When my friend Martha Conte and I set out with a drone replica for Inauguration Day weekend in Washington, I feared that we were headed for a world of frustration and depression. The opposite was true, in spades.
First of all, I was worried we would encounter a huge traffic jam getting into the city on Thursday afternoon, the day before the Inauguration. But we followed the route suggested by Tighe Barry of Code Pink and easily parked in front of the house he shares with Medea Benjamin, about a 15-minute walk from the Capitol grounds where we would join colleagues from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) for a protest on the next day.
As we protesters laid plans at Union Station on Friday morning, I and other NCNR members thought it was unlikely that the police would allow the drone replica anywhere near our intended protest site at Columbus Circle, across from the Capitol. But Martha and several others urged that we try, and so Martha and I walked to our car near the Code Pink house where the model was stored and started back to the Capitol. We were stopped by a policeman, but after I explained the model was a prop made of cardboard and plastic, he let us proceed, as did two members of the National Guard. We could not believe it when we rolled the model up to the protest site at the intersection of Columbus Circle NE and First Street NE, one of the streets entering the Capitol grounds.
After gathering to speak to passersby about the protest, our group moved into First Street NE for a die-in. The organizers anticipated that the police would arrest those who lay down in the street, but they made no move to do so. The protest began around 1 p.m. when Donald Trump began his acceptance speech and extended until the crowd broke and filed out, about an hour and a half later. A few attendees who passed us gave thumbs up or thanked us for being there; a smaller number shouted out in support of drone killing. But most pretended not to see us. The crowd seemed satisfied to have attended the Inauguration but not high-spirited.
Throughout the protest, the police stationed near us looked on without comment and made no effort to stop us. I am sure that they were willing to allow the die-in to continue because First Street was already blocked by National Guard trucks.
When the numbers of people passing by thinned to a trickle, we ended the protest. We felt we were successful in having been seen by many hundreds of people and because ours appeared to be the only explicitly anti-war protest of the day.
Of course, Martha and I were very happy and relieved to have accomplished the day’s drone mission, and we wondered whether our good luck would hold when we brought the drone replica the next day to the Women’s March. I was concerned not only about whether the drone model could be pushed through the crowds but whether people in the march would ask us why we were raising the issue of drone attacks and war in a women’s solidarity march.
My concern about being able to move easily with the drone model was heightened when Martha and I got to the subway to make our way into the city from Maryland, where we were staying. At 8 am there was a huge line at the station, stretching back at least a New York City long block, and we waited 30 minutes to board.
A startling number of women waiting in line were wearing pink, knitted, pussy hats that seemed to have sprouted overnight like pink dandelions. Martha was given her hat by Tighe Barry’s sister; I believe the hat was knitted by a woman in North Carolina. The spirit evinced by the hats, of women helping each other and fighting for each other, and humanity, was extremely exciting for all of us.
We fortunately got seats, and by the time we reached Union Station the car was packed so tightly that people couldn’t move. Leaving the station, we encountered thousands of people moving toward the Mall. We got the drone model from our car and pushed it along with the crowd.
Just past Columbus Circle we were stopped by the Capitol Hill police; one car pulled up, then two more. I explained how the drone model was made and that it did not fly. The police officer in charge then showed us a route to take with that would keep us off of Capitol Hill grounds and out of their jurisdiction. We moved on down Louisiana Avenue NW as we were instructed. At one point another policeman stopped us, heard our explanation and let us pass.
We were very heartened as we moved along with the river of people because frequently people would thank us for being there.
At the Mall we parked the drone in a roadway that had been blocked off and talked with people who came to ask about the model, or just to take cell phone pictures. Three people from Ethiopia stopped and asked if they could stand in front of the drone with their banner so that one of them could take a picture. See the photo below.
Our location on the roadway was perfect in that it allowed groups to fully display their signs and for others to take pictures of them. People were extremely happy and excited to show their signs and to meet others. The joy that women felt and generated was extremely powerful and contagious.
I think one of the most important messages of the day was that women intended to control what is going on with them sexually. They were willing to speak openly in explicit sexual language to Trump’s crudity and misogyny, as shown in the photos below.
At one point, about five motorcycle police rolled up, coming to tell people to get down from a scaffolding near me. One of the police, an African-American, gave me a thumbs up as he walked by, arm and hand held low so his message would be just between us.
At about 2 pm, the marchers began to move from the mall out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. I had become separated from Martha, who had gone farther onto the Mall to hear the speakers, into an area where it was impossible to move the drone model because of curbs, mud and crowds. So, I moved forward into the line of march heading west, knowing that we would meet up later.
The whole width of Pennsylvania Avenue was filled with marchers, and as I moved along on the right hand curb my spirits soared in being part of this huge mass of people defiantly resisting repression. I was also filled with gratitude as people along the curb and in the march thanked me for bringing the drone model. One young woman ran out into the street to give me the medallion in the photos below.
Thanks for bringing the replica came all along Pennsylvania Avenue and up 14th Street NW, where I met Martha as the march wound down.
What I concluded from this praise was that there are a great number of people who do not want the wars that the United States is now pursuing. I think a big reason for the public silence about the wars may be because people do not know what to do with their anti-war feelings since neither main political party is willing to oppose the wars.
As Martha and I packed the drone model into the car preparing to head home, I was thankful that all had gone so smoothly with using the model and that our message was embraced so widely.
But above and beyond that I felt that the women had created a vast sea of love, good will, intelligence and power on which we all can rely to buoy us and carry us forward.