What I saw at the MN Women’s March

BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

I wasn’t going to go originally. I didn’t want to go to DC because I think it’s hypocritical to protest pipelines and not even think about your own fuel consumption, so I think about fuel consumption all the damned time. I thought there will probably be one here, too, and maybe I’ll go to that. Then when there was one here, I thought it will probably just be all white women who love the DFL and boring speeches and the usual suspects. Then it looked like it was shaping up to be more diverse than that; I saw that Isuroon was a sponsor. I saw that a lot of youth were participating, especially youth of color; I saw that Southside Pride’s favorites, Ilhan Omar and Patricia Torres Ray, were both featured speakers. As co-chair of the Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America local, I asked if we could endorse the march, and the response was an immediate and enthusiastic Yes! Oh, great, now I had to go.
A small group of DSA-ers were going early with our banner, so I had vague plans to meet up with them at the assembly point. There were about a dozen other members with similar plans. None of us got together. Five members marched with banner and signs, and the rest of us were scattered through the vast sea of the march, looking in vain for that banner. The march organizers made plans based on 20,000, their best-case scenario. As you know by now, that was short by a factor of five. You cannot find anyone in a crowd of 100,000 people; I know that now. I traveled with my friend P, a middle-aged artist and crafter who is not all that active politically but radical (and maybe about to get more active). We had what we thought was a cunning plan to travel on the legendary #21 bus. I thought everyone who didn’t drive or charter a ride would take the LRT. Imagine our dismay, mixed with joy and excitement, when we approached the Midtown Transit station to confront a sea of pink “pussy hats.”
We left Midtown Minneapolis a little after 10 a.m. and it took us over an hour to get to downtown Saint Paul. Our bus was utterly packed with a lot of young girls, a rainbow of them, in the 8- to 12-year-old range; a few old crones; obvious veterans, even older than I am; men, mostly along with their female partners; queer people, trans, femme and all; Native people; poor people—in other words, a sampling of South Minneapolis. Yes, a bit more white than the demographic, but “Black Lives Matter,” “welcome and protect all immigrants,” “climate chaos is racism,” “honor treaty rights,” and “53% of white women voted for Trump”: These were all acknowledged in the signs and slogans as much or maybe even more than the traditional white woman concerns of protecting abortion rights and public education. As the bus inched its way toward Saint Paul, ceasing to pick up at the river, because there was no room even to stand, everyone was awakening to the notion that this march might turn out to be a pretty big deal after all.
Most of us got off the bus at Selby and Dale because the bus driver said it would be faster to walk. My friend P got off with me, but she grumbled that it wouldn’t be faster. In retrospect, I heard the buses got diverted at that point, and maybe just out of sight he turned and went farther away, so probably we did the smart thing. This was what has been known as the “march to the march,” with sidewalks overflowing, cars honking. It could be that some neighborhood people just spontaneously joined in right there. We got to the assembly point almost half an hour after the front of the march had left, but there were still marshals directing us, and it was now shoulder to shoulder across both John Ireland Blvd, where we were permitted to march, and both sidewalks, where we were not permitted. At this point, you just put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. We got within hearing distance of the speakers platform just as Patricia Torres Ray began to speak, so I got to hear her. I didn’t actually hear any other speakers. I think Torres Ray was followed by a music offering of some sort. I spent my time alternating between admiring the creative signs and trying to commit them to memory (failing) and being blissed out at the size of the crowd (while keeping my “demophobic” panic at bay).
And plotting a way home. We had no idea where to go or how to get there to get a #21, so our plan was to take the Green Line to Nicollet Mall, and a #5 back to Midtown, where my car was parked and P’s house is. The march was officially over at 1 p.m., and we started struggling like spawning salmon toward University about 20 minutes before that. We ended up walking miles, passing LRT stations that were bursting with people. Then P had the brilliant idea to get on eastbound and go to the Union Depot, then return from there. That actually worked, but it took a very long time. I think Metro Transit did very well considering the fivefold increase in ridership over the threefold increase they were told to expect. It’s not possible to multiply your service by 15 with less than an hour’s notice. I felt it would be churlish to complain.
I saw so many things that day:  a college-age phalanx of women of color who chanted “Keep your tiny hands/Out of my underpants.” A lot of smiling people in wheelchairs with signs. A lot of proud queer people. A big white bird puppet that wasn’t from In the Heart of the Beast, and a larger-than life “Collective Woman” that was. A lot of people being very patient and kind with each other. Seeing what a 10th of a million people looks like. (I was in DC with a quarter of a million in 1983, but you couldn’t see them all at once because it’s so flat there.) And hope. I definitely saw hope.

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