It was both an exorcism, and a revival.
The light blessed down on us, diagonal, through the broken architecture of downtown Los Angeles. Gold that only comes with the ecstasy of mass enlightenment.
There were taco trucks, and men in pink fur coats with sequin hats, and women with “pussy” beanies. I saw grandmothers with walkers, and suffragettes in full, turn-of-the century regalia. Infants and gangsters. Angry hippies, and happy bankers. Families, and gender-fuck punks, and people in cars, just stuck in the middle. The feeling was exalted, but there was something starkly grounded as well. This was the beginning of the next four years, and pavement is hard.
It was nearly 2pm, Farrah and I were on our way back to the bus, but the exodus away from the march was as beautiful as the journey in.
The Goddess had called, and all the souls came out.
I’ll go back to that morning.
Mom knocked at the front door, very emphatically, at 7am. She was sure I would either be asleep or very nearly asleep. I was awake, but horizontal. I threw on my robe, and willed my knees to bend, through the sleep-stiffness, down the stairs. I opened the front door with my “of course I was awake” face, and she put on her “ok, I stand corrected” face, but we knew we were bullshitting each other.
My two-year-old girl was still asleep, so mom hung around downstairs for a bit while I got into my marching attire. I’d decided on black denim overalls, low black converse, an orange tank under a gray cap-tee. I thought layering would be prudent, because LA weather (either underdressed or overdressed). This was dubbed a women’s event, so I was kinda dressing for my girls, but it was really a political action.
7:45am, I made it out of the house, leaving my little one with grandma. Mom did her marches already, when it counted the first time. My mother marched through city streets in NY and Chicago in the late 1960’s - arm-in-arm with dashikis and turtle-necks and bellbottoms and Americans of all colors, though street valleys between glass and stone towers. A steady river of civil disobedience. She told me they looked up to see the buildings lined with police snipers.
She gave me tips: Don’t look into cameras, don’t get filmed, don’t sign anything, don’t get separated from people you know. Now, with a camera on every human in the city, some of this is impossible, but the intention is the same. Political action is peace, on the razor’s edge. The country is fluttering like a leaf again, a strong enough gust, and we split.
Don’t underestimate re-radicalized, senior-citizen, Jewish folks. They’re wild these days. The youth never left, and now they have the title of being elders to excuse long oppressed, delinquent behavior.
My uncle started the car. Squeezed into the back left seat, power-texting like a millennial, I could’ve cocooned myself in the social media zeitgeist fever-dream, but I had to look up, the energy was too live. My mom's friend,Cathy, started talking about how she marched in 1968, and my aunt chimed in - then, peeling out from the parking spot, my uncle did a shoulder-to-the-wheel U-turn, and I felt G-force I did not think possible from a compact hybrid.
January 21st, 2017 had begun.
My uncle pulled into the intersection on the red light, looked right, looked left, then he gunned it right through. My aunt reacted,
“We don’t need to run lights, let’s not get pulled over!”
My uncle threw up his fist,
Everybody laughed. Suddenly I felt cool, like I got to be in the car with the bad kids.
We met up with my cousin, Farrah, and walked to the bus in our padded jackets and mittens, in freezing 60-degree Los Angeles winter. We talked about the inauguration, and quickly it moved from a sense of being appalled, to a deep base of purpose. We talked about how lucky we are to live in one of the American “bubbles” of social progressiveness, and diversity.
Two Asian boys ran by us in yarmulkes and tzitzis.
We also acknowledged that our sense of comfort, in such a safely diverse niche, is one of our greatest enemies. It’s a false sense of security.
The bus arrived mostly empty, but stop by stop the energy changed, and we began to cheer for every group of protesters we picked up. Impromptu chants washed up through us, and out the windows.
Farrah, a bespectacled, partially faux-hawked, Pilipino chick, and I, a black/mixed-race, wild-fro chick, looked like a lot of LA smushed into two people. We talked about how LA has so many little contained worlds within its boundaries - how it’s easy to feel like an outsider in your own city.
The bus pulled over in the Jewelry District downtown. We thought we’d get in closer to City Hall, but the street was barricaded.
We walked under construction over-hangs and passed closed jewelry shops. At some point, we realized we didn’t have to walk on the sidewalk anymore, and when we spilled into the street, the vibration became real. Something about downtown LA, without cars, with only the sprawl of human movement, was holy. There was a wandering impulse, as we neared the first crush of people, sensing our way into this. Some were in a hurry, all were in muted ecstasy of expectation.
The power of the sound took my breath away.
Down, blocks away, somewhere from the deep throat of the avenue I heard it like a wave approaching. It was pure catharsis. One mass voice. I looked over at Cathy, Farrah, at my aunt and uncle.
I had my “Did you fucking hear that?” face on.
They fucking heard it.
The waves kept coming. We were so far back that we couldn’t hear the speakers, but we could detect their speech contours, their pitch, their intention, punctuated by the roar of thousands. I hiked my black converse up onto a planter, and climbed up to try and see further. The pigeons were weaving in and out from behind the buildings, circling in long, morphing flocks. Another wave of human voices reached me.
There were two levels of the crowd, the people, and the paper words, hovering above in every color. It was a canopy of rainbow unrest. More and more came, some were angry, some were hilarious, all were sincere. I could tell you about the signs, but only pictures truly do them justice.
I came down from the planter and walked back to my group. Nature was calling me, and Farrah had also received the call.
We broke from the group, and struck out on our own. I was breaking one of my mom’s cardinal “Protest march rules,” but there really was no choice. Half a block up, we caught sight of open glass doors. We followed a mother and her daughter who had their “I need to pee” faces on. The security guard told us that the passage way went straight through the building, and if we took the exit at the end of the hall, we’d find places with food etc.
The exit door opened up into a closed-off alley, lined with small storefront restaurants. It was like a large, square, cul-de sac, hollowed out underneath a building. Yet another alcove of LA I never would’ve known about until a day away from car culture.
Finally we hit a pizza joint, with amenities. We took care of business, then Farrah and I split a slice, and watched the front door as more and more needful marchers spilled in, seeking these restrooms. Everyone had to buy a slice. It was not bad for business.
In the growing concentration of persons between buildings, a profound thing had begun to take place. Everyone’s phones seemed to be on the fritz, spotty connections at best. Thousands of Angelinos were looking up for the first time in a decade, and talking to each other. We talked to a couple who lived mid-city, a little hipster looking, knit scarves and hats. We talked in solidarity words about the changing national atmosphere, and the only thing unsaid was how beautiful it was to find so many others whose hearts were full, and heavy, like ours. We didn’t need to say it because, for once, everyone was looking up, and it was evident in the eyes.
When we left the pizza joint, Farrah narrowly escaped some dog refuse on the sidewalk. Her shoe got a little nastified, and she had to crip-walk for 10 minutes, dragging her foot over every grate we could find. It was not unfunny. When we brought our heads back up from the mess, we saw a river of humanity bisecting our direction, and turning down the street towards the center of downtown. It had begun. We crossed tight into it, and turned with the crowd.
I willowed for a second in a wave of dizziness. A little nausea, as I got hit with the enormity. Chants broke out “MY BODY MY CHOICE!” “NOT MY PRESIDENT!” It was a microcosm of the full body of humanity. All of us moving in the same direction, linked in presence and time, but completely individualized within our momentary intentions. This man was lifting his daughter, that woman was screaming with her girlfriend, these women were solemn-faced, marching with a banner about rape survival. All unique lights in one energetic flow. I had to sit down.
The street we were on was an unofficial march pathway, because all the streets in downtown were completely overrun. Amazingly, a huge percentage of the trapped motorists were totally down to be caught in the tide.
A man was honking his horn in rhythm, sympathetically with women’s chants, and a police woman was hanging out, arm bent in her open SUV window, just smiling.
I didn’t even notice when we actually got to City Hall, because the crowd had gotten so thick. It was like ComicCon for feminists and progressives. It was, at once, invigorating and claustrophobic. Marijuana wafts had been visiting all day, and continued to grace the atmosphere, so I started to breathe more deeply when such breezes presented themselves, in the hope of catching a little mellow. Might’ve worked, or maybe it was just that we found some space in the din, but I felt that we had reached the heart of it near the official stage. We made it up some stairs, and once we got a little height, the scope was apparent. There were signs with vaginas, but just as many about non-gendered issues.
Los Angeles was mad. Los Angeles was together.
Los Angeles was woke.
The Way Back
It’s a primal sensation, when a herd of your kind pivots and moves. My God. We were all here for each other. The sunlight was shameless, and anger was transmuting into pride. In this city of millions, so fractured and decentralized, nobody was an outsider.
The city offered up food carts, and trucks, tables and folding chairs.
We passed a shirtless African American man shouting “Black Lives Matter! Brown Lives Matter! All Lives Matter!” Everyone who passed him joined the call and response.
We got back to the intersection where Farrah and I had joined the march, and there was a gap in the intersection. On the other side of the street we saw another concentration of people, and another stage. A wave of seismic roar washed back to us.
We didn’t mean to, but we got lost in it. The density was even heavier than the earlier crowd. The pressed intimacy with strangers was beginning to push my panic button, but then I looked up. My heart became full with West Side Story impressions – people were hanging out on fire escapes, climbing up and down the ladders between buildings. Faces on all levels, stories above, and down on the street. I wanted to reach out to everyone, saying, “I didn’t know you were all here, all the time, why have we all been hiding ourselves? We’re not meant to be alone through this.”
We made it back to the clearing, just as Miley Cyrus took the stage behind us, and ran into some suffragettes.
I was beyond exhausted, but I felt the city was just revving up. There was a different energy of action for every person I passed. This was far from over.
This IS far from over.
That’s when the light blessed down on us, diagonal, through the broken architecture of downtown Los Angeles. Gold that only comes with the ecstasy of mass enlightenment.
There were taco trucks, and men in pink fur coats with sequin hats, and women with “pussy” beanies. I saw grandmothers, and suffragettes. Infants and gangsters. Angry hippies, and happy bankers. Families, and gender-fuck punks, and people just stuck in the middle.
It was an exorcism, and a revival.
All the souls came out.