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The Small Black Woman Speaks

Monday
Jan302017

The Pickaninnies March On Washington

By Lydia Holt

Tara, Lucinda and Lydia rally at the Women's March on Washington. Making America Great Since 1619.

NEW YORK

Perhaps it was a subconscious act of self preservation, but in the months and weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I had convinced myself that America would elect Hillary Clinton as our 45th president--that we had no other viable option. If her opponent were elected it would be disastrous and to maintain my sanity, I firmly believed that we would come through the election with a capable and sane president. When I woke up to the reality of our now 45th, I damn near had a panic attack. The first waves of shock and horror didn’t subside so much as become my new normal, so I, like many others, turned to social media in search of next steps, ways to handle this new normal that would prove to be anything but normal. Word spread that a Women’s March on Washington was in the works. I didn’t know if this was something that would actually happen, but when my sister and fellow Pickaninny called to ask if I wanted a seat on a bus to DC my answer was YES!

The weekend before the march Lucinda came to Brooklyn with poster board. We had planned to brainstorm sign ideas and make signs ahead of time so that we'd have one less thing to do on the Friday before the march. My husband was planning to take the kids to the march here in NY while we were in DC. We searched the internets for ideas, but none of them seemed to fit. There were plenty of great signs, but none really thrilled our Pickaninny spirits. 

After Lucinda returned to NJ, she called me. "I have an idea. I was in drum class, and it just came to me. Our Pickaninny with the words 'Making America Great Since whatever year we got here.'" Perfect. We decided to go not with when the first Africans arrived in the Americas but with the year we arrived in the British colonies that would become the United States of America. 

We printed and laminated the signs: “Making America Great Since 1619.” We spent the Friday evening before the march taping and stapling our sign to make sure it would make it through the march come rain or high water. 

Thanks to two women who think big and get shit done, we had seats on a bus that was leaving NYC at 4:49 a.m. After standing in the cold for a bit while some miscommunication was sorted out we joined the herd of buses heading south down the NJ Turnpike.

 

WASHINGTON, DC

The rally and march was incredibly calm. In many large gatherings of humans, I often feel a frenetic and anxious energy that could erupt into chaos at any moment. It was not so at the march. It helped that we were not surrounded by police in riot gear with pepper spray and tear gas at the ready. Even though people carried signs calling out the various injustices that plague our country and world, everyone was unified in their desire to make everyone's voices heard. Chants rose in the air. Women shouted, “My body, my choice!” and men in the crowd responded, “Her body, her choice!” “Black lives matter!” rang out, as did, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Lydia and Lucinda holding photographs of their great grandmother (right) and grandmother

Some looked at our sign and quickly looked away while others asked about the year and what it meant and still others asked to take our picture saying, “Great sign.” At one point a woman walking by handed me a journal saying, “Now it’s your turn.” On the cover, written in black Sharpie, was something like, “Be brave. Write down what you hope will be achieved with this march.” There was a pen tucked inside as well as instructions to mail the journal back to its owner once it was filled using the self addressed stamped envelope tucked into the back. I could only stare at the blank page, but Lucinda said she had some thoughts and began writing. When she was done, a teenaged girl and her mother happened to be walking by and we handed it off to them. “I guess it’s your turn next,” I said.  

By the grace of the Universal Being, we found at the rally our friend Tara, who lives in DC. Lucinda and Tara gave an interview to a journalism major from Baylor University (Texas represent!) just as the march began. Arms linked, with me leading the way holding our sign high, we marched our way toward the Washington Memorial. From what I could hear, as I navigated through the crowd, she actually asked great questions about race and gender and what it meant to be black women at the march. We posed for pictures with the journalist and her mother and kept marching.

Near the Washington Monument

Word spread that there were so many of us that we wouldn't make it to the White House. With the African-American Museum of History and Culture in sight and no idea of what was supposed to happen next, if anything, we decided to leave the march and find something to eat. It felt slightly anticlimactic since we hadn't been close enough to the stage to hear any of the speakers, but we had taken part. Through social media (spotty as the service was with so many of us gathered), we knew that our being there meant so much to the people who couldn't make it to any of the marches. We began working our way, with a few thousand others, toward Constitution Avenue in search of food but soon realized no matter where we turned there were fellow marchers and that this was far from over.
 

Near the African-American Museum of History and Culture


We marched down Constitution Ave. with our voices echoing off the Department of the Treasury, “We pay taxes. How about you?!” and “Welcome to your first day! We will not go away!” George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Harriet Tubman stared down on us from banners hung on the stone columns, and that’s when it hit me: We are really doing something. Our being in that place, showing up and speaking up was really DOING something. If my ten-year-old had come along, he would have said it was epic, and he wouldn't have been too far off. 

Tara tried her hand at starting a chant but when no one responded she stopped. We laughed. A man nearby said he'd add his voice when she wanted to try again. "We'll do it together," he said. She tried again, and everyone joined in. As the crowd began to disperse, we passed a man yelling out a chant. No one responded at first. He said it again and then once more and then others joined in. We nodded our heads. Lucinda observed, "You've got to just keep saying it and then someone else will hear you and join in."

There is still HOPE in and for this country. There is plenty of space and there are plenty of resources to fight ALL of the injustices in the world. We have just got to keep saying it and doing something about it. Someone else will hear you, see you and join in. We will get through this TOGETHER.