Women’s March and the Trumping of Hate

Politics

Women’s March and the Trumping of Hate

Illustration: Akshita Monga

O

n the day before the historic Women’s March, I had watched the inauguration, stumped. The ominous spectre that we’d hoped was only a bad dream and could be wished away, was now a reality. Donald Trump was indeed president. In spite of everything that everyone had done in the last few months to stop this from coming to pass, it had come to pass.

What then could be achieved by joining a march? Although Houston had voted Democrat, the state of Texas had stuck to its tradition of going Republican. What was the point, I thought. The election was over. This wasn’t even our home. We had been living here only for two years. We were likely going to leave before the end of Trump’s presidential term. We couldn’t even vote. I went to sleep dejected, ready to float away from this indifferent world that had brought this nightmare to fruition.

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But by the time the sun came out the next morning, my cynicism had begun to peter out. My social media feeds were teeming with images and words, full of vigour. From every corner of the globe there was a call to be part of something bigger than our small circles of existence. So what if this was not my home? We couldn’t go far enough to safeguard from the global disaster that Trump was undoubtedly going to be.

My husband wore his Black Lives Matter t-shirt that he had bought last year, recognising that he could use his white male privilege to raise a voice against institutionalised racism. I wore one from Voices Breaking Boundaries, a non-profit arts organisation I sometimes work with, which confronts social issues across the globe, drawing parallels between South Asian borders and those in the Americas. Our choice of clothes did not directly reflect our lives in the US, but they were a marker that silence was not an option.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: With Capitol Hill in the backgroun

The Women’s March in Washington had roughly three times more people than Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

We made our way towards the meeting point: a skate park ensconced in a garden created along a bayou. We’ve walked, jogged, and cycled along this tree-lined path several times; it overlooks tall glass-and-steel buildings of downtown. From a distance, we saw a bridge dotted with a swarm of people. It wasn’t long before we began jostling for space in this sea of humans pulsating with energy – the kind you experience at music concerts, marathons, or cricket matches in your home city. The kind of exceptional vibe that infiltrates every pore of your body and makes you understand what it means to be truly alive.

I looked around in wonder, amazed at what I saw, my astonishment mirrored in the faces of those around me. I was reminded of the full moon that steps back to gaze at little Frieda in the luminous poem by Ted Hughes. The car-reliant Texan city had turned into an urban planner’s fantasy. People had ditched their cars, hit the streets and taken part in the protest by the simple act of walking. Was this really the country I had harshly judged for being selfishly preoccupied in its interior world, unconcerned about the rest?

For the first time, I felt the old sensation of being an intrinsic part of a community, as I’ve always felt back home in India. I felt I was a part of something extraordinary, heady with the feeling that comes with belonging to a tribe that believes in a common goal. A collective effervescence, a shared sense of purpose, the unifying force of sheer public will. The last time I’d seen such a joint cathartic outpouring was when Indian women and men had spilled out into the streets to protest the hideous December 16 gang rape. It was overwhelming.

At the march, someone shouted: “Is this what democracy looks like?” I joined the chorus that answered with conviction: “This is what democracy looks like.” This movement seemed to have sprung from a visceral part of our collective being, which comes to the fore when threatened with the carnage of fundamental rights. It was history being made and I was so thankful to be a part of it.

Women's March On Washington

The show of strength instilled hope and optimism in a country that had been in mourning, since Trump’s election to office.

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

There was no one theme for the demonstration, and yet all of us were unified by the single cause of what a Trump presidency meant in the US. A woman in a wheelchair told me she was concerned about affordable health care; another in a hijab doled out hugs; an undocumented Mexican immigrant said she was afraid for her future; a Spanish art curator showed up in solidarity. Everyone congregated with a different agenda, but converged on the core values that stood at risk, with the realisation that few things could be more devastating than being victim to injustice due to bias and prejudice.

In this thick mass, I spotted someone familiar: My gynaecologist, who carried the placard “Stay out of my uterus”. “Your policies must not interfere with my ovaries,” read one banner; “My body, my choice,” read another. There were invigorated voices from all sections of the populace: gay and trans people, women and men, people with impairments, the old, people of colour. No less energised were the cries and laughter of infants and toddlers inadvertently caught in this crucible of history. On one child’s stroller, there was even a message for the head of state: “Act your age, Mr Trump, not mine.”

America, we all knew was gearing up for the most challenging four years it would ever have. But in that march, the dread that had sat in the pit of our stomachs since November had taken a break. The gloom had given way to a sense of purpose and jubilance. The show of strength instilled hope and optimism in a country that had been in mourning, but was now all set for battle.

BeFunky Collage women

There were invigorated voices from all sections of the populace.

Courtesy: Sukhada Tatke

As we made our way along the route to the City Hall, marchers greeted police officers, some of them on horseback, with cheer and thank yous. The personnel in blue waved back and smiled. Thus we walked in solidarity, running into people we knew, exchanging smiles and conversations with those we didn’t.

When we got back home, we saw with awe the aerial shots of gatherings across continents; we heard powerful speeches by Ashley Judd, Madonna, Gloria Steinem, and Angela Davis. From behind my computer screen, I also felt connected to the women walking in India for their right to loiter. The world had shrunk to a commune for equality, united against hate.

Steinem said in her speech that sometimes we needed to “put our bodies where our beliefs (were).” This is perhaps what the new cohort now occupying the White House seems to have triggered. With millions of bodies doing just that, the Trump era has engendered the bridging of human spaces where a multitude of voices have come together to reveal a force that has until now been largely absent – the force of the united people of America.

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