Students, faculty exercise free speech

So 54 of us — students, staff and faculty from Hope College — spent last weekend sleeping (or not) on a bus, eating way too many Cheez-Its, brushing our teeth in rest-stop bathrooms, standing for five hours in a crowd listening (or not, depending on where we were situated) to a great number of speakers, shuffling along in a gigantic herd at about a tenth of a mile an hour, and then sleeping (or not) for a second straight night on the bus.

That’s how badly we wanted to be at the Women’s March on Washington.
Among the 54 of us, there were 54 different reasons for going. I went because I needed to do something with the outrage that I felt about the racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, anti-disability rhetoric of the election. I’m old enough to have seen Presidents come and go. There have been lots of marches for lots of things. This is the first time that I felt I needed to be there. I couldn’t not be there. It seemed to me that Hope College needed to be there.

We wanted to be sure that the bus was filled with diverse riders, so we recruited from the multicultural student groups: BSU, LSO, HAPA. We brought students from GRACES, GLOBE and Women’s Empowerment. The Hope Democrats were represented, and we invited the Hope Republicans, too —because human rights aren’t a partisan issue. A steady stream of people heard about it by word of mouth and got added to the list.

Pretty soon, without really advertising, the bus was full, with a wait list of 25. For those of you who heard about this too late, I apologize — the planning took so long that it was exam week before we were able to put up posters. I wish we could have taken all of you!

What was it like to be there? AMAZING. We rolled into D.C. about 6 a.m. and were able to drive surprisingly close. We had organized into small groups, each led by a chaperone, wearing colored bandanas for easy identification. People were streaming in from every direction, carrying signs ranging from crude to philosophical to hilarious (you can see the best ones online). My sign read “We the People,” reflecting my new status as a citizen — sworn in three days earlier.

Each group ended up watching from a different location. Some heard, some saw, some did neither. At various times the presentations were inspiring, redundant, inaudible, uplifting, action calls. Many of us didn’t appreciate the angry anti-Trump language, because we had come to march for something, not against the new President.

The talking went on a half-hour longer than scheduled, then an hour, and we grew restless. Our backs were killing us, and we chanted, “March! March! March!” The Port-o-Potties had long lines. Five mothers of slain young black men came out, and this demanded our full attention. Alicia Keys sang.

A rumor went round that there were too many of us to march, but we marched anyway — slowly, chanting awkwardly, holding our signs backwards so those behind us could read them.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. It was entirely peaceful; I didn’t see or hear any counter-protest. We learned and we were inspired. We each marched for a different reason, and we each had a unique experience. We exercised our rights of assembly and free speech. As my favorite chant went: “This is what democracy looks like!”

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