By Canan Karetekin
The day was bleak. The skies were cloudy. It was drizzly & cold (though warm by Minnesota standards). I spent close to three hours on buses (some of which were extremely crowded), and close to 6 hours mostly standing still or shuffling step by step and doing only a relatively small amount of actual marching. The ground was mostly ice, slush & mud. My back hurt like crazy from having to stand still for so many hours. My feet got frozen from standing on ice. I wouldn’t have minded a bathroom break, but let’s not even talk about porta potties. So I was not a happy camper, physically speaking.
Yet this was one of the most meaningful days of my life. I went to the march with a friend and fellow humanist. We started from my home, which is about an hour and a half away from the march location by public transportation. At the bus stop, we ran into a neighbor of mine and her cousin who were also going to the march, and chatted with them. When we boarded the next bus, we sat next to a young girl getting a master’s degree at the U of MN who was also going to the march and had a lovely conversation with her. As we got closer and closer to the march location, the buses became more and more crowded with people going to the march and more and more pussy hats. At each bus stop or bus, we got into friendly conversations with strangers. At the march location, we stood mostly still at a parking lot for almost two hours. For about one hour, we were packed like sardines and did not quite know what was going on or why we were not moving. Yet, people were patient and super-nice to each other. On the way back as well, we struck up conversations with total strangers. I was overwhelmed by the feeling of camaraderie that seemed to envelop the whole city. It was as if, for one day at least, we were all trying to make up for the callousness shown by the politicians at the top.
It turned out that the initial delay was due to too many people showing up. I think the organizers were expecting about 20 to 30,000 people, and I heard at the march that close to 60,000 showed up. Just now, I read that more than 90,000 people were there.
This was the first major march I ever participated in, and I was very struck by how many signs were home-made and did not look slick or professional. Many of them were witty, full of love, hope, and respect for diversity. This was not an event organized by a certain group with an agenda or a fancy organization. It was truly a spontaneous, grass-roots uprising against incivility and divisiveness, and for solidarity, democracy, and tolerance for diversity. I saw no yelling, arguments, or signs of violence at all, even though we are supposed to be living in an extremely polarized society right now. It was “Minnesota nice” in the best possible sense of the term.
I spent yesterday afternoon working with a small group of women discussing how to increase voter participation for this November’s elections, yesterday evening at a very family-friendly community party in a relatively low-income neighborhood listening to appeals for resistance by activists from environmental, Native American, African American, Latino, LGBTQ, and Muslim groups, and today with tens of thousands of Minnesotans listening to another diverse group of activists and local politicians and standing up for democracy and human rights. Trump and his rich cronies represent one part of America, but the people I saw in these last two days represent another part, and they are worth fighting for.
I am not an optimistic person, and I am still terrified of what the next four years will bring, but I am slightly, ever so slightly, more optimistic today than I was yesterday morning. I saw good, decent people (most of whom were young) showing up with a positive attitude to support democracy, human rights, and a civil society, without giving in to despair, anger, or fear. I am writing this before I read all the media spin on this march, so these are my un-mediated thoughts and observations. I don’t know if there was any violence elsewhere, and if Minnesota was different in any way. I also don’t know whether this march will accomplish anything, how long this mood will last, whether this will lead to a sustained movement. But no matter what happens, I am glad I showed up and got to live this day.