Gloria Steinem said at the Women's March on Washington today, "Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march."
She's definitely right - today I marched at the Women's March on San Jose, and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Not only because it was my first protest, but also because of the variety of people I saw there! I was so impressed by the range in ages & diversity & gender & sexuality that I saw there. I saw middle-aged women who I never realized were once young like me, and middle-school-aged girls who I recognized my younger self in. It made me realize that these issues - and there were a lot of them on display at the march - were issues that crossed generational & community lines and resounded with a vast swath of the American public (and the world!).
I made a "Nasty Women in STEM" shirt the night before and was nervous because none of the people I asked were going. I thought I was going be alone there. But I woke up early anyways, made myself coffee and breakfast, and put on my rain gear to trek to the bus station. There was no one on the streets on my way to the bus stop, and only a few people were at the bus stop. It seemed like the Women's March on San Jose was going to be a dud, and I started wondering if I should have gone to the San Francisco or Oakland march instead.
But then the bus arrived, and the moment the doors opened you could see pairs of women, friends, and couples all decked out with pink hats, signs, and the unmistakable air of anticipation. It seemed like I was wrong to assume that I would be alone.
The bus unloaded us near City Hall into an already bustling crowd of people. There were chants, there were songs, there were hugs, and there were families. I guess I didn't really know what to expect, but I was surprised at how optimistic & friendly the atmosphere was. Parents brought their children, and as one mother was trying to push her stroller through a crowd, she yelled out, "Coming through! Baby's first protest!" I met some amazing people while I was there - Jeff & Megan, a couple from San Jose; (another) Jeff & Melody, a couple from Sunnyvale; a group of women & men from Cupertino; a 70-something-year-old women attending her first protest as well; and much much more!
I saw one of my friends who didn't march post on Facebook asking what was the point of all this, saying that it didn't seem like this would get anything done. Seeing that ticked me off at first, but then I realized that person had a point. This energy does need to transform into productive political action. I quoted that Gloria Steinem quote at the beginning of this post because I'm never going to forget this march. Marching next to so many other motivated people has inspired me to concrete action, and so I'm starting off in a small way by writing this post. I'm not sure who will read this, but this is me publicly stating (with my tiny megaphone in my small corner of the internet!) that I am going to fight for women's and civil rights. At the very least, I can point myself back to this post and hold myself accountable.
Many people today were saying how this march seems like a touchstone event for millenials, much like how the Vietnam protests were a defining cultural moment for the Baby Boomers. I think that's true, and I'll close with a quote from a column Gail Collins wrote today:
'Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march,' Gloria Steinem said, remembering the day in 1970 when she was part of an equal rights protest in Central Park that grew so large the women took to the street and filled Fifth Avenue, demanding everything from a constitutional amendment to better child care. This week, many protests later, she was back: “I’ve never in my life seen such an outpouring.”
Maybe all the old-timers I met today & Gloria Steinem are right - maybe this time it really is something special.