It’s been a whirlwind week of making history together in America.
Our week started with attending a Health Care for All Rally with Senators Bernie Sanders (VT), Chuck Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Gary Peters (MI) in Warren, Michigan. Our week continued with a Martin Luther King, Jr., commemoration featuring Dr. Cornel West as guest speaker, at Bowling Green State University, and ended with two separate marches–the Unity March in downtown Toledo, Ohio, and the Women’s March in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating.
I witnessed too much this week to cover properly in one article, so my first reflections begin with the most recent events I attended, the marches. To set the scene, it’s mid-January around the Great Lakes. Typically, you can expect arctic temperatures, snow, wind, ice, and generally-miserable weather conditions not conducive to large turnouts at outdoor events. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The weather was unseasonably mild both days– in the mid to upper 50s degrees Fahrenheit–and the rain fell in the early morning hours, causing muddy fields and sidewalks, but skies were partly sunny by afternoon with little or no wind.
The “early spring” alone cannot explain the large crowd at the Unity March and Celebration on January 20th. Participants showed up in force at Toledo’s International Park gazebo in mid-afternoon on a workday. Most dressed for colder weather, their children and infants in arms and strollers appropriately bundled up, since the route included crossing the wide expanse of the Maumee River over the Martin Luther King, Jr., drawbridge. The march was organized by the YWCA of Northwest Ohio and welcomed a wide variety of area organizations, including pro-immigrant groups, LGBTQIA teen groups, Ohio Single Payer Access Network (health care issues), clean water groups, environmental groups (including anti-fracking), social justice/church groups and women’s groups.
Young adults sang songs as we gathered at the pavilion and learned that our route would stretch across the MLK Bridge into the downtown area, symbolizing the unity in our diversity and our pledge of non-violent action. Participants were given the opportunity before the march to create their own heart-shaped signs expressing their love for the community. Messages were positive and supportive of Toledo’s diverse population. As we walked from the park and up and over the massive drawbridge, we were greeted by the happy honks and cheers of passersby, who didn’t seem put out by a parade of approximately a thousand persons blocking normally busy downtown streets at rush hour on a Friday.
The route ended at Trinity Episcopal Church with a rally featuring speakers, music, snacks, with tables of literature and sign-up lists for participants and the general public to learn more about area organizations working to build a better city, a more just society, and a greener world. In a state that went to Trump in the recent election, the enthusiasm and excitement of the Unity March and the positive response of the public to it cannot be downplayed. Toledoans of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds joined in marching, cheering, and celebrating the beauty of the diversity of the Glass City.
January 21st’s Women’s March in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan–home of the University of Michigan–experienced phenomenal weather and attendance, as well. As a smaller “sister march” to the 500,000 who attended the main march in Washington, D.C., it did itself proud. Truth be told, its estimated 10,000+ turnout makes quite a statement. I couldn’t see the beginning or the end of the marchers once we arrived. Many felt it could have been twice as many people in attendance. Suffice it to say, there were an awful lot of people squeezed into a relatively small city. The route was to begin in the middle of the downtown and circle around several blocks, ending up near the campus, but people kept arriving in such numbers that the complete parade route was filled shoulder-to-shoulder and sidewalk-to-sidewalk with humanity. The “start” of the parade ended up almost at its “ending point.”
Contrary to what many might think, the march wasn’t attended primarily by U.M. students, but by ordinary folks from southeastern Michigan/northwest Ohio. Babies in carriers and toddlers in strollers were everywhere. The pink knitted “p***y caps” were prevalent and the t-shirts, costumes, signage, and banners declared a festive and jovial mood, while simultaneously making pertinent politic points. Half the participants were male, which some might not expect at a “women’s march.” Many fathers, sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands came out to express their solidarity with women on matters of health care/reproductive rights, equal pay, equal access to education, discrimination/anti-immigration concerns, and other vital issues. Their signs expressed their love and support of the women in their life, giving a touching witness to the fact that when one part of society suffers, all of society suffers.
If I ever hear how Americans simply don’t care about their communities or feel any empathy towards the struggles of their fellow human beings, I will simply look back on the photos of these two marches and know that statement is a lie. The bought-off politicians and corporate-owned media pundits may think such negative things about the 99%, but they need to get outside of their “bubble” and walk the streets with the rest of us. The strength of our unity in diversity cannot be denied.
Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com