Stunned on November 8th is an understatement. Trump’s election cut me to the core. While I respected Hillary Clinton’s intellect, effort, and experience, I was less than enthusiastic about another Clinton (or Bush) back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I really liked Bernie, but didn’t see him getting to the nomination, much less elected to the presidency. In hindsight, I have to second guess my own assumptions. The tide was turning and a core constituency was going to vote against the status quo – those people had the excitement that I had felt when Barack Obama ran for president and filled many of us with the hope that swept him into office after 8 years of dubya.
Those on the right moved from one candidate to the next as the field was winnowed down – with Trump surviving due to his own wealth circumventing the need to depend on party funding during the primary race, and surviving due to his familiarity with, and ability to manipulate, the media. His years of building gilded towers and as a TV reality star who reveled in pitting tycoon wannabees against each other, only to fire those who didn’t measure up, created a made-for-TV personality that wrapped the press around his very little fingers. His message was clear and concise – he was going to “Make America Great Again” – which played well with a growing group of people, but left others waiting for specifics.
The Democratic party machine saw to it that Hillary got the nomination as per their script – and I felt that Hillary would win – until the FBI bombshell about more emails a week before the election. My heart sank and I had an ache in my stomach. I follow the news, I read, and pay attention. I knew the election would be decided by about 1% of the vote – a few “purple” individuals would tip one way or the other when they went into the voting booth and marked their ballot. The election would not be decided by the red or blue voters. Even though the late breaking “news” got walked back by the FBI just before the election, the damage had been done. Hillary won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, but Trump won the 3 necessary electoral states by about 70,000 votes – far less than the 1% I had projected. Still, Donald J. Trump would become the 45th president of the United States. I turned off the TV after Florida was called, knowing the election was decided, and went to bed heartbroken and full of despair.
The next 6 weeks were hard for me. President Obama readied his team for the transition and remained positive with his messages as the number of days left in his presidency dwindled down toward Trump’s inauguration. Trump picked his cabinet appointees and talked about his first hundred days in office. His goal was to immediately undo much of the work that Obama had done during his administration – healthcare, trade deals, immigration, nuclear agreements, and appoint a new supreme court justice.
On January 20th I watched the inauguration – and still feel grateful to witness the peaceful transition of power in our country. However, the colorful pageantry of the moment, the tradition and ceremony, quickly faded as the newly sworn in president Trump started his speech. The gray skies slowly transitioned to a drizzle, umbrellas and ponchos appeared, and the mood darkened along with the sky as our new president gave the worst inaugural address I have ever heard – even George Will agrees. Rather than offer words of conciliation and a constructive vision for working with congress (the people WE elect to represent us) to put the country on a new path, he painted a stark picture of a failed nation, conjured images of carnage and tombstones, blamed everyone in Washington for being self-serving, and promised to make everything right. Trust me. We are going to win again. Believe me. It was short, he used his 5th grade vocabulary, and he played to his base – and only his base. It was a recycled campaign stump speech, worthy of a crowd eating fried chicken and potato salad while listening to candidates out-talk each other during the primary season on a farm in Iowa – it was NOT a presidential address that will echo through history with its inspiring themes and articulate resonance. There was no call to action, just the assurance that Donald J. Trump was here to single-handedly solve every problem that Washington in general, and Barack Obama specifically, had created. Trust me. We are going to WIN again. Believe me. He never smiled. He scowled the whole time. Mr. Potter goes to Washington.
Moments later the entourage left their seats and made their way to the east side of the capitol where Marine One waited to fly now “citizen” Obama and the most amazing First Lady, Michelle, off to Andrews Air Force Base for one last flight on what had been called, on every other flight, Air Force One, but today the familiar 747 would simply be called 28000 because it no longer had the president on board for the trip to Palm Springs. Watching a president leave Washington after a new president takes office has always been emotional for me – regardless of who is leaving and who would be moving into the White House. But watching the Obamas fly over the national mall, past the Washington Monument, and over their home for the last 8 years, left a lump in my throat and dread in my heart.
But that was Friday and this is Saturday. What a difference a day makes.
What started out as a Facebook post by a woman in Hawaii, suggesting shortly after Trump’s election that women should march on Washington, went viral. In a short period of time a Women’s March was organized in Washington for the day after the inauguration. It became a movement as more cities organized marches of their own. Pink pussy hats were knitted by the thousands. Signs and placards were made. Speakers and A-Listers that shunned Trump’s festivities signed on. Plane tickets were purchased, buses were filled, vans carried “sisters” heading to Washington to show their support for women’s rights – standing up to power.
This morning in Minneapolis was wet and gray, but warmer than most Januaries in Minnesota. Veloice and I had talked of marching and we were looking forward to making our way to St. Paul to participate. I hoped the weather wouldn’t dampen the enthusiasm for other participants – a good showing would look good on our local 5 o’clock news. We parked the car at St. Paul College (the gathering point) and could see the newly renovated capitol in the distance. The crowd was rather small but we had arrived early and I was more focused on connecting with my oldest daughter, Megan, who had driven down and parked at the capitol. We stood by a row of porta-potties that were highly visible and waited for Megan. The crowd grew. The signs were creative. The pink pussy hats were everywhere. So were guys – husbands, boy friends, partners, dads, and sons. And kids – learning great lessons from caring, engaged parents. There was laughter. There were smiles. And the crowd grew.
We still had 30 minutes before the march got underway when the organizers started getting us warmed up and ready to go. By now we were shoulder to shoulder in the packed parking lot/staging area – there was no room to move. I looked out toward the capitol in the distance and saw people everywhere! The place was alive with an energy of its own. I stood still, and quiet, as I watched and listened to the people around me. I took it all in and felt a peace come over me that I hadn’t felt since the election. I felt hopeful again. Young and old, women and men, black, white, brown, gay and straight, wheelchairs, kids – everybody was here for the same reason and supporting each other. You could feel the excitement. I felt this once before, when, shortly after Kent State happened in 1970, I flew to Washington DC and participated in the student march on Washington that was protesting against the war in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of youth spoke truth to power and the tide turned against our involvement in Southeast Asia. I remember seeing the buses parked bumper to bumper around the White House, I remember seeing armored military vehicles parked in the courtyard of a government building, I remember the smell of tear gas in the air, I remember meeting a guy who was watching the crowds – when I asked where he went to school he answered “Harvard Law – I’m watching history get made.” I remember sitting on a bench at the base of the Washington Monument at night and looking out at the lit up capitol building down the mall and wondering what Thomas Jefferson would think of this moment (I still think he would be smiling). I was there (and later served with the Army Security Agency in Vietnam), I saw how taking part can plant the seeds of change, and those memories raced through my mind as we finally set off toward the capitol.
The Women’s March broke all records for participation in Washington, in cities across the country, and even more cities around the world. We stood with 100,000 people in St. Paul. My daughter, Emily, told us they had 1,000 marchers in their little town of Driggs, Idaho. From coast to coast people came out to say “enough!” History was being made. The feelings of heartbreak and despair were nowhere to be found – hope was everywhere. The election of Trump is not the beginning of a new conservative era, it is the beginning of the end for their overreach and empty promises. They can’t make America great again – it already is, and this White House is about to learn what pissing off a lot of women means to their angry, old, white man’s conservative agenda.
The mid-term election of 2018 has just begun. Fired up! Ready to go! Again.