‘This is what democracy looks like’

Marchers wear signs asking for respect, dignity, inclusion, understanding and equality at the Boston Women’s March for America.

Commentary by CHERYL CHARLES

This wasn’t my first protest march. I like to think I’ve been a rabble-rouser most of my adult life, but as one gets older, sometimes it’s easier to write a check and watch from the sidelines (or on television) than get out in the street, carry a sign, shout slogans and become one of the counted.

The last time I was one of those counted, I was in my 20s, living in Southern California, and fundraising and marching for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It never passed, quietly dying from lack of political muscle and clarity in how long it would take for the states to vote to ratify.

But I’ve always been politically active.

And I, like many others in this bluest of blue states, was shocked, outraged and saddened by the results of the presidential election.

Even two days after the results were in, I still encountered friends who were crying. But I didn’t cry. My heart was broken that there are so many people for whom hatred, bigotry, sexual violence and xenophobia were qualities that they could disregard, if not enthusiastically (or secretly) embrace. I didn’t watch the inauguration of the 45th president. I had watched, with growing horror, his campaign. And as the mother of a daughter, I am more than concerned about the burgeoning acceptance of sexual assault by a person who is supposed to be the leader of this country. So when the women’s march was announced, I knew I would be putting on my walking shoes and taking to the streets again.

Now, even though I’m a woman of color, some of the incoming administration’s policies won’t necessarily affect me. At least not right away. MassHealth will probably still be around if I no longer can get private insurance. I have a little savings should Social Security and Medicare go belly-up once it’s privatized and then mismanaged. But I wasn’t just marching for myself. The women’s movement has always been about speaking out for those who don’t have a voice: the undocumented immigrant, the homeless, the children, the crime victims, the elderly, the disabled. My march was for those who don’t own homes, who are one paycheck from being out in the street, who have to work two or three jobs to survive because minimum wage in this economy is not a living wage, who fear that a shutdown of Planned Parenthood will mean they no longer get health care.

On Saturday I walked to the Boston Common with three friends, met up with another and found common ground with more than 100,000 people.  After the inspiring speeches by many, including Mayor Marty Walsh, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and State Attorney General Maura Healey, we stood for hours, just waiting to get out and join the walk. No one had expected the massive sea of humanity there. It could have gotten ugly. People could have gotten impatient. But there was nothing like that. I’ve never seen, heard or felt so much positive energy. Even the sun came out to shine. We smiled and chatted with strangers (and we know city folk, especially here in the Northeast, don’t do that much). We moved aside to make way for strollers and wheelchairs. We took pictures of the myriad signs depicting all our common concerns: Native American rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, rights of the disabled. There were pink pointy hats everywhere. I didn’t get a chance to snag one, but I did wear a pink hoodie. One of my friends marveled as we stood on the steps going into the park. None of us had ever seen this many people gathered in one place. And the wave of women, men and children just kept coming, waving signs, calling out, smiling at the newfound patriotism. And the chants, of this is what democracy looks like, and Black Lives Matter showed that many thousands of people are ready to wake up and join the revolution. We’re not a post-racial America yet. But that day, and I fervently hope, for many days to come, we decided we are ready to move beyond normalizing ugliness, hatred and bigotry.

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