Reflections on a march that moved like molasses and smelled suspiciously like freedom

I participated in two marches last weekend. The first began at City Hall on Friday evening after dusk, in the rain. As I walked through the bottom of Chinatown toward the Financial District I passed by the Manhattan Detention Complex, aka The Tombs, where every day buses full of New Yorkers are shipped, booked and locked up in cages. I was late for my march but I paused anyway and looked up at the building. The building is deceptive: it rises some twenty stories high but those visible levels are all courtrooms, meeting rooms and offices, where the nice people go to work every day then leave at night so they can go home to their families while the subcontracted cleaners come to tidy up. The tombs themselves are down below, of course. You can’t see them from the street. You enter through heavy metallic nondescript doors on the left side of the building’s lobby and you descend down, down, down, back and forth and down like you’re wandering through someone’s small intestine, and the farther down you go the more the cheap fluorescent lights grate on your eyes and the quieter it gets. I stood there in the rain and I thought about the men and women who might have been down there tonight and I imagined the guards would not have put coverage of protests on the television for fear of riling up the imprisoned.

The next day I marched again, in Midtown. Collectively with some 500 other marches across the country I was part of the largest protest in U.S. history. Not including protests that occurred in solidarity around the world. I chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay.” I said, “Immigrants are welcome here.” Someone asked me to show them what democracy looked like and I said, “This is what democracy looks like.” It felt great to be out there with everyone. It was encouraging to see so many young children out there who know that our new president is a slime monument who hates women and brown people. It was equally encouraging to see people two or three times my age out there rejecting any normalization of his rule. It was encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of white women and white men, like myself, all showing up to spit on the discursive tactics of white fear, white nationalism, and white American victimhood that got our orange president elected. As we chanted and marched and hugged each other and laughed and smoked weed within our ranks I watched the police blocking the roads for us and gazing at us not aggressively but, I imagined, approvingly or even with pride. I imagined they wished they could have been marching with us, or I imagined that they were grateful that they had to work today so that they could bear witness to the event. I have no doubt that many of them shared the protesters’ feelings about the election and the man who won.

Later that day I saw a video of a policeman dancing with a protestor in a different U.S. city. As much as I’m sure conservative news outlets wanted to depict the Women’s March as violent or uncivil, it was clear in New York and everywhere else I read about that this historic demonstration was peaceful. It did not pose an immediate threat to power. And so everyone got along and no one was hauled away. My mother didn’t have to worry that I’d get arrested and have to call one of the various lawyers in my family to get me out. And hundreds of thousands of other parents and spouses and siblings across the country also did not have to worry. Ultimately the legions of police who supervised each march were there to protect the participants and maintain order in our cities. Meanwhile in these liberal strongholds men and women were still being shipped to dark cells for any number of violations of racial rules that politicians had put in place long ago and not so long ago. Meanwhile uniformed agents hired by private companies contracted by the state were forcibly removing people from their homes to make way for other people with more capital and lighter skin. Meanwhile men and women were devising systems in which communal spaces could be logically and economically paved over by private companies. Meanwhile, in distant, secure rooms, men and women in suits were devising systems to ramp up profits off of a dream they would sell to millions of children who would be forced to fight amongst themselves so that a few of them could realize that dream. The sinister thing about it is that many of the leaders who represent such plots, such systems and such agendas, marched in the crowd with us, marched alongside us. Some of them were speaking at our events, getting us fired up.

Later many of us went back to our gentrified white neighborhoods to enjoy ourselves and celebrate the day. I am one of those people and I am not trying to say that my participation in these two marches was problematic or that I am guilty because I am trying to make the best of a shitty situation that extends long before I was born. I am saying that we need to understand that in this country the resistance doesn’t end with the one-upping of a misanthropic golf course tycoon, or his impeachment, or, if we could go back in time, a colossal redo whereupon we’d make all the right moves to install another Democrat in the White House. If I say “Black Lives Matter” during a parade I’m saying it because I understand that there is a minefield of colorblind codes and maneuvers in public and private administration functioning so that black lives don’t matter. If I say “this is what democracy looks like” I’m saying it because I understand that we don’t have democracy right now and that, if we’re ever going to get it, we’re going to have to double down on some real questionable electoral shit for the time being. We’re going to have to organize for a sea change in civic participation inspired by political representatives who actually speak to and for thoughtful Americans who’ve been working for justice for quite some time. And then we’re going to have to redesign political parties so that they serve educated constituencies rather than individual professional actors who wear suits and speak fluent American nationalism.

I had a great time marching last weekend, and I got chills watching all the coverage online. I took great satisfaction in watching Trump try to play it off on the Twitters and hearing his press secretary make desperate lies to the press while criticizing the press for practicing journalism. We’ve got some sort of a movement here and Donald Trump may counterintuitively be part of why it’s got traction. But at the end of the day my friends have been asking me what we do now, where do we go from here, where does this lead, and I have been asking them the same questions back, and all I know is that the massive injustices we live with, benefit from and profit off of will not work themselves out just because we stand up for the rights of individuals. We are out to reorganize a vast web of persistent fuckery. If Mitch McConnell loses control of Congress in 2018 it better end up in the hands of politicians from whatever political party who are ready to wage war against privatization, white hetero Christian misogynist supremacy, an apartheid state, neoliberal capitalism and fossil fuel industries. If Trump gets fired in 2020 we better replace him with somebody who’s going to push a political and cultural agenda more radical and thoughtful than Obama ever could. So I’m marching not just to “join the cause” or “stand up for what I believe in” or to protest the clowning sad orange president but to symbolize, with my body, my hopes for complex and multidimensional political change. I’m marching because I understand the contradictions I’m living and I insist on engaging with them at once radically and practically. I’m marching because you all dragged me out there and the “mainstream media” dragged me out there. I knew it would make me feel good even if there were some things we weren’t talking about. You can’t fit a lot of that on a sign.

 

 

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