Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
I had a nightmare last night. Smoke in my house. I’m confused, afraid. I finally find a glow in my basement. I never did see the flames. I call 9-1-1. The operator is noncommittal. I run from my house to the lawn of Korian. He comes to the door. We look back at my house. The glow is growing. But no fire department, no sirens, this despite the fact that the firehouse is just two blocks away. I tell Korian to call 9-1-1 again.
My house is burning down. And my government is nowhere.
Today is the Women’s March On St. Louis.
I park two blocks from where the demonstration begins. I chat with a young man, early twenties, who is walking the same way. I ask him which group he is demonstrating with. He’s not with anyone. He’s shy about showing me his homemade sign. Then he tells me that this is his first ever demonstration. We chat some more, and, as we part, I tell him that I am honored to share with him this day. A suburban white kid. His first demonstration.
Then we turn the corner and see the crowd. It’s enormous. It stretches for blocks. I can see more folks coming all the way from Jefferson Avenue, ten blocks away.
I wonder how many of these folks are like my young friend. Mobilized, for the first time, by the bigotry of the President Of The United States.
I march with Michael McPhearson, the Executive Director of Veterans for Peace. Michael served in the First Gulf War, and I served in Vietnam.
At one point, I remark how the protest signs are so colorful, diverse, words that make me laugh, get angry, think, sigh. Signs that run the whole gamut of emotions and issues. Not the unidimensional, jingoistic, hateful signs I see at Trump rallies.
“This pussy has claws”.
“The Future Is Nasty”.
“Respect Our Existence Or Expect Resistance”.
“Viva La Vulva”.
“My Wife Belongs In The House – And Senate”.
“My Pussy. My Rules.”
“Guns Are Not Pro-Life”.
“Black Lives Matter”.
“Patriarchy Is For Dicks”.
“Fight Like A Girl”.
“The Future Is Female”.
“Is there conversion therapy for bigotry?”
Someone had a Department Of Transportation sign, “Merge Left”.
“It’s beautiful,” I say to Michael, “It’s beautiful. It’s almost like poetry.”
“That’s how you know you’re on the right side.”
It was a day of random associations. As the crowd ebbs and flows, I stand next to this one then that. An elderly woman tells how she was “a real Rosy The Riveter.” There’s a Muslim woman with an iridescent hijab. Nuns. A physician in her lab coat. Quakers. A mother gives her boy a civics lesson.
Someone says, “I’ve been getting emails that say give Trump a chance. No. Donald Trump doesn’t get a honeymoon. If this was Jeb Bush, I’d say enjoy the parade, have your honeymoon. But, no. This isn’t some city on the hill, cut taxes, small government Republican. I’m not even sure if Trump is a conservative. This isn’t Reagan’s America. This is Let’s-Hate-Mexicans America. There’s no such thing as a honeymoon for hate.”
Years ago, I lived and worked in Mexico City. Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook.
“To My Mexican Brothers, Sisters, Neighbors –
Tomorrow, I will go to a protest against Donald Trump. I do so for many reasons. One is my love and respect for those of you south of the border, those of you here in the States.
These coming years will be difficult. Be assured that there are many of us who are proud to say, with deepest affection — mis hermanos, mis hermanas, mis vecinos.”
I love this city, and I love these people. We’re a very Midwestern demonstration. Polite yet determined. Courteous yet demanding to be heard. We smile at the police, thank them, even as we remind them with our signs that Ferguson is just a couple of miles north of here.
We reach the Old Courthouse. I look over my shoulder. The march stretches along Market Street from The Arch to Union Station. That’s fifteen or twenty blocks! Someone says there’s well over 10,000 folks. I suddenly realize that this may will be the largest demonstration I’ve ever been in. Right here in river city. I feel, well, civic pride.
I rest on the steps of the Old Courthouse and think about the fact that across from here just up from the river where a fancy hotel now stands, a hundred and sixty years ago, there was a slave pen and an auction block. Many of the ancestors of the current citizens of Ferguson were undoubtedly sold right in this neighborhood.
When Trump dismisses facts, his words facilitate a perversion. The person receiving his words becomes an object to be manipulated. There’s no mutuality, no poetry. There’s no oneness, no we-ness of the beauty of words and people. Trump affirms the absolute value of poetry. “That’s how you know you’re on the right side.”
To borrow from another nasty woman, Emma Goldman – If there’s no poetry, it’s not my revolution!
The predominant theme today is women’s rights. But the clear message is the hope we feel in opposing everything Trump stands for. Political theorists speak of intersectionality, the overlapping of social issues and identities in opposition to various systems of discrimination and oppression. Hence the knit pussy hats and “Black Lives Matter” and anti-war posters and signs in Spanish about Dreamers.
I go home. On the TV, there are demonstrations from El Paso, Texas, to Nome, Alaska. And for a moment, the news pauses for a shot taken by a drone, a shot that goes from Union Station to The Arch.
Michael and I saw that drone. Lots of jokes about the FBI.
A woman felt bad that her sister couldn’t make it today. Michael said, “She’ll have plenty of opportunities. This is just the first day.”
Copyright 2017 John Samuel Tieman
Women’s March on St. Louis, January 21, 2017.