The day after the presidential inauguration, I joined at least two-dozen Juneau residents and more than 600 Alaskans in Washington D.C. at what is being called the largest protest since the Vietnam War.
Making herstory 020117 AE 1 By Katie Bausler For the Capital City Weekly The day after the presidential inauguration, I joined at least two-dozen Juneau residents and more than 600 Alaskans in Washington D.C. at what is being called the largest protest since the Vietnam War.

Bríd and Juneau resident Katie Bausler pose in a sea of pink while marching in DC. Photo by Katie Bausler

Photo by Katie Bausler

Photo by Katie Bausler

Many women - and some men - knitted or sewed pink hats to show support for the cause of the women's march. Photo by Katie Bausler

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Story last updated at 2/1/2017 - 1:25 pm

Making herstory

The President of the United States and his team are ushering in sweeping changes to almost every facet of the federal government. More than half of Americans see these changes as at best disturbing and at worst deadly to the future of humanity and the planet, which sustains life. The day after the presidential inauguration, I joined at least two-dozen Juneau residents and more than 600 Alaskans in Washington D.C. at what is being called the largest protest since the Vietnam War. The Women’s March on Washington inspired 600+ gatherings throughout the country and the world, including in Juneau. At this writing, the marches ignited protests at the White House and at airports around the nation in response to an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspending all refugee admission for 120 days, and barring all Syrian refugees indefinitely. The following are some of my observations and reflections on the experience at the rally/march and what it means for America’s unfolding future.

-Katie Bausler, Douglas

My Women’s March buddy Bríd Furlong and I are pressed up against shiny green landscaping in front of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, one of the many museums that make up the iconic Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The bushes keep us from being pushed over by a wall of people. Our feet are periodically entangled in the roots as lines of people try to move forward, only to get stuck in this mass of femininity.

Above us, people are up in the trees and along retaining walls. At 25, Bríd, an Irish tour guide on a trip to North America between jobs, has a head start on middle-aged me as we brave the biggest crowd of our lives. As far as we can see in front, beside and behind us are mostly women, children, teenagers and some men. Many are holding signs opposing the 45th president, inaugurated the day before. I raise my arms up and snap photos of some of the more clever messages emerging from the mass: “Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public,” “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” and “This is Not a Moment, It’s the Movement.”

Thousands of heads don knit or sewn “pussy hats,” pink hats with points like a cat’s ears, inspired by the new president’s vulgar remarks, caught by a hot mic in 2005. Planes, buses and carloads of women and families en route to the event were filled with people either wearing or furiously finishing their hand wrought creations. My friend Alison Krein presented me with a pair of carefully knitted hot pink hats.

I brought both to Washington, confident that the right person would present herself as the recipient of the extra hat. It turned out to be Bríd, a hostel roommate and good luck fairy, all of 5’1”, with fair Irish skin. Navigating with Google iPhone maps flummoxes me. Bríd rocks it, one of many qualities that make her an excellent march buddy. Plus I couldn’t miss the pink hat on her ginger curls.

“I just love the idea of people passing around a pattern to knit a hat,” she observes in her Irish lilt. “It’s a brilliant form of protest.” Among the many things Bríd doesn’t understand about American culture are our lenient gun laws. “We have an unarmed police force,” she notes. “That’s because we’ve had civil wars where everyone had guns.”

A jumbotron (a huge television screen) and column speaker towers over the mass about a quarter-mile in front of us, beaming speeches bookended by feminist icon Gloria Steinem at the start and black activist, writer and scholar Angela Davis towards the end. Steinem,

82, reflected on civil rights and feminist American history, affirming that this day was far from a one-off:

“Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible president we too often go home. We’ve elected an impossible president; we’re never going home. We’re staying together. And we’re taking over.”

In the following hours are moving stories and inspirational words from lesser known but equally or more powerful poets, musicians, and activists on issues like women’s reproductive rights, LBGTQ non-discrimination, the North Dakota Access Pipeline resistance and welcoming immigrants.

A half million people gathering together in the same area means a half million unique experiences. I can only share what I saw, heard and felt. Some people couldn’t hear or even see the presenters. Others were in full view of the stage and had enough personal space to a move around a bit. Robin Leighty of Anchorage was one of those people. She and I meet sitting next to each other on the Minneapolis to Seattle portion of our mileage ticketed slog back home.

“There was this man, holding a sign and wearing a Syrian flag draped around his shoulders,” Robin tells me. “His sign read: ‘Syrian Refugee. Not a Terrorist. I’m a Muslim. Honored to be here.’ A woman walked up to him and handed him an American flag on a stick. The crowd spontaneously started chanting, ‘No Hate. No Fear. Immigrants are Welcome Here.’ He put his hands over his heart.

I was crying at this point, along with my niece and a bunch of other people.”

Listening to Robin tell her story, so am I.

Understandably, this historic, inclusive, intersectional event goes way over its allotted 10 a.m.-1 p.m. time slot. Perhaps the most powerful and moving fifteen minutes begin when musical artist and actress Janelle Monae takes the stage around 2:15. Wearing a black sweatshirt with the words Fem the Future on the front and Freedom over Fear on the Back, Monae leads a call and response honoring the life of Sandra Bland, the twenty-eight-year-old African-American woman found dead in a Texas jail cell last summer after she was arrested by police on a routine traffic stop. Monae calls out, “Sandra Bland” and then directs the crowd to yell back “Say Her Name!” Standing alongside Monae are the mothers of Erik Garner, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, young black men slain in controversial, high profile incidents during the Obama years. Each mother leads the call and response for her son, as an all-female drum band rocks the throng.

What is our nation becoming? In recent years, we’ve not been officially at war on our own soil, or under the thumb of a ruthless dictator. And yet, more than a half-century after the birth of the civil rights movement, we’re chanting at a rally with mothers of color who have lost their sons due to abuse of power. The late Argentinian songstress Mercedes Sosa’s rendition of Sting’s They Dance Alone rings in my head. Sosa had to live in exile during the reign of the brutal dictator Jorge Videla. Here are the lyrics in part:

They’re dancing with the dead

They dance with the invisible ones

Their anguish is unsaid

They’re dancing with their fathers

They’re dancing with their sons

They’re dancing with their husbands

They dance alone

They dance alone

Eight years ago, my then 22-year old daughter Kaitlyn and I attended the inauguration of Barack Obama. We stood in the freezing cold under leafless trees on the edges of the Capitol. A sense of positivity was palpable. We felt the weight of slavery, oppression and racism lifted, at least for one day. Black women wore long, billowing down-filled coats and fur hats. They had a singular glint in their eyes, a lightness in their step. We were Alaskans ironically underdressed for January in Washington D.C. These mother bears warmed us with big hugs, nearly lifting us off our feet. They were Obama’s congregation, voicing affirmative “mmm hmms” and “amens” to his calls for personal, civic and global responsibility. Two million of us packed the National Mall. We felt part of a truly united states.

After the ceremony, we were walking along the edge of the Capitol when the helicopter carrying George and Laura Bush took flight above us. A woman burst out from a bottleneck of walkers and shouted into the sky, “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!” For the next eight years, Republicans in Congress did everything they could to squelch Obama’s initiatives. Two terms later, public broadcasters now call us the “divided states of America.”

More than four hours into the rally part of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, attention spans wane. Sore backs and the likely need for a bathroom break spur the mass move from the National Mall over to Constitution Avenue in the direction of the White House. It’s more like a crawl than a march. Protesters spill in all directions, pink-hatted people everywhere, our destination the Ellipse Park. Throughout the 52-acre green oval, circles of people are drumming, singing and voicing various chants at the same time. One of the more resonant is, “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter.” Hundreds of signs line a fence, in view of the White House.

Back in 2009, our Ethiopian cab driver was a sweet man with eyes the color of warm amber. He told us he was going back home soon for the birth of his second child, confident that his wife and three children would join him for a better life in the U.S. In 2017, under the leadership of a new protectionist president, his peers do not have the same confidence.

The Uber driver of a few Juneau sister marchers en route to the airport wore a hijab. She told them she was afraid to leave her house on Inauguration Friday or Women’s March Saturday. “If there was any chaos or rioting, I was scared I’d be blamed for it because I am Muslim,” she told Kerri Willoughby. “You were marching for me. I watched the rally and the march online and was amazed. Now I am less afraid and more filled with hope.” As Willoughby recounted in a Facebook post, when she, Libby Bakalar and Holly Handler bid farewell to their driver, she hugged each of them, repeating, “thank you for marching, thank you for marching.”

At the top of President Trump and team’s alarmist agenda is the building of a wall to keep out immigrants south of the U.S. border with Mexico. Late in the rally, civil rights activist and University of California Santa Cruz faculty Angela Davis, 73, reminds the crowd: “This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.”

“I’m the nun on the bus,” announces Roman Catholic nun, lawyer, and social justice lobbyist Sister Simone Campbell, 71. “And I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Whether age seven or 70, during that march we made American history. We heard speeches, poems, music and more from people of many colors and ways of seeing the world. But the most important message of the day was the same: resistance and activism in the face of racism and sexism do not stop here. They begin here.

Now we’re making it a daily practice to contact our representatives in Congress. Some of us are donating to or joining non-profits that work for social, civic or environmental justice. Some of us are considering running for office.

In short, we’re fired up.

As we take action, we may take inspiration from the testimony of Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, to the Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls in April, 2016: “Am I angry? Absolutely. I’m not angry enough to create a riot where I burn things down, but I will create a riot, I will set off so that people will understand that this is real. Movements move. Activists activate. We have got to stop talking and move. So I leave you with this: it is time to wake up, get up, step up, or shut up.”

“You could sum up the last two days as the tale of two hats,” observed my Irish march buddy, Bríd. “The crisp, red with white lettered, Make America Great Again ball cap at the Inauguration and the loosely knit pink pussy hat at the Women’s March.”

There’s symbolism in that statement I’ll have to ponder for a while. In the meantime, I’ll appreciate the words of the black Uber driver I met en route back to Alaska. He credited our new president with the first step towards bringing much-needed changes to our nation: “Look what he did! His first day in office, he brought a record number of women to Washington D.C.”