We’re bathed in SPF 70 searching for our friends on Pennsylvania Ave. It’s 93F, the hottest April 29 in history, and the Metro, Washington’s subway, has shut down for track maintenance from our Foggy Bottom stop up to Metro Center, so we hop on the shuttle bus with our nephew and his friend. The shuttle bus is SRO with wannabe marchers with signs. Everyone’s trying not to injure the locals, many of whom are frankly growing weary of the ceaseless weekend demonstrations, but are mostly encouraging nonetheless. We circle downtown for 30 minutes until we figure out it’s faster to walk.
The march begins at 7th and Pennsylvania and we’re about 30 minutes late so most of the tribal communities are already formed up in ceremonial dress — it’s spectacular, with groups from Alaska to Florida in beautiful hand-crafted robes, Navajo, Chippewa, Inuit. I see people from the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Many communities of color follow them, and now we’re running up against the huge mass of folks between us and our designated meet up spot and hearing applause as three young men, in full Aztec wardrobe, bob through the swarm to their assigned posts.
Somehow we find our friends from Maryland and California, who are holding a very professional-looking sign with two arms crossed between an oil derrick and the US Capitol, that reads “Separate Oil and State”. Someone in the crowd just randomly handed it to them and moved on. That sign will help keep us together as we walk throughout the day and we’ll get countless compliments on it. Thank you anonymous creator.
We get hemmed in at 3rd & Madison, a block off Pennsylvania Ave. There are two women bunched under a sunflower umbrella across the street, so I go up to them and say — “Oh good, someone else from PDX!” But they were from San Francisco and didn’t know where the main 350 group was. There seem to be a lot of these umbrellas in circulation. I keep trying to find 350 — I ask several people I see with 350 signs. They can’t locate them either, but they’re supposed to be farther back in the march and there are so many of us we really can’t move much, and now we’re by a brass band (I think they are the Extraordinary Rendition Band, ERB, from Providence), and a group from Baltimore that is rocking and singing and chanting:
“The people rise up
and the people know…
that man has got to go”
So… we’re gonna hang with the Providence and Baltimore party.
There are teachers groups, SEIU, IBEW, large church groups, a group dressed in black tees reading “NO. We Refuse to Accept Fascist America”, two huge puppets of Donald Trump, families carrying their kids on their shoulders, groups from Nebraska, Michigan, New York, Colorado. Food carts line the corners, vendors offer unofficial climate march shirts, Dump Trump shirts. And just across the Reflecting Pool, the Capitol building, freed of its scaffolding, shines after the months of cleanings just completed.
Random cheers go up just for the raw joy of being right here, right now.
When you’re in the thick of it, It’s pretty impossible to try to guess crowd size. We will later hear numbers between 100,000 to 200,000.
When we start moving there’s not an organized chant around us, so I figure it’s time to fire up the Timbers Army spirit and I throw out one of the chants from Portland — “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” — and a handful join in while a lot of heads turn and give us somewhat shocked looks. “Too harsh?” A guy next to me leans in and says “Ummm… that’s what you’re starting with?” OK, so we try “Clean, green economy, this is what we want to see”. That goes down better. (Well, at least I know the crowd parameters now.)
We’ve brought spritzer water bottles and are spraying the already sweat-soaked crowd. This is very much appreciated.
Spectators and passers-by line the sidewalks, many with signs, almost all supportive. Even the DC police are fairly chill. They hang out in the merciful shade trees lining Penn. Ave. There are news cameras all over. People line the balconies of buildings waving and taking photos.
Up ahead, a huge bulge of marchers is blocking progress. The Trump International Hotel, the former stately Old Post Office Pavilion, is on our left. What was once one of the grand dames of DC architecture has become the servant of megalomania and nepotism and conflicting interests, with TRUMP emblazoned over its doors. The crowd is chanting “We are not going away — Welcome to your 100th day.”
Meanwhile, one of the 7-foot Trump puppets, operated by two people, is dancing wildly as the crowd starts a new call of “SHAME” over and over and over and over, growing louder as the marchers behind get clued into what is occurring, and the calls of SHAME echo and circle throughout the streets, people pointing upwards toward the hotel. Hi folks! Enjoy your stay in our nation’s capitol!
We move on, outpacing Providence and Baltimore, past a group of DC hospital workers, and the organizers divide us into twin flanks to surround the White House. There is more police presence here, but there is no riot gear, little sense of the impending harm that we so often feel from the Portland Police these days. These are people looking out for SERIOUS CRAP.
We end up in front of a young group from Minnesota marching together holding two banners in front, one echoing President Obama’s wonderful 2008 Yes We Can speech:
Minnesotans for Climate Justice / We are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
And they are leading us in the familiar call and response as we pass the White House:
Show me what democracy looks like —
This is what democracy looks like!
Show me what hypocrisy looks like —
This is what hypocrisy looks like! (pointing at the White House)
Whose White House?
Our White House!
Off to the side there’s a group dancing with heating duct tubes painted gray that says No Atlantic Pipeline. Everyone’s wrung out and exhausted but inspired, we’ve completely surrounded the White House after two hours in the streets and must now get out of the way to allow the 100,000 behind us their moment at the big house.
The next morning we are on a tour of the Capitol Mall led by a National Park Ranger whose knowledge of the history and nuances of the memorials is stunning. He tells us at the Lincoln Memorial, that just up the steps is a stone marking where Martin Luther King gave his I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington in 1963, a speech that made an 11-year-old Texan boy cry.
So I go up the stairs and find the engraving in the stone, and look out to the World War II Memorial, the Capitol, the languid expanse so rich in history, and I recall exactly the live broadcast of that speech, and the long black and white camera pan out over the enormous crowd, black and white, locking arms and surrounding the Reflecting Pond, listening to Dr. King. As I’m drifting back, a group of folks have gathered sensing something worth a selfie must be here where I’m staring at the ground.
A kid in a baseball cap asks me — “Dr. King was here?”. “Yes, this is the exact spot he stood.”
The kid takes off his hat. “Wow” is all he says.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person,
Or if we wait for some other time.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for
We are the change that we seek.”
— Barack Obama, 2008
Written by: Brett Baylor