A friend of mine recently attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC. This to me, as to many women, is an act of tremendous declaration of us as women. It was a statement long overdue and much needed. If the recent elections served to shake women out of lethargy, an apathy we have too long fed, then the turmoil the election has created is worth it. We need to speak up and to declare ourselves. The need to make ourselves heard brought memories back from the first time I made this declaration in 1967, December 17th to be exact. Some dates just stick in your mind.
My friend posted a picture of herself and her friend toasting the coming demonstration with champagne, and I thought, times have certainly changed. We toasted with a joint. However, it was not much of a high. It was the first time I tried it. There was little effect or it was cheap pot. Either way I was very much based in reality during this demonstration, my first.
It took place in Manchester, NH and it was cold. I drove over from Putney, VT, where I was attending Windham College, with some friends I met. Someone had given me a motorcycle helmet to wear. I was warned the policemen would very likely strike me across the head. The helmet was to protect my brains. Since it was cold. I had a jacket and a windbreaker on over it. Since I was a larger woman, I looked very bulky and very masculine in my outfit. This did not serve me well at all. Frail and very, very feminine might have been much better.
It was about a two-hour drive. When we arrived we received brief instructions on how to protect ourselves from attack, “roll your head under and protect the back of your head with your hands, do not leave your underbelly exposed so you can not be kicked.” I admit this was entirely out of my experience, being a young woman with virtually no life experience from Altoona, Pa, had not prepared me for the world of angry police. AND, I was naïve enough not to understand their anger.
Two years prior, I had attended a lecture by Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was a student at Pennsylvania State University. Like so many of my generation, I had never questioned the politics of my family or my culture. It never occurred to me to do so. I was a Republican like everyone else I knew. My first exposure was a demonstration in 1965 when I was a student at Penn State. I demonstrated against Martin Luther King, Jr. being allowed to speak on campus. I still to this day do not understand why. I just did what others were doing, I never questioned. When I heard King, he made sense; he changed me. I still cannot tell you why or how. I just knew I believed in my heart all people were the same, and deserved to be treated so.
I also did not believe in war. So here I was 1967, protesting the Viet Nam War. I was marching in circles outside the Federal Building. There was a woman marching in circles carrying a sign reading, “dirty, pinko commie, hippies.” She marched in circles and no one said anything to her. We were surrounded with police with batons in front of them. They closed in around us forcing us into a smaller and small circle. The back of the van was opened. The police formed two lines and we were thrown from one to police to another and into the van. One girl with long hair was pulled by her hair and thrown onto the floor of the van.
Taken to the police station we were brought out of the van the same way we entered. I was thrown against a wall with some force and ordered to remove my helmet. A policeman sneered asking if it was a “girl or boy?” It’s a girl I said back as I removed the helmet and looked into a pair of steely blue eyes – eyes with no mercy. The same eyes I had noticed on the policemen surrounding us outside. Eyes with flickering desire that were excited by the prospect of beating us senseless.
As I looked at him, I was overcome with a weird thought. “What is a nice girl like you, doing in a place like this?” The idea popped into my head and before I could censor myself I was laughing. It was an automatic reaction. I looked at the policeman and realized my mistake. He thought I was laughing at him. I saw his hand rise to backhand me. He was strong and I was probably going to end up on the ground. As his hand drew back to strike me, another policeman, a bit older, a bit wiser with more control, grabbed his wrist. He told him to stop, and said I was not worth the trouble.
Later I was sitting in jail I realized I had a rather nasty bruise in my groin that went from my groin to almost my knee. I also could not lift my arm. When I said I thought perhaps I should show it to a doctor, I was told “no” emphatically. I was told I would become a resident of the jail system until the bruise healed. These jail comrades had more experience than I. We were bailed out. My parents called. Being jailed was easier than the conversation with my parents as they realized my politics were changing. I had left the family fold of conservative Goldwater republicanism. I would never be the same no matter how they screamed or threatened. Life had changed. Because I had attended a speech by Martin Luther King two years previously I had changed.
This was only a small experience compared to so many other demonstrators who were tear gassed and beaten. After this demonstration came two demonstrations, one at a white college and one at a black college where students were killed. Everyone knew about the white school but no one remembers the black one. There were many other demonstrations until finally there were very few left. Few people left willing to stand up and say “NO” until yesterday.
And now this group that had been changed and radicalized in the sixties is waking up and no longer sleeping. We are influencing the young. We are creating change in the younger generation/ We of the sixties are now in our sixties and seventies and we have awakened. Our children are grown, our careers near an end and now we will no longer be silent.
Saturday, 21st of January 2017 women awoke. We woke out of our apathy and lethargy and said “no more”. It does not matter there were so many causes. All causes are one cause. All people one people. The demonstrations of my youth paved the way for the demonstrations of today. And Trump was the catalyst. Trump is the wake-up call. The Dawn of Humanity is here. Women will be silent no more. We will stand our ground. We will fight hard for the children of the world. These children are our children.