yes,
it really happened

The Women of the Bus: Lessons from our March on D.C.

Last November, something happened. I didn’t see it coming. And after it happened, I didn’t like it.

My good friend, Jenna, didn’t like it either. She was the one who first asked me if I thought I might consider going to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to go, but I also don’t like being cold. I mean, President Harrison DIED because he went to DC for his own inauguration. Except he didn’t wear a coat or a hat and he gave a two-hour speech. And then he died from pneumonia. Jenna promised to lend me gear to keep warm. I agreed. We were going. But we also thought we could find a few other people to come with us. So we hired a bus. And then looked for people to fill it. Worst-case scenario we would be a lonesome twosome on a very expensive bus and we’d just have to hope that the husbands didn’t mind us spending that kind of money. “I accidentally hired a bus” doesn’t sound quite right, but it was sort of the truth.

So Jenna and I posted in our “secret” facebook group, “Chatham Moms for Hillary”. A friend of a friend started it as a safe place for Hillary supporters to talk with like-minded people. Chatham tends to be a rather red place to be, with slightly more registered republicans than democrats, and an awful lot of independent voters who tend to lean right when they get in the voting booth. Democrats in Chatham tend to feel like a minority, even though our state of New Jersey is always counted on to go blue for the President. In a sea of red Morris county, Chatham (Borough and Township) went for Hillary in 2016. I partially credit Chatham Moms for Hillary for making that happen. We were together. We felt empowered. We got out the vote. We made signs and posted them boldly on our front lawns and in public places. We let others know we weren’t alone. But our candidate lost. And we were collectively sad. So when the idea happened to come together and ask for our voices to be heard, we asked others to come along. It wasn’t just a ‘we don’t like Trump’ thing. It was a ‘can you please hear us’ on the issues thing. Issues like climate change (and believing science), education, health care access, financial security, homeland security, women’s issues and human issues.

We filled the seats of the bus in a week. And then there were more people who wanted us to get a second bus. We sent them to our friends in Madison and to Rallybus. We were satisfied with 53 women. It was enough for the time being. “I accidentally hired TWO buses” would definitely not fly.

Like many women who get things done in Chatham and towns across America, Jenna and I have organized stuff together before. We worked on the board of trustees for the Chatham Education Foundation together for years. When we were wrapping up our trustee roles, we launched our community outreach “friend-raiser” for Trivia Night. It was quite the hit, if I might brag about us for just a moment. The first year we sold out in a week. It was apparently so much fun that the second year we sold out in six minutes. The third year we sold out in three minutes, the fourth year in two minutes. We know how to plan a party. The bus to DC was the next party, with a very different purpose.

Jenna and I are not professional organizers. We are not lobbyists, or politicians. We are moms, and we wanted to make this march work. We sent emails. We posted in our secret facebook page. We sent links to news articles, everything from who would be speaking at the rally to what kind of shoes and clothes to wear. We talked about timing for when we’d get to DC, asked everyone to buy a metro card ahead of time, reminded them to bring their own toilet paper and hand wipes for the porta potties, and thanked them for coming with us. The women of the bus were amazing. And their friends were amazing as well. One friend couldn’t come on the bus ride but she dropped off a cooler full of bloody mary materials. Another friend couldn’t come but she met us at the bus at 5 a.m. to hand out waters, granola bars and clementines. Those who did come on the bus brought coffee, tea, hot water, breakfast foods, soup for dinner on the way home, and homemade healthy snacks. We had a sign-making party the week before. The signs made me laugh and cry at the same time. “Make America Kind Again”. “I’m not Usually a Sign Girl, but, Geez”. “Too Many Issues for Just One Sign”. A coat hanger. A rebellion symbol from the Star Wars saga. There were different issues, different women, different ideas. But we were together, and we had one thing in common: We needed to be heard.

So why did I march?  I’m white. I’m educated. I have the luxury to choose to stay home and raise my children. I have an excellent health insurance plan. I’m probably going to do better financially under the Trump tax plan since my husband, Brian, makes a generous living. Why am I “complaining”? I have everything I need and then some. But there are so many women (and men, and children) in America who do NOT have everything they need.

I marched for those whose voices need to be heard.

My friend from high school, Debbie, had her miracle baby last year.  They knew when Debbie was still pregnant that Baby Zoe had a heart condition that meant she would need to spend lots of time in the NICU and need a pacemaker for her entire life. Debbie carried Zoe to term. She gave birth to her. She loved her and nursed her in the NICU and celebrated every milestone. Zoe is now thriving and her older brothers adore her. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Zoe could fall into the “pre-existing condition” category and be uninsurable, or need to pay such high premiums as a “high-risk” (which is the current Trump plan) that she couldn’t afford to be covered, or, if she spent the money to be covered, she would risk financial difficulties her entire life. Zoe learned to crawl on time and she just learned to walk. I marched for Zoe.

My best friend from college, Ashley, died from brain cancer in 2012. That seems like yesterday. If you came to my wedding, you might remember her – she was my matron of honor and she gave a toast at the reception. Ashley was diagnosed with brain cancer during the NINE day period from when her previous health insurance ended (from her old employer) and when the health plan from her new employer would begin. NINE days of insurance lapse.  Ashley wanted insurance reform. She isn’t here to fight. I pick up her rally cry as she is now silent.

Know who else I fight for? Ashley’s daughter Austen. Austen died in 2014 from cancer as well. My best friend and her daughter both having cancer wasn’t bad luck. It turns out it was a genetic code – something that they discovered after Austen was diagnosed. Not only did Ashley develop cancer, her daughter developed cancer, and their genetic coding meant that even if they beat it, their bodies would develop cancer over and over again. They were uninsurable. It threatened to ruin their family financially. That shouldn’t have been the case. Why should our country abandon those who need access to medical care the most? Ashley and Austen cannot speak for themselves because they both passed away from cancer. I marched for Ashley. I marched for Austen.

Was it just about the affordable care act? No. I had other reasons. I needed to show my children that I was going to hold our president accountable not only for policies I didn’t agree with, but also for actions and behavior and that I don’t find appropriate or presidential.

Locker room talk? Not acceptable. Billy Bush was fired for listening and laughing, but a minority of my country hired the guy who actually made the comment about grabbing women by the p****. I believed Lin Manuel Miranda when he rapped on SNL “You’re never gonna be president now…” I couldn’t imagine people would hear that and say “Nope, that’s fine”. To me it isn’t fine. To many people – a majority of people – it is not fine.

(Did I wear a pink pussy cat hat? No. Some of our crew did. Most of DC did. Most of our Women of the Bus wore purple for suffragettes, and that fabulous poem about how we women look at ourselves in the mirror. I’ve posted it below so you can share our inspiration. My friend Kim’s mom, Betsy, knit me a purple hat. I wore that in DC. My friend Carolyn brought her guitar and wore her pink pussy cat hat and sang protest songs on our bus. She even made her own words up for that paved paradise and put up a parking lot song. You can see it here. I bet she’ll go viral. She’s amazing.)

Making fun of disabled people? Not acceptable. That’s just not nice let alone presidential. I won’t forget it happened. I won’t be gaslighted. I saw a sign in DC that said “Gaslighter in Chief”. I saw the president on a video. He made fun of someone with a disability – a reporter – mocked him and pretended to be him and mimicked him. And it is not okay. It is not fine.

Tweets attacking individuals and generally being nasty? AND full of grammar and spelling errors? Not acceptable, and also WTF? It’s spelled HONOR. And HONORED. Not HONERED. Just stop tweeting. Please. I ask this with respect. You’re not being nice. It is not okay. It is not fine.

If one of my children acted like our president, I would feel like a failure as a parent. We’d have a family meeting. We’d take away technology access. We’d practice spelling and talk about why words and grammar are important. Words matter. People matter. Be nice. Be kind. Be respectful.

Campaigning is one thing. Governing is another. It’s time to govern. It’s time to lead.

I marched because I wanted the attention of the president and administration. I didn’t just march for me. I marched for those who need to be represented and counted. I did so peacefully and with respect. I thanked every police officer and national guard I saw in DC for their service. They were kind, they were helpful, they were supportive. And they also told us that there were way more people on Saturday than Friday. I believe them. That is a fact. Not an alternative fact. Alternative facts are not acceptable. They are not okay. They are not fine.

Allow me a moment to interject an important point. I do not speak for every woman. I never pretended to. I think diverse and ample voices make America strong. This is not about ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.  The more voices that speak up the better. We have a right to disagree with each other – but an obligation to do so with respect and dignity.  One of my bus ladies asked me if I was still friends with Loren, my bestie in town who is Republican and sported a Trump sign on her lawn. YES. I am friends with her now more than ever. Do we talk about politics? Sometimes. Always with respect (and a sense of humor).  After Trump won the election I asked her to come over to my house and have a glass of wine with me on the couch. I was worried and sad and I asked her to tell me it was all going to be ok. “Tell me what they are going to do that is going to work” I asked her. And we talked. And she made me feel better. I wanted to hear from her. I wanted to know how she felt. Loren never gloated. She empathized. She made a toast to America and to people who can find common ground. And Loren listened to me about my worries. And then we talked about how annoying our kids are. There is more that unites us in common than divides us.

We’re not whining. We’re not complaining. We’re asking to be heard. And we’re asking for those who need it.  The first amendment is not just about free speech in the press and media. It also protects the “right of the people to peaceably assemble” and “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. We have some grievances. We want to be heard.

My friend Kim was there. She wants to be heard. Her mom, Betsy, who made my purple hat, was there too. She wanted to be heard. And their friend, Ellie, who is 81, came along as well. She wore a purple hat (also knit by Betsy). At one point during the rally we couldn’t hear the speeches very well and we were talking to each other. I think we might have missed Madonna. But I didn’t miss anything. Madonna doesn’t speak for me. She distracted from the real story of the day. Ellie told us a story. She told us that being there, in DC, for that march, was the second most proud she had ever been as an American. The most proud, she told us, was when her mother became an American citizen. Her mother was older when she finally took the citizenship test. She had been worried that she wasn’t smart enough to pass the test, and so she waited a long time, studied a long time, and finally took the test and passed. “But today,” Ellie said to me, as she touched my arm, “today is second. Thank you for making it possible for me to be here today”.

My purple hat-wearing first amendment-wielding Women of the Bus are not stopping now. We’re getting together (over happy hour on February 10th if you’d like to come). We are going to organize. We are going to plan. We are not going to let things go that are not okay, that are not fine, that are not NICE. Many of us spoke on Saturday about how we had taken for granted that good people would be in charge and lead our country. This new administration may be an unpleasant motivator, but we don’t believe any of us are taking anything for granted anymore.  We are going to meet. We are going to talk. We are women, and we are going to get things done.

The American Revolution began in taverns and pubs across the colonies. Now we women will turn to each other in the homes of friends to make the world a better place. Hear us roar.

 

THE PURPLE HAT

Age 3: She looks at herself and sees a Queen.

Age 8: She looks at herself and sees Cinderella.

Age 15: She looks at herself as the “Ugly Sister”-“Mom, I can’t go to school looking like this!”

Age 20: She looks at herself and sees, “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”-but decides she’s going out anyway.

Age 30: She looks at herself and sees, “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”-but decides she doesn’t have time to fix it so she’s going out anyway.

At 40: She looks at herself and sees “too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly”-but says, “At least I’m clean,” and goes out anyway.

Age 50: She looks at herself, sees “I am”, and goes wherever she wants to go.

Age 60: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can’t even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.

Age 70: She looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.

Age 80: Doesn’t bother to look. Just puts on a purple hat and goes out to have fun with the world.

Maybe we should all grab that purple hat earlier.

And may I add? Make the world a better place.

2 Responses

  1. Grace Page says:

    Colleen, I started reading your blog because I was very interested in your Women’s March experience in Washington. I had spent the day Saturday on Facebook following news about your March and all the ones happening in the US and around the world. Asheville, our little city of only 70,000, estimated that 10,000 participated. I was so proud but couldn’t help thinking about my daughter Ashley and granddaughter Austen. I know they would been either in the March at home or ,more likely, the one in Washington. As you know Ashley was passionate about equal right for everyone and hated injustice in all it forms.
    When I began to read the part about my girls, I was taken by surprise and began to cry aloud. My husband was alarmed and I just handed him my iPod so he could read for himself. Thank you for telling their stories to remind your readers that the health care issue is about real people not just numbers. As rich as our country is, there no excuse for not taking care of all our citizens. Other counties do this and we should able to also. I was reminded about this last winter when I fell and broke my hip couple weeks before we were scheduled to fly to London for my husband to speak at a conference. Of course, we missed our trip but I said, ” At least we weren’t in London when this happened.” When my husband repeated this to his British friends, they pointed out that had I fallen over there, all my medical expenses would have been covered even though I was just a visitor. We should be working have everyone have health care, not working to take away coverage.
    Of course, health care is not the only issue and I really appreciate your comments about the other reasons for marching. I am so proud you and all the women who marched so our voices could heard. Thank you for that and for your beautifully written blog.

  2. Ariel Zurofsky says:

    Well Said! Wish I lived closer to join you all in Chatham. Keep me posted please!

Leave a Reply