Today was a long strange day and one I will remember fondly for a long time. I woke up to rain. The Woman’s March in downtown Atlanta was scheduled to start at 1:00. I knew it would probably be crowded, especially on MARTA. I don’t like crowds particularly. However, I had mentioned to staff at the paper that I might cover the event – something that normally we would not do because we work really hard to focus on strictly local news – stuff that actually happens in North Fulton or South Forsyth. Additionally, writing about anything associated with the election or the new president was at a minimum questionable because we have all been over-exposed to that news ad-nauseam by this point. Enough.
So the rain was a good excuse to not go I thought to myself – for maybe 10 minutes. Then I did what I think I have done a few times or more in my life, which is to do something simply because it is the right thing to do.
I have done many things during my adult life also for the sole purpose of providing a good example to my children. If a parent is not going to do that, who will? I have always been a vocal advocate of speaking up and actively supporting one’s cause. So, I thought, how can I skip attending this march?
“Maybe it will get rained out,” I thought, as I drove through a heavy downpour on Ga. 400 to the MARTA station. Maybe no one from North Fulton will be going to this thing, which would give me the perfect out. Then again, my wife and her best friend Debbie were marching in LA and my daughter was marching in Oakland, as was my sister Allyson.
After watching the inauguration on TV, close friends packed and drove all night to Washington to be there for that march – the right thing to do in their minds. How could I not suck it up and go?
Surprise number one was that MARTA was absolutely packed with people from Alpharetta, Roswell and North Fulton. Hundreds of people crowded the North Springs station – many with their signs and banners, some with children, couples, singles — and all animated, excited and seemingly glad to be there getting ready to be drenched and walk. I was feeling more at home. I had my first interview with the woman in line behind me – you can hear it on our website NorthFulton.com.
When I first got on my train, I thought I got on the wrong one – the one headed to the Grateful Dead concert. Everyone was old like me – gray hair, tired but glistening eyes – jeans, leather shoes, and yes those pink pussy hats* that I had never heard about but discovered rather quickly.
I sat next to a woman – Karen Tapelband - from Marietta who reminded me of a swim team mom at all those meets I attended growing up. Trim, conservatively and comfortably dressed, and personable, she said this was only the second protest she had ever attended. It was my first.
We talked about many things, but the one thing she said that stuck with me was that when she told her husband she was doing downtown to the march, he told her that they would make more money with Trump in office, so why go? Her response to him that she shared with me was simple and eloquent: “That’s not the point, not the point at all,” she replied to him. She told me she was going to stand up for the values of hers she felt were in jeopardy.
“Couldn’t just do nothing” she said.
I asked her how her children felt about her doing this protest. She said that both of them had supported Bernie and wanted nothing to do with either of the candidates in the election after Bernie lost.
“They want nothing to do with the status quo” she said.
I told her that sounded familiar. I have high hopes for that generation; they won’t be taken in by the rhetoric or the spin. They can see what is going on.
When I got off the train at the Five Points station, it began to rain even harder. After about 10 minutes walking I was half drenched, even though I was wearing a rain jacket. It didn’t much matter, though, because the crowd was growing rapidly all around me – hundreds then thousands of people. Many of us took a short break in a parking garage when the rain got much heavier.
While we waited for a break in the weather, I interviewed a young couple — both teachers. She taught art in Lawrenceville and he taught AP English Literature in Suwanee. Both were here for essentially the same reason as Karen – not directly as anti-Trump activists but as pro values – inclusiveness, diversity, equality, women’s rights — they felt were in jeopardy because he won the election. I was interested in how they managed the election in their classrooms.
She told me that she tried to focus like a laser on her discipline – art – and avoided allowing politics in any form into the classroom. He said the same thing, although his mission to his AP Literature classes was to teach and train his students how to think and process critically so they had the tools to make their own political choices and decisions. They both wore the pink hats and were a delight to spend a few minutes with one wet Saturday afternoon.
Estimates of the Atlanta crowd were in the neighborhood of 60,000. I am sure that the ultimate number of marchers nationally and around the world ranged from more than a million to as high as 2.9 million. Whatever the number was, it was massive. There were marches all over the world in support of women’s rights in the United States as well as opposition to the new administration in general.
Los Angles had over 750,000, Chicago and Boston had estimates of 250,000, New York 200,000 to 500,000 and the estimate in Washington DC was 500,000. Smaller cities still had big numbers: Oakland with 60,000; 50,000 in Philadelphia; 100,000 in Madison; 20,000 in Nashville. A friend texted me that even in her small town of Roanoke, Va., there were 3,000.
The interesting and probably most surprising aspect of these marches to many people who weren’t there, was the fact that there was no violence and at this point I have yet to even hear of an arrest. That’s not bad for a widespread event involving over millions of protestors. In fact I think it is somewhere this side of magic or divine.
The tone of the marches also was a surprise. The negativity, hate, confrontations and aggression so commonly associated with protest marches in our past – think those during the Viet Nam War – was almost entirely missing. Yes a modest minority of the protest signs and messages were directly aimed at President Trump and his agenda. However, the vast majority of those attending these marches from all I can see and read was a positive message of values and a desire to communicate in no uncertain terms that attempts to change, eliminate, or diminish those values will be met with resolute opposition on a massive scale.
On my way back to MARTA, I spotted what was probably as representative of the spirit and tone of this woman’s march in Atlanta as anything else I saw – the lines of high fives, hugs, and thumbs up between the protestors exiting the route and the rows of police officers they were walking past. Both protestors and the police together worked and worked well – respect in action and smiles all around. The Atlanta Police released a video of that exit that is worth seeing if you haven’t already seen it.