There’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to describe the Chicago Women’s March today in any authoritative fashion. The closest I could get to the stage was still a quarter of a mile away, so I didn’t see or hear any of the speeches or speak to the organizers. I couldn’t get Internet access on my phone, so I didn’t learn the march part had been canceled until I’d marched with the crowd for several blocks up the middle of Michigan Avenue and a stranger with better service told me. Her husband was watching the news at home and said that 250,000 people had come out and that it was the largest march in the country outside of D.C. It was bigger than the speakers, bigger than the organizers, bigger even than the Chicago Police Department who originally said the crowd was too large to march from Grant Park to Federal Plaza safely and then let us march anyway.
But here’s the beautiful part: a quarter of a million people had come down to Grant Park on a Saturday—fighting traffic and riding on el cars that were so packed the windows started to steam up—because they were angry at the man who was sworn in as president yesterday. They stood together in a crowd that was so vast and dense it was sometimes hard to move and impossible to see unless you were standing on something. These are ordinarily very trying circumstances, when things get nasty very quickly, but nothing like that happened today. Everyone was polite and kind. They passed around doughnut holes on the train. They had impromptu sing-alongs of “This Land Is Your Land,” and the man who brought those doughnuts told everyone that the final verse—”As I was walkin’, I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said no trespassing / But on the other side, it didn’t say nothin’ / That side was made for you and me”—was written about a plot of land owned by Fred Trump, Donald’s father. (This may not be true. It is a fact, though, that Guthrie wrote a protest song called “Old Man Trump” when Fred Trump was his landlord.) The only yelling was a chant of “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” and “Black lives matter!”
Near Trump Tower, a line of mounted police blocked the marchers from continuing onto North Michigan Avenue. People stopped to stroke the horses’ noses and ask their names. (The one on the end was named Casper, and he apparently was more excited about his next feeding time than the march.) Even the overflow of garbage was stacked in neat piles around the bins.
Yesterday Donald Trump took the oath of office and made a speech about how terrible our country is right now. He described an apocalyptic landscape of “American carnage” (which would be a really great name for an action movie, by the way) and said yesterday was the beginning of a new era, when the government would return to the people.
I don’t think he had a worldwide series of demonstrations against himself in mind. But then again, you could look at the marches today as demonstrations of the things people are for: peace, justice, equal rights, women’s sovereignty over their own bodies, freedom of speech, belief in science, the notion that everyone matters. This is the children’s book version of America—or rather the version of America I was taught to believe in when I was really little, and then was dismantled bit by bit as I learned about all the injustices in the world. But today it was real.
Last night I sat with a couple of friends in the back of a dive bar in Andersonville. We were there because the first two bars we’d tried to go to were so crowded by people—lured by alcohol, an absence of TV screens, and the promise that a portion of the night’s revenue would be donated to Planned Parenthood—that it was impossible to get inside. As we settled into a lumpy couch, wondering what would happen next, the jukebox began playing “God Bless America.” (Yes, it’s true: Simon’s Tavern has “God Bless America” on its jukebox.) “What the fuck is this?” we said. Someone on the other lumpy couch across from us got up and yelled “OK, who’s the jukebox troll?” No one identified themselves.
At the time, I thought it was a jukebox troll too. But now that I think about it, maybe it was sincere. Yes, we live in an America where Donald Trump is the demagogue in chief, but we also live in one where people line up to donate money so women can have birth control and reasonably priced healthcare and where they get up on a Saturday morning and go downtown to stand up and march together. God bless this America.