This Is What Democracy Looks Like!

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By Patricia Gonzalez

I drove to the Metro stop closest to me, hoping that I was far away enough from DC to get a parking spot. I scored a parking spot … and a seat on the train. The first thing I noticed were all the pink hats with cat ears (henceforth referred to as p-hats). Actually, the first thing I noticed were all the White women wearing pink p-hats. I was the lone Brown girl on the train going to the Women’s March on Washington.

Feeling completely out of place, I lost the initial sense of excitement that I felt when I decided to attend the march. On November 8, I went to bed feeling sick. After following for a few weeks, I believed that Hillary Clinton would win and become the first female President of the United States. As I kept updating the electoral map and seeing red, I got nauseous—my body and soul splitting from one another. At about 12:30am, I went to bed.

I woke up at about 3:20am, believing with all my heart that this close race was going to take a few days—that all the votes would be counted—that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t concede even if HWSNBN (short for “He Who Shall Not Be Named,” AKA Voldemort) surpassed her in electoral votes. At 3:20am, there was still no declared winner. I slept fitfully until 5:30am, when I looked at my phone and saw that HWSNBN was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election.

I died inside that day and dressed for work in the deepest black I owned, a dress that fits like a burlap sack and the thickest tights to protect myself from reality. After crying on the way to work, I could see that many of my colleagues fought back tears, as well. Ironically, many of us were attending a mental health first aid training that day, and the consensus was that WE needed the mental health first aid. (Hello!)

We were expected to be fully present during this training, meaning no cell phones. NO CELL PHONES on the day of the apocalypse, really? I sat through the training, which was actually a really good distraction, then went home to cry. That night and over the next couple of days, I saw a “Million Woman March” with different state delegations popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. I could see that there were several iterations of this march idea over the next few days, with more than a few debates taking place in the event posts, until it morphed into the Women’s March on Washington, co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, whom I was familiar with as a returning commentator on several MSNBC broadcasts. When I saw her name, someone who’d gained my respect over the past year, I was in. I took time to research Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory as well, and that’s when I knew that this march was going to be historic in nature, and I wanted to be part of it.

I saw the initial chaos around the march and I knew that women of color, especially Black women, were concerned that our voices weren’t being represented. Even worse, White women were booking flights and hotels with no idea how to plan a rally/protest—possibly because they didn’t have much to protest before this—and women of color were like, oh, hell no. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. I only committed to this march when a Palestinian, a Chicana, and an African-American joined with Bob Bland, a White woman, to co-chair the march. That’s when it became MY march, too.

When I got on that Metro and rode for about five stops before I saw a Black woman get on with Women’s March paraphernalia, I felt guarded and looked down at my phone, pretending to myself that I was just riding the Metro that morning to get somewhere else—that I wasn’t going to this march with all these White women with their pink p-hats … no. This march wasn’t for me.

An older White woman sat down next to me, and somehow, I found myself talking with her, because she exuded excitement. I found it intriguing that this woman who was clearly in her 60s pulled out her phone and then pulled up the WMW app that I’d been secretly looking at. Soon, I was giving her tips on how not to get separated from her friend who was sitting across from her. Then, I saw a Latina family with a little girl, trying to make sure the little one didn’t get squished on the train which was packed like overstuffed luggage. One of the young White women sitting near me moved into a corner between me and her friend to let the little girl sit down, and that’s when I saw her sign.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams. –Hillary Clinton

I dropped my guard and fought back serious tears, remembering why I decided to go to the march in the first place.

By the time that we arrived at the station where I was meeting my (Black) friend and her (White) husband, there were all kinds of women waiting in line for the bathroom with me at the Starbucks on the corner. Our other friend who was supposed to come (a Black man) texted us that he was running late and the trains were full of “a sea of White people dressed in pink and/or HRC paraphernalia,” and he couldn’t get on the train, so we started walking. The closer we got to the Capitol and the meeting spot for the rally preceding the march, the less I thought about these White women in pink. My friends and I found ourselves walking with hundreds of thousands of people, when someone started chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and others responded, “This is what democracy looks like!” “Tell me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!” “We are what democracy looks like!” “We are what democracy looks like!”

I saw White men and women chanting “Black Lives Matter!” with me and my friends. I saw White women, young and old, wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and buttons and carrying signs saying, “Respect Women of Color.” My eyes were opened. This WAS my march, too. This fight that has been a part of my life as an educator and activist for the past twenty years gained soldiers who may not look like me, but who now understand what I have understood for a long time: We cannot take our bodies, our very lives, for granted in the face of tyranny.

To those White women in the pink p-hats: Maybe this is your first time at a march. Maybe this is the first time you’ve heard messages from women of color about racism, about the undocumented and immigrant experience, about police brutality. Thank you for listening. Remember the Women’s March on Washington. Fight with your brothers and sisters of different races, orientations, ethnicities, faiths, gender identities and socioeconomic class because, together, WE are what democracy looks like.