Wearing my running shoes and favorite stretch pants, I was almost ready as I drove across the valley, still groggy and with a cup of coffee in hand. But when I arrived at the Universal Studio train station and then circled the parking lot, it became clear I wasn’t going to find a spot. I noticed all the happy-looking, peppy people lined up to get onto the Red Line and decided I’d have a better chance if I drove a little further into L.A. where I’d meet up with my children who live in the little hipster town of Los Feliz.
We met up in the apartment of a friend of my youngest daughter. My son-in-law and my daughter (wearing a t-shirt that read “I’m Pregnant”) were also gathered there together with a group of their 30-something year old friends. I was the oldest, the “mom/grandma-to-be.” My heart swelled when I spotted the pot of coffee and a box of donuts. I looked around remembering the visits to my children’s classrooms as I watched some in the group now busily working on posters. One even ended up using the backside of the donut box. Some had been more prepared, having worked on their posters at home. They were all really good artists.
The morning was cool and invigorating. And so, primed with coffee, I followed (hobbled, rather – early osteoarthritis in both knees) our young group down to the train station on Sunset. We took the elevator down, but the subway was already packed and some were retreating to the buses I’d seen lined up outside. I heard the train coming, but as we made our way down the escalator into the belly of the subway, it was clear we weren’t going to be getting on that train or the one after that, or the one after that. The platform was packed like we were cows headed to slaughter. Was it too late to turn back? And then someone from inside the train held up a sign and pointed to the tracks behind us. “Go North!” the sign read.
I followed as my group hustled over to the other side and hopped onto the train. We were pushed to the back of the car and I immediately started to feel claustrophobic. My daughter flashed her “I’m Pregnant” t-shirt and people smiled, backing off to give her the space she needed. As the train traveled all the way back to North Hollywood and reversed south toward our destination, it occurred to me that just like these times, we might need to go back in order to go forward.
I took deep breaths and then the crowd which was so civil started singing songs of freedom, and then show tunes, and pop tunes. Some told jokes and as I laughed, I told myself we were going to be okay.
Making our way south, I noticed at each stop, the crowds of people waiting to get on, faces pressed to the windows, but we were already full. I imagined the immigrants lined up to catch a train or a boat to freedom. I saw hopeful mothers clinging to their children as they tried to squeeze on, but there was no more room. “Go back!” Someone inside our train car thought to post a message on their iPhone. “Take the other train.”
Finally, we spilled out onto the street into the sunshine where a sea of marchers was already on their way toward City Hall. Ebullient snowflakes, we melted as we merged into the larger crowd, like the Los Angeles River flowing into the great Pacific Ocean. Fire trucks and police cars blocked the flow and we were diverted to alternate routes.
At last, we ended up only a couple hundred feet from the platform set up at Pershing Square. Now what? I wondered. I looked around. Seriously, what are we supposed to do once we’ve arrived?
My mother, a product of the Great Depression, would ask me later. “Why were you protesting?”
I know that individuals from Mom’s era tend to feel a responsibility to leave a legacy to their children. They tend to be patriotic, oriented toward work before pleasure, respect for authority, have a sense of moral obligation.
“So, you’re protesting against the president?” she went on. “So that more immoral people can get pregnant and go on welfare? I didn’t raise my daughters that way.”
“Mom, we weren’t protesting, we were marching. To show solidarity. For my daughters and my future grandchildren. If it hadn’t been for some of our fore-mothers, we wouldn’t have the rights that are in peril of being ripped away. It’s more than just planned parenthood.”
I wanted to tell her that the march aimed to bring people together. People of all genders and backgrounds (like her and her migrant Mexican parents) to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.
Pearls to swine. It was also her generation that believed children were to be seen and not heard. (My favorite part of the march was seeing the children and reading their innocent signs.) She’d never listened to me before and wasn’t going to start now. Perhaps it’s ironic that she is now deaf and refuses to wear her hearing aids.
I read later FB posts from a couple of women who perhaps shared some of my mother’s skewed sentimentality.
“I don’t need you to march for me,” some had posted. “This is not my march.”
I would say now, why not march to thank the women, living and dead, who fought for our freedom and gave us a voice? Women like Bella Abzug, Harriet Tubman and Dolores Huerta, to name only a few.
After the March, we gathered for beers at the Angel City Brewery in Little Tokyo, and as I was taking a sip, a young man (I’ll call him Sam) asked me, “So, was this your first march?” I assumed Sam was trying not to assume my age. “I mean, it’s my first,” he added.
I thought about it. I am a child of the 60’s, a Boomer 2, not old enough to march back then, yet old enough and unable to escape the troubles of the whole decade. I was from a generation that lost its trust in government. It was like Boomer 2 had watched its older sibling Boomer 1 get into trouble and now knew to stay silent.
“No,” I replied, surprised that a young person was interested in what someone from the older generation might have to say. “I marched around the dodge ball court when I was in fourth grade.”
I laughed, too. What? Am I trying to be funny? To fit in with these Millennials three times removed from my Generation Jones? The beer must be kicking in. No, it was my truth bubbling up and I didn’t even know it, much less what to do with it.
Sam’s girlfriend nudged him as if to say, be respectful of your elders.
I gave her a look that said, it’s okay, and then he allowed me a moment to pause and remember (very respectful since some old people have trouble with their memory) why I’d marched around the dodge ball court.
“Robert Kennedy had just been shot,” I said, recalling the confusion I felt as young girl in parochial school. “You see, we knew about miracles and were sort of praying that he would survive.”
All around the table now, I saw eyes widen and jaws drop. I had a young captive audience. I then remembered how the Catholics and my Mexican family loved Jesus, Mary, the church, the pope and especially, those Irish Catholic Kennedys. And then like tearing the pages off a calendar, I remembered even more about the uncertain times in my youth.
“If you remember your history,” I said to my young grasshoppers. “His big brother, our President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated only a few years before.”
Uttering the words, I immediately felt the weight of my youth crushing down on me. I blinked away the tears that threatened to escape and when I looked across the table, the eyes were all still glued to me.
“You know, it occurred to me,” I added, “as I watched this week’s inaugural parade that I hadn’t felt this low, this overwhelming sense of uncertainty, since the assassination. I mean, as I watched that big black machine transporting our new president Trump to the White House, it took me back. It was the same feeling of sad hopelessness that I felt when I sat in my living room with my family watching President Kennedy’s funeral procession. At the time, I was in kindergarten, same as his daughter, and when I sat in front of our black and white Motorola, I saw the face of Caroline and Little John, Jr. as their daddy’s hearse passed them by. Suddenly, my heart sank even lower and nothing in my young life could ever be any worse.”
“Wow,” the young man said.
I then looked him in the eye afraid (or was it embarrassed?) to tell him the next part. “Two months before Bobby, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. And then there was the whole Viet Nam waste and the men came home unwelcomed — we had AIDS…” I said, trailing off.
The table was silent and still I had everyone’s undivided attention and the opportunity now to talk about hope. “So you see, our country has been through a lot. Every generation has its own experience. We mustn’t forget (like I had obviously). We mustn’t give up.”
I’d just marched, knees aching like it had been a hundred miles, but something inside me had just been awakened. It was as if I’d been reclined on a therapist’s couch and had just discovered the answers to my silent suffering.
I’d been listened to and validated by the knowledge that I was not alone. Validated not by my wizened elders, but by this young group, our generation of hope. I was on a roll now, unstoppable.
“Not to diminish the pain of today, and not to forget the pain of yesterday, but to remember that we are strong, resilient and good and that when we are pushed or pulled too far, we spring back, unite and fight.”
(Now, I wish I would have reminded them that during the 60’s we discovered the Beatles and even went to the moon.)
“Sometimes we have to go two steps backwards like we did today on the train,” I said, “but then we turned around and moved forward (one giant step for mankind).”
My young audience laughed and Sam said, “You’re right.”
After the march, I realized that the wonderful thing about our great country is that we are strong. We persevere. We resist. We are a nation that had grown complacent, dormant, but now we are “Woke” — silent no more. Let the children be heard. Any movement toward division has only united us. The approximately half a million marchers in Los Angeles (5 million US and 300,000 abroad) alone proved that. During the march, Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y, and Z, people of diversity, men, women and children all came together like one large body of water, an ocean full of life and possibilities. What we’re experiencing now is nothing new; it’s different, and we will come out of this, perhaps a little bruised, but stronger, nonetheless. We will rise up out of the dark bowels of the subway into the light of a new day and move forward.
Rock on! Get Woke, all you Babyboomers, and Generations X, Y, Z and beyond!