It’s been a rough couple of months, but yesterday I felt hope for our country for the first time since November 8. I marched with more than 14,000 others in Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee.
I borrowed an idea from my cousin who attended the Women’s March in Washington. She wore the pink hats and attached hundreds of ribbons to the top of it, each one containing the name of a woman she was representing at the march. My great-grandmother and grandmother were there. I was there, too.
She inspired me to do something as well, including marching where I could in the town where I lived. I took an index card and wrote down the names of all the important women in my life, past and present, who I wanted to come along with me. I taped the card to the back of my sign, so as I marched I looked at their names. It gave me courage and a sense of purpose.
The weather loomed as a threat yesterday morning. Thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes–scary stuff. I drove to the location in Railroad Square, expecting only a couple of hundred people to come out. Instead, I saw thousands of all ages and colors. My husband didn’t think he’d be welcome at a “women’s march,” so he stayed home despite my cajoling and telling him that we needed men to be there. He wouldn’t have stood out–maybe a third of the crowd were men. Umbrellas clashing, signs soaking, and thunder providing the background drum beat, we began to move slowly. A group of college-aged African-Americans joined and stepped into place in front of me. Both male and female marchers, carrying signs. One of the young men’s sign said, “Stop the Rape Culture.” I smiled broadly at what was happening.
I estimated 10,000 marchers. When I was a reporter, I was trained how to count crowds in meetings halls and auditoriums, but I had no way to estimate these numbers. But I knew it had to be in thousands. The paper reported this morning that the Tallahassee police said more than 14,000 people participated.
I posted my photo on Facebook. After I came home and dried off, I looked at my feed on Facebook and saw my friends’ posts from around Florida and the country: Gainesville, St. Pete, Jacksonville, Tucson, Atlanta, Washington.
We will not be defeated on any of the issues so important to the heart of the United States and its government. Criticisms included the name of the marches. That might be valid–my husband a case in point–but when the organizers began making decisions that seemed to be the best title. I don’t think anyone knew what would happen. People were given a chance to publicly participate in democracy and voice their concerns and fears. No one knew the numbers that would attend. Or the issues it would bring out, which was another criticism I’ve heard in the last twenty-four hours. Disorganized, no core issues to work around, the pundits said. Who cares? People came out. Millions across the world. They did it peacefully. I saw no anger amongst the crowd where I marched. Only anger at what could happen and what did happen on November 8.
As I marched next to a woman perhaps two decades older than me using her cane to walk up the hill, I cried. How far we’ve come in her lifetime, only to be shot back down in the swift and fatal tweets of the man now occupying the Oval Office. I looked at the names of the women on my card and felt a lump in my throat.
I did it for you, Emilene Stephens Hooper, who had two children out of wedlock back in Cornwall in the 1890s, yet went on to marry and became a pillar of her community. She ran a boarding house with her two young sons–one of whom was my grandfather–when she met Fred Hooper, who married her and raised her sons and their other children. My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1900. So, yes, I’m an immigrant, too, I suppose.
I did it for you, Anna Mary Sweet Camburn, who was in her forties when women gained the right to vote. I did it for you, Ethel DeFord Stephens, who had given birth to seven children by the time women could vote.
And I did it for you, Anna Christina Camburn Behnke, who I brought into this world and raised to be a feminist. You will be a fighter all your life against bigotry, prejudices, and injustice, whether through your actions, words, or paintings.
I feel hopeful this morning despite the rain still pounding outside. The heavens are crying as some of us have been doing for the past few months. Those tears will nourish and feed the ground, just as ours inspired and pushed us out the door and into the streets to voice our love of democracy and rights afforded us thus far.
We must keep up the good work.
What happened in your town? I’d love to hear about it!