January 25, 2017

Editorial: Marches send a message

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Wikimedia Commons/Mark Dixon

The Women's March on Washington

The signal sent Saturday was damaging and clear: [we have] a petulant president whose words, whether directly or through a spokesperson, cannot automatically be trusted or believed.

There are facts, there are “alternative facts” — and then there are feet.

In terms of the latter, last Saturday trumped Friday by a mile. The Women’s March on Washington brought women, and plenty of men as well, out in force.

The sheer numbers of participants in Washington plus some 600 sister rallies elsewhere were jaw-dropping. At least a half-million descended on D.C. alone. The message it all came down to was powerful beyond measure: We’re here, and we’re watching.

Worcester and Central Massachusetts added a healthy showing. We wouldn’t expect less from a community distinguished by educational opportunity, diversity, and activist history. Still, it was a pleasure to see, while the overall impact of the women’s marches and rallies surprised— astonished —  and impressed us, as it did millions of others.

Saturday’s energy was an interesting juxtaposition to the fairly flat reception given President Trump’s inauguration address last Friday and its “America first” theme. The new president’s immutable me-first persona made the “This is your day; this is your celebration” of his opening ring hollow probably even to his supporters.

“We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump intoned Friday, Jan. 20, from the Capitol steps. The next day showed no such give-back was necessary.

Among local leaders in the thronged Washington Women’s March, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, a stalwart for decency and transparency in D.C., attended with his daughter. Equally carrying the day were the countless ordinary ladies, some of whom were in fragile health or could scarcely afford the travel costs or time, who were moved to come together and speak with their placards, their pink hats, the voices and their feet.

A lot of those who went to Washington, to Boston, to Worcester’s small demonstration, and to cities from Binghamton, N.Y. to Bangalore, India, in order to stand up for their beliefs were probably at their first protest. They held signs from witty to serious (“You know things are messed up when librarians start marching,” read the sign of one area women who marched in D.C.); and presented few problems for officials beyond logistics.

The day was exhausting and exhilarating, participants reported. With their earnestness, size and rhetoric, the peaceful protests were reminiscent of scenes from the ’60s.

Actress America Ferrara, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Hondura, was particularly effective. In a speech at the Washington march, she said: “If we do not stand together, march together, fight together for the next four years, then we will lose together. … If we stand together steadfast and determined, then we stand a chance at saving the soul of our country.”

A marcher from New York City summed up the march’s mood and meaning succinctly. “I feel very optimistic even though it’s a miserable moment. I feel power,” Madeline Schwartzman told the Associated Press.

Attendance at Washington’s march well surpassed turnout at the presidential inauguration the previous day. More than the expected 500,000 marchers took to the D.C. streets Saturday, according to Christopher Geldart, that city’s Homeland Security director.

“I’m here because I think it’s time for the national consciousness to present itself,” Mary Barlow of Whitinsville told the the Telegram & Gazette. That report put the Massachusetts turnout at the D.C. march at roughly 9,500.

That “national consciousness” on display Saturday seemed to consist, in a word, of respect: for one another, the environment, human rights, core values, the future and the truth.

Bizarrely, the White House press secretary Saturday night all but ignored the global marches and rallies, while taking the media to task for supposedly underrepresenting attendance at the previous day’s inauguration. There was so much wrong with Sean Spicer’s first official appearance before the press that it felt a little like a “Saturday Night Live” skit rehearsal.

Unfortunately, it was real — complete with the “alternative facts” the press secretary used to blast the media. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said the next morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Spicer had used “alternative facts” to back up his knuckle-rapping: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm with the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

Spicer, thankfully, dialed that back Monday and assured the White House press corps: “I believe we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

But the signal sent Saturday was damaging and clear: He works for a petulant president whose words, whether directly or through a spokesperson, cannot automatically be trusted or believed.

We already knew this, but must keep it in mind for when the discussions turn to issues that matter.

Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump

Trump himself showed Monday that he hasn’t learned a lesson yet. During a happy-hour reception for congressional leaders, he trotted out his thoroughly baseless assertion that he would have won the popular vote against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton if it hadn’t been for 3 million to 5 million votes cast by “illegals,” or undocumented immigrants.

Our president’s restless ego is going to keep tripping him up. For the good of our country and its standing in the world, the rest of us must work hard, listen hard and keep marching in all our many ways in the direction of what’s right.

If Trump were wise, he would have said about losing the popular vote by close to 3 million votes that he would remember that, and do his best to win the rest of America over.

And though commenting on inauguration turnout ought to be beneath the honoree at that event, he or a spokesperson might have offered that being president is not about being popular, but about making the tough choices that keep America strong.

Trump won the election. Women won the weekend. Meanwhile, there are tremendous issues facing the United States, and we must move on.

We can’t necessarily count on Trump. He is unlikely to become the kind of president many of us would wish for. But if we avoid complacency and strive every day to be better individuals, we can surely count on each other. Friday reminded us that our country is worth celebrating and supporting whoever is in charge. Saturday reminded us that democracy demands our participation.

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