MARCH ON WASHINGTON
My personal favorite moments at the women's march on Washington 2017
When I first heard about the women's march a few months ago, I didn't think it would be for me. I get a bit suspicious when I hear about "women's" events. Always wondering where Black, trans, immigrant, poc women's identities fit into the narrative. Wondering if the (most likely white) women organizing this event will pepper us in like a spice, or generously feature us more prominently like a side dish. *I don't know why I went with a food metaphor, you get the point. These are all cynical assumptions, I know. But they are also realistic ones.
I'd resigned to skipping the march, staying at home and writing a love song for my people like I usually do. BUT then! Toshi Reagon (musician, activist, sister, mentor, fellow DC native) asked me to sing supporting vocals with her band at the march. Regardless of my assumptions about this movement, I knew I had to be there. And I am so deeply grateful that I was. The event was beautiful. Not flawless, but beautiful. I decided to collect my favorite moments from the day (in addition to some of my least favorite), in an attempt to capture that magic.
1. Awkward high fives in the DC metro!
Walking into the subway at Howard University, first- I saw dozens of students. Young women wearing Howard sweats and black war paint on their faces. Then I we started spotting pink pussycat hats. The numbers of women in the train station growing and growing. Our train arrived nearly packed full of women and their families. When we stepped off the platform at Federal Center-it was crammed with more bodies than the space should safely hold. An anxious person like me would be nervous, disoriented in this space. And I was. Security officers organized a line forcing the group to first walk to the end of the platform, avoiding a bottleneck at the escalator.
As we all walked, people started smiling, cheering. Stress melted into excitement. And we all started high fiving. Like at the end of a scrimmage-when you walk along the line and high five the other team. Adorable. Sweet, yet awkward. We smiled at each other and "wooed" with excitement. Be-you're a fucking softie-i thought to myself as tears welled up in my eyes. This is my city. These are my people coming together in my city for love. This goofy group of strange women in the DC metro really loves me and I love them back.
2. The representation on stage.
Since reading Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks (like the fancy liberal arts educated girl I am), I have never questioned the concept of placing marginalized voices at the center of the feminist movement. Of any movement, really. This wasn't what I expected at the march, but it was what I hoped for. To my surprise, the women's march on Washington hosted a great range of voices and perspectives. I know one voice cannot represent an entire community, but I appreciated that white women's voices were not at the center of the narrative. I heard the voices of Muslim women, immigrants, Black women, Latinx folks, queer folks, elders and youths. Even the organizers representing the women's march movement appeared to be mostly women of color. There was, of course some room for improvement.
We witnessed a few frustrating moments in which certain speakers took up a bit more space than necessary (ahem, Michael Moore, are you fucking kidding me?). That assumption of privilege left less room for other scheduled speakers like Raquel Willis-one of the few trans women's voices represented that day. Her mic was cut mid sentence and regardless of the well intentioned folks behind the scenes-it was hurtful and disappointing to say the least. *other folks were cut mid sentence as well, but most of the speakers cut off had far exceeded the very specific three-minute limit allotted to each speaker.
3. Toshi and BIG LOVELY, THE Band.
The BADDEST band in the land, yall. Toshi, who is fly A.F. on her own-has a gift for bringing brilliant women together and this band is one fine, fine example of that. All women, all kickass musicians, humble, kind and generous human beings-Big Lovely served as the house band for the rally. They brought life and energy to every song they played and remained deeply respectful of every artist as they blessed the mic. I am always honored to play with them. I am honored to know them. And they're all super hot (not that that matters, but facts are facts).
I was also psyched to sing along side Carolyn Malachi, who is THE MOST innovative jazz and soul singer I have ever seen, a grammy nominated artist, lover and preserver of go-go music, and a fellow DC native. *If you don't know her, please find her now.*
Toshi had the vision to bring this band's brilliance to the march, and truly rep DC by asking Carolyn and myself to come in as well. Such a boss.
4. The dudes: Maxwell and Jeffery Wright
I'm not sure if both my gay and my feminist cards will be revoked for this-but Maxwell was one of the highlights of my women's march. I knew (in theory) of Maxwell's magnificence. But watching him sing in person was actually a miracle from heaven. When Toshi emailed me and Carolyn saying something really regular like "maxwell needs vocals on woman's work, yall down?"-I completely ignored it because I knew it was impossible. Maxwell was probably the name of a prominent drag king scheduled to cover the song. There was a reasonable, realistic explanation for all of this nonsense. But no.
I walked to the edge of the stage, looking for a snack when two beautiful men appeared before me. "Be!" Says Jeffery Wright, my absolute favorite male actor of all time. *Background, I was part of a show with him less than a week ago but the fact that Mr. Wright remembered my name was too much for my little heart to bear.* We hugged. "HEY!" I replied in an attempted casual tone. "Do you know this guy?" Jeffery says, gesturing to Maxwell standing next to him. "Um...no?" I say. Not knowing how to respond to that-I mean I know OF him-but clearly I don't know, know him. "This is Maxwell." Jeffery says. And then they proceeded to argue with each other about how wonderful the other one was. And I stood there with heart eyes for a moment, then settled the argument, "you are both wonderful." Then i walked away swiftly because I had somewhere very important to be. *Famous people scare me.*
Later in the day, when Maxwell took the stage to sing-I could NOT contain the joy exploding from my heart. Pretty much every still of every video of this moment catches me blissful, in awe of the incredible music coming from this beautiful man. Overall, his performance, his presence, his voice was grace.
5. Janelle Monae's "HELL you talmbout"
I'd seen a recording of this piece live on Youtube last year and was so deeply moved. The song gives you that feeling of wanting to fight, dance, cry and stomp all at once. The song demands anger, vulnerability and movement. Janelle took the stage with the self-identified "mothers of the revolution", women who lost their sons and sisters to police executions. Singing this piece was difficult for everyone on stage. I could barely get the words out, so choked up with anger and grief. Within the verse of the song, these women said the names of the lives lost. The crowd called out the names of Mya Hall, Dianna Mason, Eric Garner, Mohamed Bah, Dontre Hamilton, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.
*In an article about the performance, Rolling Stone writer Daniel Kreps published every name, yet chose to disregard the names of the trans women slain by police. A number of other news outlets like Pitchfork, failed to mention the presence of Cherno Biko (#BlackTransLivesMatter co-founder) and left out both of the honored trans women's names. I had to struggle to resist going on a twitter rant about transphobia and trash journalism. Just wrote a strongly worded comment below the article. Now it lives above another comment stating "No woman's march would be complete without the mother's of dead thugs." So much ignorance. So many fuckboys.
But regardless of the ignorance, I was and still am grateful for this song. This moment allowed us all the chance to remember what is at stake. Not just rights, but lives have been stolen from our families. Speaking these names, honoring those lives is a refusal to normalize the violence. The song allows us to reclaim our humanity.
6. The sounds.
Hearing the light shower of voices rolling from a distance and growing into a roar. The sound of thousands of women's voices is like a storm. First it sounds like rain, then it sounds like the ocean, then it grows louder and wild like structures crashing down. Rain, storm, demolition. I loved hearing that sound. I loved adding my voice to that storm.
7. The love.
Maybe many of us were motivated by anger and fear. In absolute opposition to something we all agree is so wrong and so dangerous. But anger blooms from pain. And unanimous opposition to hatred is not enough to create change.
I came to the march that day with so much pain. The past few months have been the worst of my life. My heart was broken. By the world and by the person I loved more than anything. I can't tell you that I was strong because I wasn't. I found every way to hurt myself and the people around me, i closed up and silenced myself. I cried and felt sorry for myself, disgusted by my own behavior. I still haven't recovered. So why would I feel comfortable with half a million strangers? Why, that day did I feel whole, even hopeful for the first time in months? I brought my sadness to the march and was met with love. With smiles. Uncomfortable closeness, bodies of strangers pressed against mine. But I felt safe.
I don't want to see love as passive or weak. It isn't. It requires fighting, protecting, shouting like a storm to demolish the structures that imprison us. I want the love I found at the march to grow and grow and become so deep that THE MOMENT these fools try to take our rights away, we are ALL there. We ALL come back to the national mall, or to our city hall or wherever and we ALL collectively say FUCK NO. I want this love to transform these thousands of women into an organized army. The administration will not work for us. They will not protect us. We only have each other. Maybe that love will be more than enough.
"Let me queer our collective notion of love right now. So that every one of us will step past the easy, the scripted, the societally sanctioned, the familiar, the safe, notions of love and let us choose the pathway to not only the greatest possibility, but the greatest reward. We are not a fluke. This is not a singular phenomenon. We are fantastic. And fabulous. And this is only the beginning. This is not a one off. This is an uprising. This is an uprising of love. Say it. We are an uprising of love. We are an uprising of love...." From the Women's March on Washington speaker J. Bob Alotta. Astraea Foundation Executive Director
Footage of the March available here https://www.c-span.org/video/?422332-1/womens-march-washington-protests-new-trump-administration&live