The Women’s March on San Jose: A Diary of Democracy in Action

I parked my car in the 4th Street garage at 9:10 am as Elizabeth Warren’s speech at Boston’s Women’s March was broadcast on the radio. Reports were already coming in that the Washington D.C. rally had exceeded attendance expectations but, with three other marches within 35 miles of San Jose, I had no idea what to expect this morning.

The first marchers I noticed as I made my way to the street were a group of nuns. They were unloading their picket signs from the trunk of their car and helping each other with their coats and I thought that this could be a big day. Seeing nuns at what many consider a “liberal” rally was special and proved that these marches weren’t all about abortion rights or Planned Parenthood. These marches were about equality and basic human dignity. These marches were about preserving and honoring the strides that have been made in so many marginalized communities. These marches were about Americans caring for Americans.

I arrived at City Hall about a half hour before the event was set to begin. There was an excitement in the air. There were men and women and children filling the grounds. There were people in “pussy hats” and baseball caps, hijabs and turbans, there was a priest (with an adorable dog) and Muslims, there were Jews who reminded us of their former refuge status and baby boomers who reminded us of their bra burning youth. It was a mixed bag in every aspect and as the crowd grew bigger, so did the energy.

Chants began to break out in pockets of the group. Passing cars would honk and arouse thunderous cheers. People were taking pictures of each other and with each other and for each other and laughing at the clever picket sign slogans or t-shirt printings. There was an inescapable sense that, whether it worked or not, we were all there to be heard.

I made my way to the front of the march and, after running into a photographer friend of mine, went up to the second floor of a parking garage. As I looked over the crowd, already spanning several blocks, I was amazed by the turnout and the overall vibe of the event. Though I’m sure there were many, I only saw one dissenting protester and he was allowed to say his piece without violence or confrontation. Then, at 11:00 am, the Women’s March on San Jose began its walk to Caesar Chavez Park.

I stayed on the garage balcony for a while as an endless stream of people passed me waving signs, cheering, chanting, and singing. I attempted to estimate the numbers that were in front of me but the task was impossible. Rumors were circulating around the crowd that the expectation was somewhere between 9,500 and 11,000 marchers but as the march continued we all began to think that the crowd was probably closer to 20,000 then 30,000. Regardless, it was clear that we weren’t going to all fit in Caesar Chavez park.

The main takeaway that I think can be taken from all of these marches around the country is that we, the people, are energized. Does that mean that we’re going to take an active role in our politics? No. There are no guarantees and just like the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled or the Tea Party movement became a caricature of its original intent, the Women’s March could very well end up as a footnote to the Trump presidency.

But it doesn’t have to be. The energy and the enthusiasm that I witnessed in San Jose could sustain for the next four years if it needed to and if these groups can mobilize whenever their cause is in jeopardy, democracy will thrive.

I heard many parents explaining to their children what the protests meant to them and why all these people were so upset but the power of the protest lies in our continued outrage and must stretch beyond the initial shell shock of this current inauguration. When Donald Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act without implementing safeguards that citizens are already dependent on, we must take to the streets just like we did today. When Donald Trump wants to drill for oil in our national parks, we must take to the streets like we did today. When Donald Trump wants to roll back decades of civil rights legislation, we must take to the streets like we did today.

Today’s marches weren’t focused on a singular topic and despite being called the Women’s March, they weren’t even solely about women. Today’s marches were a statement to the United States government, the men and women who work for us, that we are watching, we are mobilized, we are energized, and we are ready to fight so when it is time to take to the streets for another cause, we must do so regardless of the impact that cause has on us personally.

While repealing gay marriage protections has no direct affect on my heterosexual life, it will affect my family, friends, and colleagues, so I will march. The days of apathy must be behind us if we are going to endure the potential firestorm of regressive changes this administration is promising. We must stand with our neighbor and fight for our neighbor and continue to tell those in our employ how they should best represent us in the government.

Millions of people around the world stood shoulder to shoulder, braved the elements, and showed great solidarity today. This is a perfect first step but don’t let it end here. If we must march every Saturday for the next four years, clear your schedule and invest in some good shoes because we are hitting the streets together, as one, to fight for what is right and anyone that dares question your patriotism for expressing your outrage or concern should check their own patriotism because the founding fathers enshrined dissent into the first amendment of the constitution.

We don’t need to be destructive to be heard but we do need to continue speaking so make sure your voice continues to be heard because today was an important day for our democracy.

God bless America.