The night before the march we got out the poster board and broad-tipped Sharpies in five different colors. I spent way too much time looking for catchy phrases to put on my sign. We’d heard that in New York no rulers–or anything that could be used as a weapon–were allowed to hold signs. So I punched tiny holes in mine, inserted string, and planned on wearing mine sandwich-board style. In the time it took me to make one sign, Dave had made six–enough to make three two-sided signs so that he’d have some to give away to people who didn’t have any. Dave’s two-sided ones were “Ally/No Bully,” “Resist/Fight,” and “Free Melania/No Country for Old, White Men.” Mine was “No Hate. No Fear. Everyone Is Welcome Here.”
The day began with scattered showers, so we wore our raincoats and put clear packing tape on our protest signs to protect them from the rain. I’d looked online for what to pack for a protest march, but it wasn’t actually that helpful. I already wear sunscreen every day, and I generally carry a water bottle. I honestly didn’t expect to get pepper-sprayed, so the suggestion for vinyl gloves (so you won’t spread the pepper spray via your hands) didn’t seem relevant to me. And writing your emergency contact number on your arm in Sharpie (because they take your phone away from you in the slammer) seemed like overkill. Besides, I know Dave’s number, and if I got carted off to the hoosegow, he probably would be too.
I packed some Band-aids, a portable container of hand sanitizer, an ear-warmer, and a kazoo. Dave was really smart and brought cashews. We picked up our friends at their house and headed for the North Berkeley BART station. By the time we were halfway there (near Monterey Market), we were already seeing people walking with their signs toward the station. So we parked and walked the last half-mile to the station. It was early in the day, and we had energy to spare, so why not?
We saw the lines around the BART station from the moment we turned the corner onto Virginia Street around 10:20 a.m. I wish I’d thought to take a picture, but I was focused on getting to the march. Luckily, Berkeleyside did it for me. The pic below was taken just a few minutes before we arrived there. We were so glad that we had clipper cards and got to bypass the lines buying tickets. Apparently there were still lines to board BART an hour later.
Once inside, the atmosphere was festive–people reading each other’s posters and discovering friends among the crowds on the stairs and platforms. I heard my name called from above the escalator and turned to see a friend who’d moved to Connecticut years ago!
Unbelievably we snatched some seats in the last car of a train that was heading toward San Francisco but stopping at Oakland’s 12th Street station. Many people had stayed on the platform to wait for a train that would head further east and drop them off at the Lake Merritt station, which was closer to the beginning of the march route. But it turns out that the train that followed us couldn’t even stop at its scheduled drop-off point because of overcrowding at the station; so I guess we were lucky we’d gotten on the car we were on. With each stop, protesters piled in until we were surely beyond any capacity that train had ever seen. But everyone was kind and cheerful.
We emerged from the 12th Street station and set out to join the march already in progress. Streets were closed to traffic to allow the hoards of protesters to march down the middle of Oak Street up to Grand Avenue and along Lake Merritt. The march’s destination point was Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza), where a rally would feature speakers, music, and other performers at 12:30.
It was really less a march and more a shuffle as thousands of people came together as one to take to the streets and express our deep disappointment in the presidential election’s outcome. But rather than spouting rage, we were espousing peace in a hundred different ways. The variety of signage was a testament to our boundless creativity and was evidence of our various passions. There were humorous ones (e.g., We Shall Overcomb), and the ones children carried (e.g., Be Nice), were the sweetest. Some used Trump’s own words against him (This Pussy Grabs Back!), and some relied on wordplay (Truck Fump). Some stated what should be obvious but isn’t (Women’s Rights Are Human Rights), and more than a few depicted ovaries and vaginas. I personally liked the alliteration in Viva la Vulva! As an editor, I also appreciated that 99 percent of the ones I saw were spelled correctly. And as Dave pointed out, maybe “facism” is a thing.
I was impressed by the range of people represented–women and men; infants to senior citizens; humans of every ethnicity and religion; folks in wheelchairs; some with canine companions; some with musical instruments; and lots with pink pussy hats. We were chanting, laughing, even dancing. We were all in such a good mood, so happy to be surrounded with like-minded people who might not have identical political views but who all agreed on one thing: we were mortified that Donald Trump was our newly elected president. For some, it was their first march; for others, it was the latest of many.
There were those who staked out a spots along the route and watched the parade go by rather than become part of the swarm, but we all waved to each other. Several people lined up along the Oakland Museum, and many cheered us on from the second and third stories of their apartment buildings along Oak Street. We passed the courthouse, the library, the Scottish Rite Temple, and hugged the north shore of Lake Merritt. As some marchers split off down other streets to take shortcuts to the rally, the crowds thinned enough that we were able to pick up the pace a bit.
Around 1:30, when we turned from Grand Avenue onto Broadway, I was ravenous, so we stopped at The Old Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery for sustenance. The little corner shop was filled with other similarly hungry protesters, and we all made room for each other. Dave and I got two of the last three bagels and gobbled them as we rested briefly.
On our way out of the bakery, we ran into friends who were coming from the rally. Was it over already? It was supposed to go until 3:00. They said they enjoyed the music and the dancers, but they couldn’t really hear the speeches from where they stood. So they decided it was time to grab a late lunch and march back home.
It was 2:00, and we were four blocks away from our destination. We could definitely still make it before it was over. But if we weren’t going to be able to hear the speakers, did we still want to go? Of course, if getting to Oscar Grant Plaza was really our goal, we could have walked the one block from the 12th street station and arrived there long before the rally began. Dave’s back ached and my feet hurt from all the standing on pavement. What can I say? We’re getting old.
No, being part of the march was our true aim. We were among the thousands in Oakland and over a million nation-wide that marched on Saturday. I didn’t know it at the time, but people marched all over the globe in solidarity. We are part of a movement that is going to fight back. We didn’t need to stand at the rally to prove that.
We passed the Paramount Theatre and entered the 19th Street station, where many marchers had propped up their signs in a row as a visual record that they had been there. We waited on the platform with dozens of others who were done protesting for the day. When the train’s door slid open, and nobody in the packed car seemed to be exiting, I asked if anyone was getting off. A voice behind me urged me to get on, so I started to step inside the car. Just then a man emerged from the crowd and pushed me angrily back onto the platform. I wish I could say I channeled Gandhi and practiced passive resistance.
But I pushed back. And I may have said a bad word. Luckily, it ended with him grumbling under his breath that I was there for a stupid reason as he brushed past me and went on his way, apparently to accomplish something more important than defending women’s rights. In my head I had a few more choice words for him, but I ignored them and made my way onto the train to take us back to Berkeley, a little shaken and steamed but too tired to care about one dissenter in such a positive group.
Once on the train, a dad discovered that his toddler had lost a shoe and nicely asked if we could all look on the floor around us. Packed too tight for people to bend over, I assumed the shoe was gone-daddy-gone. But seconds later, an arm shot up holding a tiny sneaker, and everyone around us cheered. We were a team, a force to be reckoned with, a finder of shoes, and advocates for justice. We were a part of history, dammit!
If Saturday’s protest was any indication of the passion, resolve, and cooperation we are capable of, we have a good chance of making our voices heard.
It sure feels better than doing nothing.