FOR ONCE, you didn’t have to be there to know, but if you did join the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday, you saw firsthand what it meant to move with a civilian army against the extreme radical narcissism of Donald J. Trump.
It meant business.
Led by women, and weaponized only with pink knitted hats, hand-painted signs, and our voices, not a shot was fired, no fights broke out, and the freedom to speak and assemble won out.
Talk about a populist uprising! Unlike the media, the DC police estimated the crowd in the nation’s capital at one million citizens—all ages, ethnicities, and genders. Forget the celebrity speakers. The streets were so dense with people that it was near impossible to find the stage. This wasn’t the moment for celebrity, anyway. Here was a show that already had the greatest stars on earth: We the People.
Most marchers motivated themselves and arrived on their own steam individually or in groups. They were unified by outrage over the carnage that the fledgling, self-interested Trump administration had caused not twenty-four hours earlier, when it deleted LGBT and climate change–related pages from the White House and Department of Labor websites, threatened the NEA and NPR, and then started in on the repeal of Obamacare.
Over our dead bodies.
All day long and into the night, marchers on foot, in wheelchairs, and on shoulders shouted out spontaneous call-and-response chants: “Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like!”
Have you ever heard the sound of a million voices speaking truth as one? It’s magnificent. Exhilarating. The sound reverberated in waves across the city, echoing across every state in this country and in cities from the bottom of the world to the top—too loud for the White House to mute.
The art world, which honors freedom of expression with every breath, wanted to be counted. It showed up in droves from around the country—in buses and cars, on planes and trains. I saw them on Instagram! But I can only report the experience of one busload—the fifty-three artists, writers, dealers, friends, and family from New York organized by the studio of Laurie Simmons. Respect!
Because we departed from the Public Theater in the darkness before dawn, it wasn’t until the bus made a pit stop that we discovered it was actually painted pink. Pure happenstance, as it was the official color of the day, signified by the hats on women at this and hundreds of sister marches everywhere.
Credit art people for style, at least. Our hats, supplied by dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn to help us keep track of one another, were blue with red stripes and customized with the words “NYC–D.C. Women’s March / January 21, 2017.” (They were the reason we lost no one during the march.) Within minutes, all fifty-three of us had festooned our hats with pink buttons that Marilyn Minter designed for Planned Parenthood, which read: DON’T FUCK WITH US. DON’T FUCK WITHOUT US. Laurie Anderson took charge of the WE THE PEOPLE signs we would carry. Matthew Weinstein brought stickers with the words TINY HANDS / BIG BUTTONS emblazoned over the image of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
We were ready.
More than ready. Collector Sandy Brant, writer Deborah Solomon, and Rohaytn each brought sandwiches or cookies. Bloomberg art-market reporter Katya Kazakina arrived from the twenty-four-hour Starbucks in Times Square with jugs of hot coffee. Company Agenda founder Gina Nanni and artist Jon Kessler brought bottled water for everyone. And when Metro cards to transport us from our drop-off point in Silver Spring, Maryland, didn’t arrive in time, the writer and Washington native A. M. Homes saved our asses by collecting and delivering them to our prep area—a sidewalk in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts. For the trip home, designer Malia Mills carried a case of prosecco.
The Bluehats, as we now became, were great company. Joining several artists on the bus were poet Anne Carson, writers Robert Currie and Andrianna Campbell, actress Gina Gershon, film producer Catherine Schomer, singer Jenni Muldaur, and cinematographer Maryse Bartoli. Yet the group was no more exceptional than any other, including those on forty-seven buses from Michigan that drove twelve hours that morning and then home that night.
We all expected the march to be big. “You never saw so many people,” a friend from DC texted as the Bluehats hopped on the Metro. “No one can move in any direction. You’ll never find me. Good luck getting to the march.”
It was incredible. “Bluehats, listen up!” barked Muldaur, whose vocal megaphone carried information best. “Whatever happens, meet at Union Station by four!”
Nothing happened. Not for a long while, anyway. There were so many people packing every inch of the National Mall and filling every single street on every side of it that the march had nowhere to go.
For quite a long time, we were bottlenecked near the Brutalist National Museum of the American Indian with thousands awaiting the 1:30 PM start of the march. It was to circle the Mall by moving up Independence Avenue, passing the White House, and returning back down Constitution Avenue. Fat chance.
Communication stalled from network overload; cell phones had only spotty service. “Let’s try to find a space where we can do something meaningful,” suggested Bill Miller, Minter’s husband. There was no space. Word then had it that the march would start at two. Then people said it was canceled. Then it started to move.
With Independence Avenue clogged, marchers took themselves along three parallel routes. Suddenly we were making tracks across Third Street and up Constitution, carried along by an endless river of sign-waving people and joining in the chants: “Hands too small, can’t build a wall!” “Fence in Mike Pence!”
It wasn’t until we were back on the bus, cell service restored, that we began to apprehend the magnitude of this event. Kazakina told us she was looking for a latrine when she stumbled into Michael Moore. (Imagine.) “He said this march is the largest public protest in this country, ever,” she reported.
Scrolling through photographs from around the world published by the New York Times was just astonishing. Only then was it clear how enormous and unified the opposition to the divisive and petty Trump really is.
Pictures told the story, especially on Instagram. (“I’m obsessed with the signs!” said public art producer Yvonne Force Villareal, eyes glued to her phone.) Still, as artists well know, it’s not what’s in their pictures that counts so much as what they represent. And that can be threatening.
In fact, the story behind the images is heroic: An evolving grassroots movement initially organized by a small group of women pushes back against a testosterone-fueled regime of blowhards attempting to enrich themselves and disenfranchise everyone else. If not for its zillion witnesses, who would believe it?
“Who voted for Trump?” asked Solomon. “I can’t find anyone.” “The thing to do is be vigilant,” said artist Marina Adams. Fourteen-year-old Coco Rohaytn swore she would be willing to give up high school if she could help organize protests full-time.
The following morning, Anderson sent an e-mail: “One thing I’ll never forget is coming back to Silver Spring on the Red Line in a train car where everyone was singing. This is usually the kind of thing that makes me want to kill myself, but yesterday was amazing. Black-white, men-women, all ages. Somehow most people knew—or could sort of fake the words to ‘The Littlest Worm,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ and ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ etc. etc. Transcendent.”
Of course, the ratings-seeking, media-baiting president tried to dismiss it all with a tweet. No matter. Nothing could diminish the joy of this day or its promise of an active opposition armed not just with hats, signs, and voices but with the strength of a democracy that refuses to sell itself to the highest bidder.
Art world, take note.