I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m kind of a lazy shit. I will jump on any opportunity to sleep in, lounge around playing video games, and generally do bupkis. It’s why my writing career is likely to top out at “trying to shill self-published novels via a crappy blog.” If I’m going to roll my ass out of bed at 7:30 to go stand in the middle of a giant crowd on a brisk Saturday morning, it’s going to be for something I really give a shit about.
I attended the Boston Women’s March this weekend. Several of my female friends told me it was important and I wanted to back them up. I’m a staunch proponent of affordable healthcare as a basic human right and women’s reproductive health is an important and often overlooked part of that. Planned Parenthood is a hell of a lot more than the giant pile of dead babies it’s demonized as and Republican threats to defund it are a very bad idea. Women absolutely deserve total control over the outcome of dangerous pregnancies. I’m pro choice. Sweeping sex education under the rug and making birth control difficult to acquire is really, really dumb. I’m not convinced our wonderful new president thinks women are even human and his rise seems to have enabled a bunch of assholes who definitely don’t. It all falls under my general theory that we’re all better off when everybody’s better off.
But I still swore at my alarm clock when 7:30 hit, because fuck that obnoxious little piece of junk and its loud noises. I put on jeans, a hoodie, a leather jacket, and a Bruins cap because I figured looking like an average local Sully who gives a crap was the best statement I could make. I wore my Sasha Banks t-shirt underneath it all because I’m a loser and representing a woman that participated in the first ever women’s NXT main event, women’s Hell in a Cell match, and women’s WWE pay-per-view main event seemed thematically appropriate in my wrestling-addled brain.
Groups of women mingled up and down the streets of Somerville, smiling and chatting and obviously ready for a few hours in the cold. I saw a large group gathering behind a church on Mass Ave. The line in the Porter Square Dunkin Donuts was packed with signs and pussy hats. I met a friend, drained a medium iced regular and devoured a wrap, and we got on the T. The red line was Monday-morning-at-8 packed, except it was full of happy faces and excited conversation. It sort of hummed. The trek from the Charles/MGH station down Charles Street to Boston Common became a warm up march. We continued around the common—already alive with people facing the stage and video screen, trimmed with lines of port-a-potties I quickly identified as the only real hiding place if shit went down (HA HA)—grabbed a few more friends outside of Boloco, and dove into the belly of the beast.
We found a spot at what was then the back of the crowd, maybe twenty feet in front of the baseball diamond and equidistant between the hill and the edge of the common. The empty space around us filled in quickly. Every time we looked up, the crowd was bigger. The hill looked like a set of bleachers during a playoff game. To our left, the path leading down the middle of the Public Gardens was a constant stream of incoming people. Trees were climbed. A group managed to scale the backstop behind us. Signs of all shapes, sizes, and colors bobbed above it all, declaring a variety of slogans ranging from “My body, my choice!” to “It’s 2017…why do I still have to protest this stuff?” to a simple “Ugh, fuck.” A group of Muslim women in bright pink head scarves received a loud ovation as they made their way through the crowd. Old women leaning on walkers or canes were given ample space to move along. Any spot that seemed at first glance to be empty turned out to be filled by a stroller or a pack of wide-eyed children. Murmurs of “So this is what <estimate> number of people looks like” bubbled up all around us.
Senator Elizabeth Warren hit the stage to a huge round of applause and absolutely nailed her speech. Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston’s fun but kind of embarrassing uncle, got so excited I worried he was about to burst a blood vessel. Representatives of local tribes spoke about the importance of land and water rights. Union reps reminded us why it’s important for labor to organize. As the speeches became more and more detached from the rally’s advertised focus, the crowd became restless. Enough was enough already; they wanted to march. I was reminded of an article I recently read describing the diversity of the Democrats’ coalition as both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness simply because of how difficult it is to appeal to so many different interests and keep them working together.
A few more speeches and it was time. Due to the size of the crowd, our exit to the street through what I’d come to think of as the rear of the common was a painful, frustrating shuffle. Twenty-ish minutes later we finally hit the pavement.
The energy as those gathered finally moved forward couldn’t have been more powerful. Chants broke out here and there. People pointed and laughed and cheered at each other’s signs and outfits. Police officers and firemen—watchful, but smiling and seeming to enjoy it all—were few and far between, but definitely a presence. A group of officers on bicycles cutting through the crowd got a raucous ovation, and an anti-establishment chant that tried to follow them failed to gain any sort of steam. A man in a Boston Public Works truck repeatedly blared his horn to his and everybody else’s delight. Residents in the surrounding buildings watched from their stoops, wide open windows, or roofs. One such group led a fun sing-a-long from their balcony. Yellow school buses and big, ominous tour buses lined the streets, labeled with both points of origin from across the Commonwealth and the names of famous women’s rights activists to make them easy for their riders to return to. Firetrucks used as makeshift roadblocks dictated the flow of traffic. A woman on the corner in a three-breasted chest piece chanted about something I couldn’t decipher because I was too busy trying (and failing) to come up with a decent Total Recall joke. The short loop up Comm Ave reinforced the overall size and power of the whole thing. The bell ringer in the church by the Arlington T station serenaded marchers with renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “Amazing Grace.”
The march ended rather inauspiciously by that back corner of the common where it began, opposite a rather imposing trio of plow trucks that seemed poised and waiting to scrape any stragglers off the streets if the order to do so came. What now? Signs were left behind in a fence as a sort of makeshift memorial. Marchers wandered off in every direction, their task complete.
All in all, the Boston Women’s March felt far too positive and uplifting to even count as a protest. It’s estimated that 175,000 people attended. Nobody broke anything. Nobody got arrested. The T, miraculously, didn’t break. This was undeniably A Good Thing. This was Big. As a worldwide event attended by several million people, this is going in the history books—right there next to the Donald himself. The organizers, the city of Boston, and the Boston Police Department all deserve a ton of praise for how it went down. I went home exhausted but I couldn’t fall asleep. I was a zombie on Sunday. There was so much to process, all of it good.
“But Scott Colby!” some of you might say. “Protests never accomplish anything! The Republicans are still going to wipe away the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood and try to overturn Rowe vs. Wade and the Donald’s still being a diiiing doooooooooooooong!” Very few protests or demonstrations result in immediate action. They’re part of longer, more complex efforts. A protest is about building momentum, inspiring people to contribute, reminding people they’re not alone, and providing a visible representation of just how many citizens feel strongly about a certain topic. Trump wasn’t elected after just one rally, now was he?
In that regard, maybe the march’s return to the common wasn’t as underwhelming as I initially felt it to be. Maybe, rather than the end, that was just the beginning.