Notes from The Women's March on Washington c/o Three Generations

The following post was written by my mom, Wendy Woolf, who participated in her first ever march in Washington on Jan 21st. I thought it would be interesting to post our three perspectives as grandmother, mother and child participating in the largest inaugural protest in history, and am grateful for my mom for sharing her perspective below. I love you, mom and I'm proud to be your daughter. 
When Rebecca called me the day after the Women’s March on Washington was announced to see if I wanted to go with her and Fable—3 generations marching—I said “Hell, yes!”   I felt exhilarated at the thought of doing something with other like-minded women to express my horror at the thought of this ugly white (orange?), misogynistic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-intellectual liar who would be our president, sworn in on my 61st birthday. I think it was the first time that my stomach relaxed a little from the knots I was becoming familiar with every morning when I awoke. I immediately texted Rachel to see if she wanted to join us, and she, too, was 100% on board. “YES, YES, YES!”

Eight years earlier, on my 53rd birthday, I sat in my PJ’s in front of the TV, watching the inauguration of Barack Obama, my face stained from tears of joy. I never thought in a million years that I would live to see the day that an African American would be president.  I didn’t think it was possible because of the deep seeded racism still seeping through the cracks in our democracy.  I wrote in my diary that day, “What an honor to be born on this day—a day of rebirth for our nation.  The first African American president!  Today, Obama begins his journey and with it, creates a NEW WORLD!”  I believed it with all my heart.  I was euphoric and proud and brimming with gratitude.  It was also on that day I decided to go back to my authentic self and let my hair go gray.  January 20th, 2008 was a touchstone in my life. 

As wonderful as 2008’s birthday was, I knew that this January 20th would be the antithesis.  The black cloud of his looming presidency would descend upon us like a thick miasma, oozing through our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes. Suddenly going to Washington felt like the only possible way for me to face the desperation I felt. I was beyond grateful for Rebecca’s invitation.

Soon, however, Doubt crept in.  And Fear—two long-time acquaintances of mine. By this time, local marches had been organized, and some family members suggested it might be better to stay at home and march here. “I’m afraid for your safety,” said one. “The city will be teaming with Trump supporters.  What if they have guns?  What if they attack the crowd?” another asked. “Isn’t it dangerous to take Fable? How will she stand all that time? What if she gets tired?  What if she has to go to the bathroom?” Friends on Facebook warned of possible arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas.  I started to be afraid. I called Rebecca and asked her what she thought about marching at home instead, not admitting why I was asking her.  “It might be really powerful to be with our friends and family here,” I suggested.  She agreed that it might be, but immediately said, “No, I think we should still go to Washington.” 

I know I am an idealist and a person who has strong ethical and social convictions. I stand up for them verbally, sometimes too strongly, because I feel everything on such a deep level, but I have never marched. I am a non-partisan voter and not a member of any organized religion because I don’t want to be labeled or associated with any dogma of any kind.  That being said, I am extremely liberal and strongly spiritual.  But I also have fears that are sometimes overwhelming, which do not feel like they are authentic to whom I am.  And sometimes they can be debilitating.  All of my life I have thought about what I personally would have done if I had been born in Nazi occupied Europe during WWII. Would I have been brave enough to fight in the resistance, hide Jews, risk my family to fight fascism?  Or would I have hidden my own Jewish ancestry and closed my eyes to the Nazi horrors to save my family.  I have been troubled by the uncertainty of these hypothetical questions—aware of the fact that until we are confronted with a situation, we have no way of knowing.  And not knowing has been a lifetime burden.

This would be my first march ever, so I didn’t know what to expect and I would be lying if I told you that I was more and more excited as the day of our departure grew closer. I actually started to get more and more nervous, but I know that this often happens to me, even before I go on big vacations or even before my theater company puts on our plays.  So I hid those feelings and ignored the Facebook posts best I could and tried to calm myself down in the middle of the night when I woke up afraid, knowing that although I often am nervous before an event, I never actually am when it happens. I also ‘checked in’ to my intuition, which always guides me, and nothing told me we shouldn’t go.  

My friends and husband were all supportive, cheering me on and telling me they would be with me in spirit, and I realized I wanted to bring something physical with me so all of my loved ones would be with me. I decided to bring a handful of tiny pebbles I had collected the year before from a high-action beach in Northern California. On high-action beaches, the fine sand is dragged out to sea by the constant pounding of violent waves, and the larger, polished pebbles remain. There was something about these resilient pebbles that I fell in love with, each one a different color, individual and unique, and I kept them in my jacket pocket for months before putting them safely in a box.  
I decided they would be the perfect symbols of my friends and family to carry with me to D.C.

The night before we left, I barely slept. I thought about our plane and that it might be filled with Trump supporters—and that made me uneasy. Southwest Airlines sent me a weather alert, so I added that to my list of worries.  Rachel was joining us in Atlanta on our second flight.  What if we missed our connection?  But that morning, as Fable, Rebecca and I started on our journey, all of my fears disappeared. Fable’s excitement and calm resolve was infectious. And then there was Rebecca, who is always fearless.  Although it was raining, the storm hadn’t hit its peak yet and departure was on time.  All was well.

We were met at our gate by a sea of pink hats and only one red.  My heart leapt. Of course, this was LA.  I should have realized. Atlanta might be different, but at least we would start out on a good foot.  We met Rachel in Atlanta and the four of us approached our gate.  Even more pink hats! And not ONE RED HAT!  THE DAY BEFORE THE INAUGURATION!!! Everyone was smiling, full of anticipation, full of conviction and fire and fight—men and women from all over the United States.  We talked to teachers, to poets, secretaries and students. There were a few Trump supporters with garment bags, but 90% of the passengers were marchers. We were thrilled.
We were lucky to be able to stay with Larry’s cousins, Marilyn and Mike, in D.C. We got to their house around 7 pm and more cousins arrived for dinner.  Fable, who like us had been up since 5:15, was in high spirits and played happily with Marilyn and Mike’s grandchildren’s Legos while we all caught up and discussed the political events.  We still hadn’t figured out what we would do on my birthday. All we knew was that we wanted to be nowhere near the capital building and the inauguration.  Marilyn suggested we go to the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum, which was on the other end of the mall.  We decided that art would be the perfect antidote to the depressing day, so after sleeping in and buying supplies to make our signs later on, we set off on a pink-hat filled metro to The Smithsonian. 
Our time at the Portrait gallery was amazing.  Fable wanted to see Alexander Hamilton, since she is obsessed with the music from the play.  
We then found all of the heroes of feminism and civil rights, and we swelled with inspiration and gratitude.  We read the inscription by each of their portrait, realizing we are once again in the midst of the same struggles of misogyny and racism that has plagued this country from its inception.   
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That night, we made our signs for the march.  Inspired by my pebbles, Rebecca decided to write the names of her friends’ and reader’s names all over her body, so they, too, could be at the march. I finished my poster first and while the others finished theirs, I wrote over 200 names on her arms, chest, and back.  It was a powerful act and couldn’t have been a better way for us to prepare for the next day.  Fable was with us the entire time, working on her poster, and we all finally fell into bed at midnight.  In spite of the pall of the day, I was filled with gratitude for my family and excited for the march.

We left the house at 8:30, cheered on by Marilyn and Mike, clad with our clear backpacks, pussy hats, and signs.  I rubbed my stones gently and then zipped them in my pocket. The sidewalk was already filled with other marchers, filing towards the metro, and as we walked, more and more people stepped out of their houses, joining the mass.  
Cars honked in support as we waved our signs.  I cannot express the powerful feeling that started growing inside of me, and by the time we were in the metro station with thousands of others wearing pink hats and carrying signs, I knew that I would fearlessly meet anything that happened that day.  It took several trains before we were able to find one that had room for us, and since Rebecca gets claustrophobic, we decided to get off earlier than we had planned and walk the rest of the way. As we exited the station, we were met by thousands of marchers waving their signs, walking towards the meeting point.  I have never seen so many people, mostly women, in one place, all smiling, filled with both love and fire, and committed to all people, no matter their color, creed, nationality, or sexual preference. 
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We unfortunately couldn’t get near where the speakers were, and it was too wet to sit down, but the hours flew by because of the excitement of the day and we talked to people who had flown in from all over the country. When we all started the march, the numbers had swelled and the crowd had grown thick. We chanted and cheered and waved our signs and marched, together with people from all over the US.  We chanted “My body, my choice” as the men responded, “Your body, your choice.”  We cried as a group of indigenous women, men and children walked past us singing, carrying signs with a simple request for clean water, something we shouldn’t have to fight for in a democratic society. 
We answered the question, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” with “THIS is what democracy looks like,” and every time I chanted those words, I felt more and more power more and more love for my country, a country where dissent is not only a patriotic act, it is imperative when a demagogue has come into power. Fable was our mascot, smiling and waving her sign, happy the entire time, never complaining, even when we were standing around for hours.  She never told us her feet hurt, or that she was cold, or that she was hungry.  She was our beacon of positive energy.
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After the march, the subway was so crowded that we had to go the wrong direction to get on, but we finally made it back.  More cousins who had marched joined us for dinner, and we all buzzed with the energy of the day, fired up to continue the fight.  The next morning as we sat on our plane filled with marchers, ready to take off, the flight attendant thanked all of us on the loud speaker for marching and the plane exploded in cheers. It felt like the world was behind us and with us.  Once again, I reached my hand in my pocket and lovingly rubbed my stones.
Marching was life changing for me. We stood against a government that threatens to take away everything that we have accomplished in the last 40 years, peacefully and without incident—a women-led march so full of positive energy that even though we didn’t know until after the march how many people were marching worldwide, we knew we were at the epicenter of something big and important.  I truly understood for the first time the power of one…and one and one and one times 1,000,000.  One woman’s vision created the march and each person made an individual choice to show up.  This is why we vote.  This is why we show up to town halls, write letters, make phone calls, because when everyone does, it makes a difference.  Our voice makes a difference.   WE have the power. And although it feels like the bully in charge does, with every horrible appointment and abhorrent decision he has already made in his first few days of office, he really doesn’t.  We do.  We just need to join forces and work. The march was a call to ACTION by millions of Americans who wish to live in an ethical America, a place where we take care of our marginalized citizens, protect everyone’s rights and our environment, and work together. This march affected each of us, and we have gone home to fight at the local level. 
I still don’t know what I would have done had I been in Europe during the Nazi occupation, but I have a better insight into how good it feels to stand up against tyranny, and although I never was in any danger and we still live in a democracy, I felt a new fire after the march to fight.  I kept thinking, what if the women of Germany had held a march like this at the beginning of Hitler’s reign?  What if the women had stood up against hatred and fear?  I have a feeling if they had and I had lived then, I would have joined.  We can do this.  We just need to show up. 
THIS is what democracy looks like.