Buckle Up, Buttercups! It’s Inauguration Week. My posts this week will be about my journey to Washington to participate in several events, including the Women’s March on Washington. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.
It was cold, sitting on the bench waiting for the MARC train that would take me from Baltimore to Union Station in Washington, D.C. The train wouldn’t arrive for another twenty minutes so I passed the time people- watching and reading. I noticed that several people walked by and then disappeared around the corner. Duh! I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the train was below me and that I was above the tracks I needed to get to – three hours of sleep had left me just a little stupified. Obviously, I had to find a way to get my large suitcase, and me, to the right tracks. Approaching the elevator to the tracks below I asked a woman similarly encumbered by luggage if she knew where to go. It turned out that not only did she know where to go but that she was also in town for the Women’s March. Two hours and two train rides later we had commiserated about the election, shared our fears for the future, discussed our families and travels and exchanged contact information.
She came to march in the parade but that wasn’t her original plan. She purchased her tickets, back in the summer, for what she assumed would be Hillary Clinton’s inauguration. In the fog of disbelief, in the wake of the election, she heard about the Women’s March and decided to participate. She felt compelled, as an African American woman from the south, to take a stand. She had been horrified, she shared, by Donald Trump’s words and actions, his casual conversation about assaulting women, his offensive attitude toward women in general, and his history of racism. So she came to march. All by herself. Unsure of how it would work but determined to join in. I shared that I was unsure as well how everything would play out but that we would welcome her as a fellow marcher in our small group.
I will appreciate having another woman of my generation in our group as it is pretty much all younger people in their thirties. And how much do I love that they are all going? So incredibly much. But sometimes it’s just nice to have someone my own age around. So we are greater by one. One more woman. One more voice.
That was an easy encounter. In fact, it was a delightful encounter. She was, as we sometimes describe it, a part of my affinity group: female, over-sixty, a fellow traveler, well-educated, progressive and a person of faith. We had many things in common and the couple of hours we spent together sped by.
Having a conversation with someone who basically agrees with you is one thing: easy, exciting, rewarding. I have lots of those face-to-face and online. I am, in fact, surrounded by those kinds of people. I also have friends, primarily ones I grew up with who live in small-town and rural Ohio, who are Trump supporters. We have common backgrounds and a long history of “knowing each other.” Although I no longer live near them, and most of our communication happens through Facebook, I have known many of them since grade school and count them as friends. We don’t talk politics (or religion). At all. Ever. It’s just too difficult online and I hardly ever see them offline.
But what happens when you meet a complete stranger with whom you have no shared background and almost nothing obvious in common? And who wants to tell you exactly how stupid and naive you are? THAT was Encounter #2
This next conversation took place later the same day. I’d been walking in Alexandria, Virginia for several hours. I was wet and tired and cold so I popped into a neighborhood coffee house. With a bracing cup of hot tea in hand I found a seat at the community table. I sipped my tea and relaxed, reading my e-mail and catching up online. A man came in and rifled through the trash can looking for a newspaper. He was wet and rumpled and obviously a little agitated. Having found something to his liking, he plopped down across the table from me and read his paper.
After a bit he couldn’t seem to contain himself and said to me “I just don’t get it. Trump is going to be inaugurated on Friday but all this damn paper has is stuff about Obama. I just don’t understand.” I suggested that perhaps people were angry with Mr. Trump. In a frustrated tone he responded, talking about how college educated people are so stupid they can’t even recognize what a wall is, all the while gesturing to a wall at the end of the room. “This,” he shouted, ” is a wall!”
“Trump is saving this country,” he said. “In a year this country will be 100% better off.” He shared emphatically about how much he hates and didn’t trust Hillary Clinton and said that if she’d been elected she would have put Putin in the White House. “Obama,” he said “lied to you for eight years and destroyed this country and you’re just too stupid to see that.” He ended by stating “I love my country and you people who didn’t vote for Trump hate our country or they never would have voted for Clinton.” I told him I love my country too, and if in a year we are 100% better off I would count that as a blessing. Continuing to grumble he walked out into the rainy evening.
This wasn’t a conversation. He wasn’t interested in answers or anything at all that I had to say. I asked a couple of questions and he used them to amp up his frustration so I mostly just sat back and listened. He made some assumptions about me, from just looking at me, that were right on the mark. Well-educated and liberal. My very presence seemed to irritate him. How could we have all that education and be so stupid? Allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the current administration? His disgust and anger were palpable.
This man had three obvious aspects that would have placed him in my affinity group: his age, his race and his anger. We are both Caucasian. Both over sixty. Both are angry about Donald Trump’s upcoming Presidency – I that it’s even happening, he that people don’t seem to be willing to give Trump a chance. If there are other commonalities I will never know. His anger was a shield to any true conversation and, although I tried, I didn’t seem to have the skills to engage him in any way that could move beyond that.
I wonder, sometimes, how my own vocal and often biting critique of Donald Trump and of the Republican Party’s plans for the future of our country diminishes my ability to have real encounters with those who don’t agree with me. We are so polarized and I just don’t seem to have it in me at all to compromise on issues that are important to me: civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQI rights, police reform, affordable and accessible health care, foreign engagement and climate change. But listening and having a conversation are vastly different than compromising my beliefs and it is my fervent hope this week to engage in some of those conversations. To listen and try to get a better feel for what Trump supporters are actually looking for. Counting on. Hoping for.
On Saturday, I march. For all those issues. For my daughters and my son and my grandson and for all the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters in the world, because they all have value. I march in hope that we will find better, more egalitarian solutions. I march so we can state with one voice: “We will not go quietly into that good night, but will persevere.”
So, Buckle up Buttercups! On Friday I will be on the mall listening in (OK, eavesdropping) and hopefully participating in some of those conversations. I will also be touring the Museum of African American History and Culture with a group from Oregon. Friday evening we will be attending the UnNaugural Concert. I’ll keep you posted on all of that in coming days.