When I first heard of the Women's March on Washington, I thought, "That's going to be a lot of women," and I looked forward to seeing the event unfold on television from the peace and safety of my living room. (As an introvert, being in a crowd is challenging, to say the least. I simply shut down and become nearly catatonic.) Then I learned there would be a march in Los Angeles, which I thought would draw a significant crowd but demonstrably smaller. (Boy, was I wrong.) I also thought my daughter might go, depending on the weather, and if she went (and drove), I could probably summon the courage to go (mostly because I'm extremely proud of her, and that joy would empower me). Then a friend on Facebook sent me an invitation to "like" the Women's March taking place in Riverside. I clicked on the page, read the description of where the march would take place, and let me tell you (if I can) how profoundly that affected me.
In the summer of 1970, I got my driver's license, which was the one saving grace of that summer. I was sixteen. The summer before, my mother had married my wicked step-father, and we had moved from Orange County to the Riverside area. Throughout the year following that event, I warded off countless unwanted leers, touchings and attempted violations by my mother's husband. I appealed to my mother—to no avail. Getting my license meant leaving the house at night. There was a Christian coffeehouse, The Gathering Place, on Sixth Street in Riverside in those days. It was my safe haven and best excuse. Once my mom had been there and determined that it was a nice place for Christian young people to hang out, she let me go as often as I wanted (and also because, let's be honest, my presence in the home was causing a great deal of tension in the new marriage she was determined to make a go of). I would drive to the coffeehouse, stop in long enough to drink a cup of coffee, then walk the outdoor mall for hours—until I knew my mom and the pervert she married were sleeping.
As soon as I saw that the Riverside march began on Sixth Street, I knew I had to go. That's what this was all about. At sixteen, I had no one to turn to, no one to speak up for me as an advocate. I wanted to march with other women who were willing to speak up. I wanted to march for the girl I was at sixteen.
I arrived early and parked easily. (Though the city has changed a great deal in terms of gentrification, I can still find my way around the Mission Inn and library pretty well, despite the fact that it's been almost fifty years since I used to bum around down there.) As I walked toward the mall, I joined other women—and men and children and some pretty adorable dogs—who would be marching as well.
A man was playing Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" on the guitar and singing, and I was reminded of the times I would bring my own guitar to this very spot, carrying it over my shoulder like the hippie I was, settling in on a spot of grass to sing "Blowin' in the Wind." At the thought of that, remembering the lonely, isolated, troubled girl that I was back then, I felt a lump rise in my throat and nearly broke down weeping.
Instead, I shook off the ghosts of the past and gave myself something meaningful to do in the present. I started taking pictures. The guy pictured below was with Rise Up, California, and any time I began to feel overwhelmed emotionally, I glanced back to see him standing there, a strong yet unassuming man who happened to be wearing a pink "pussy" hat on his head, clearly here in support of women. He gave me hope.
And Sister, let me tell you, so did all the women who showed up. The city had given event planners a permit for 500 people to march. 5,000 showed up. There were signs everywhere, and when I realized I wouldn't be able to snap photos of all the ones I loved, I decided to go live on Facebook and simply stream what was going on. That's when it all became real to me, when I began to share photos and clips on social media and people responded with comments and likes and hearts. In the first hour, over one hundred people had watched the live stream. My daughter (who was forced by heavy snowfall on her mountain to remain at home, alas) sent me a text letting me know that she was watching—and that my granddaughter, away at college in Anchorage, Alaska, was also marching—in snow and freezing temperatures. If I had nudged myself out of my comfort zone on a bright sunny day to participate, she had leapt frozen feet first into the icy darkness to take part, which I thought was absolutely heroic (which you should, too, even if she's not your granddaughter).
These pictures I took look like a party compared to what marchers endured in Anchorage. But hey, they still had a great time!
The photo below was taken as we marched, so the quality is poor, but I liked the idea of this--Let's make sure we're inclusive:
And this sign nearly had me weeping again:
All Saints Episcopal Church is where I was married in 1972. It is the place where my spiritual journey began. Once upon a time, a nineteen-year-old kid who liked to draw comics started leading a Sunday night fellowship there. His name is Greg Laurie. He's now the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, one of the largest churches (in terms of membership) in California, if not the entire country. Greg and I were once good friends, but I can no longer get in to see him. Alas, that is a story for another time, another place. But getting back to All Saints: Hell yeah, they mean it when they say, "Everyone is welcome." These ladies had gone into the top tiers of a parking structure so their sign could be seen by the multitudes.
As we walked, I was a single person weaving in and out of families with kids in strollers, some people pushing disabled folks in wheelchairs, and large groups of friends who came to walk together. Two older women walked ahead of me for awhile, holding hands, leading a toy poodle that trotted along in a cart because her back legs were paralyzed. I wanted to get a photo, but they were walking too fast for me to keep up. And then I walked beside this gentleman for awhile:
Again, forgive the quality; I was walking and didn't want to interrupt to ask for a photo--he was explaining to his grandsons, with great earnestness, how "gender shouldn't matter--it should never matter" when people are trying to accomplish things.
His wisdom and tenderness with those boys just about swept me away again. Oh, to have had a father or grandfather who would have cared for me in such a way. And he is so, so right; gender should never matter. Women should be seen as capable individuals, not judged like every day is a beauty contest they are forced to participate in whether they want to or not. Certainly we deserve respect. At times it appears we will only get that respect if we demand it. So be it. I am no longer the young girl who suffered in silence. Come at me, Donald Trump, or anyone else of your ilk. Go ahead. Make my day.