and abortions approximately doubled. In countries where rape is epidemic, women will suffer even more. But facts didn't matter, protest didn't matter, politics did.
But to be at the march was to understand its purpose. It was to be uplifted by the deepest American traditions of free speech, peaceful protest and democratic assembly. To be moved by the enduring Jewish calls for justice and the prophetic tradition of dissent.
At the time of the march, no one there could know that around the world, on all seven continents, millions more were marching as well, convinced they were pursuing justice.
Who knows? Maybe organizers will figure a way to harness and focus the power of these crowds. Maybe the president and his advisors will take notice, and act in ways that minimize mass dissent—or, God forbid, in ways that outlaw it.
But what became clear to me that Saturday morning was that if elections have consequences, so too does losing the popular vote by 3 million. Electoral college electors don't march. Voters do.
By the days end, I didn’t hear the speeches. The crowds were so vast we couldn’t get close enough to the City Hall stage. As it was we cut through the lobby of the Biltmore to get to Pershing Square. If you read elsewhere in some “alternative fact” account of this event that it was a riot of radicals, let the record show that at 1 pm every table in the Biltmore lobby was full of protesters, taking a break, over tea.
We emerged into an even thicker crowd, beside two women hoisting posters that read, in Hebrew, “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.”
That’s a good quote for a Jewish protester, but if I were the poster-carrying type, I’d have chosen this quote, from the late Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook: “I don't speak because I have the power to speak, I speak because I don't have the power to remain silent.”