I had an existential ringing in my ear as my partner and I wandered to our car on election night. Later, I tried to think through some of the things that would be useful in this moment — joining a tenants union, differentiating between an ‘activated’ and an ‘acknowledged’ identity, and more — but the worry still persisted. What felt earned in the moment? What was the spectacle? What was the structure?
Some of the spectacle surely had to be in seeing CNN silently inform a booming DC bar filled with families that had marched that day with the headline, “Anti-Trump Protests Blocks From White House.” (As if we didn’t know.) Some of it would surely be in regaining access to the Internet later that day and to take stock of the aftermath of the digital avalanche, crawling out from beneath the pile to survey the scene, even if it meant running into a Catch-22 of inauthenticity.
All I knew until that moment arrived was that the day had been a day where there were people on people until it became a tactile river in the middle of the street. “We will not go away,” the crowd shouted outside Trump Hotel. “Welcome to your first day.” (All of which itself was something of a small mercy, this movement of the legs: while we were fairly close to the main stage featuring the speakers and musicians of the day, it was nevertheless difficult to hear what was being said; during this, it seemed that the crowd had settled down to a particular form of stillness, as if one wouldn’t walk anywhere ever again; and, when the crowd started to chant, “March — now,” the organizers seemed to respond by offering up the figurative equivalent of ‘All right! All right! We hear you! Given that, here’s something we think you’ll really like — a reading of an entire memoir.”)
I’d already exhausted myself by staying up late the night before and reading about eighteen year-olds marching to desegregate a movie theater in Durham, NC in 1961 and found myself thinking of the small details around me — countless signs, a small crowd of what appeared to be staffers waving from the Capitol, and more — and being mindful of police sirens and the potential sinking feeling that existed there.
I have to confess I was cautiously optimistic with the size of the turnout in D.C., as well as the attitude of the crowd overall, who were consistently generous, polite, and funny throughout my experience of the day, but I have had my worries of late, too — some of which you’ll read about soon in a forthcoming post and some of which I started to think about when I sat down in the Metro at the end of the day and tried to fight off sleep, but then regained access to the internet and saw photos of all the marchers making their way through Austin. And then it wasn’t just Austin, but Los Angeles, too. And it wasn’t just those two cities: it was Boston and Chicago, too. And as I asked myself — “Wait, where else?” — something started to ring.