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Austin, TX Women’s March

Christopher Helms

 

Saturday morning, five members of my family piled into our car and headed to head into downtown Austin, to march for women. My mother and sister drove in the night before from their home in rural Texas. My wife and I live just outside of Austin, which made for a quick and commute to downtown. We left early, expecting gridlock as 30,000 people were expected anticipated to join us.

We arrived just before 10 AM, two hours before the March’s noon kickoff, to discover a good sized- crowd already on hand milling around the capitol lawn. Volunteers were giving out event maps and event stickers. Various liberal, Democratic, and single-issue groups were setting up tables to give out literature. The speakers, orators and musicians for the day’s event were testing the sound system. The atmosphere was already electric, faces smiling, a bounce evident in everyone’s step.

Over the next two hours, the ‘good-sized crowd’ continued to swell into a veritable sea of bodies as people continued to pour into the grounds of the Texas State Capitol from side streets and out of buses arriving from across the state. The grounds had the atmosphere of a music festival, but this was not the gathering of Millennials you’d expect to see at Austin’s ACL Festival, and it was not homogeneous. Grandmothers and grandfathers shared the space with children, toddlers, and infants. Every color of skin and style of garb was in attendance. We saw women wearing hijab, men wearing yarmulkes, old hippies, fashion-conscious matrons, and hipsters.

The crowd eventually became a crush of people. And it got hot, up to 81 degrees in January with little breeze combined with the body heat of what was at that time, tens of thousands of people.

To begin the March, those tens of thousands of people needed to be funneled through a single gate onto Congress Avenue. It took over an hour for us to start. As we marched the mile and a half route, supporters lined the sidewalks, leaned out of from windows, and cheered from rooftops. We chanted until we were hoarse.

Although the primary issue posted on people’s signs and chanted by the marchers was support for women, this was not a single-issue event. Pride flags billowed bravely. Black Lives Matter supporters, themselves of all colors, marched proudly. Some were there to support the environment or to protest racism in general. And yes, most were also there to express their feelings about the election of Donald Trump. 

My wife and I have never been politically active. My mother, in her 60’s, had never been involved in any type of political activism before … but we were there. My sister, my wife, and I would all describe ourselves as extreme introverts, but we were there. Despite some pretty real crowd anxiety, we were there. This was a sentiment I heard expressed often in the crowd. The election of Donald Trump and the extremism of his cabinet nominees has galvanized a great many of us out of our complacency, and I don’t doubt that his actions in his first two weeks of office have galvanized a great many more. 

One of the most fun things about protests, marches, and rallies is reading all the fantastic signs. As a Star Wars fan, I loved the “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance” signs. The “I can’t believe I still have to protest the shit” sign broke my heart.

The conservative voters of rural America have been trying to make the claim that they are somehow the ‘real’ America. I beg to differ. The crowd in downtown Austin this Saturday, and along with their brothers and sisters in Washington and around the country are the real America. This is the America where are all accepted and welcomed regardless of skin-color, gender, sexual orientation, or religious creed. This is the America that still welcomes the poor, tired, huddled masses, especially when they are refugees who’ve lost their homes. This is the America that wants their grandchildren’s grandchildren to have clean air to breath clean water to drink, and to be able to visit the same coastal cities that we do. This is the America that will ensure that everyone gets medical care. This is the America that is willing to prepare for the changes that technology will continue to bring to our society. The Real America, if there is such thing, is a nation of immigrants looking toward a better future, not a bunch of nativists clinging to an imagined fictionalized and idolized past.

The final estimate was ultimately estimated that there were 50,000 of us there in Austin. Estimates for the nation range from 3.3 to 4.6 million marchers in the US. That’s more than 1% of the population. And for every one of us present, there were dozen more who were too sick to come, or couldn’t get off of work, or had other obligations, or just hadn’t been pissed off enough yet to put in the effort required to endure the preparation, travel expenses, and hassle of a march.

The type of unity we saw that Saturday is where we find our strength. We are no longer single-issue activists when we are willing and ready to stand up together. If we can stay engaged for each other’s deepest causes, we are the clear majority. We are strong. This march has brought to light the very needed discussion of intersectional feminism, and I say that we need intersectional liberalism as well. If the white ladies who marched on Saturday can show up for the Black Lives Matter march, we all win. When the men at the Black Lives Matter march show up to Save the Earth, we all win. When the white men show up to protest the deportation of our immigrant brothers and sisters, we all win.

One particular sign in the crowd stuck with me after the march for two reasons, I knew the quote from Hamilton and because it seemed to have more than one possible meaning: “Oceans Rise and Empires Fall”.

 We have a choice before us. We can band together. We can support one another. We can hold onto the positivity and hope we felt on Saturday. We can stay on the phone with people representing us in congress. We can be that ocean and rise up. And Trump’s ‘empire’ will fall. The alternative is that our oceans may literally rise. And America will fall.

 

 

One particular sign in the crowd stuck with me after the march for two reasons, I knew the quote from Hamilton and because it seemed to have more than one possible me

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From the Great March in Washington D.C. to Atlanta, to Chicago to Seattle, to Downtown Los Angeles, and Internationally are saying: 

"No Rights No Peace"

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By TIFFANY GATTO

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