“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
130 years ago, a woman – Emma Lazarus – wrote that sonnet to help the funding of a pedestal for the new colossus that would welcome the dispossessed as they arrived at the land of the free. A colossus in the form of “la liberte”, a gift from the French, built by Eiffel. Marianne is her French name, Libertas her Roman. She stands for freedom, and for reason. She stands for the American dream. A welcoming and inspiring sight to immigrants, lighting the way with her torch, holding her book of law. Welcoming the disaffected to New York Harbour.
It seems strange that 130 years later, the same nation has sworn in a president who appears to have no concern for reason, and certainly none for immigrants. And as for his unquestioned thinking about women – to quote numerous overheard conversations today – “Just when we were getting somewhere…”
So across the nation today, and much of the world, there have been marches in peaceful protest. A chance for anyone who is concerned about the trickle down effect to mark a small statistic, while feeling a strength in numbers. If the one at the top has unexamined prejudice, will that trickle down through society and give permission for those with conscious prejudice to behave terribly? And if the one at the top has conscious prejudice, then should he be on top?
In Los Angeles, turnout was always going to be huge. I hook up with an old friend in the morning and she and I drive to Highland Park metro, knowing that driving into downtown would be a fools errand. The queue for the metro is round the block and every train that comes is packed. Which is a good sign. The atmosphere is still bright, the sun is shining, people are chatting, loads of people have brought their kids.
We queue for ages. We lose hope. We get momentarily fractious. We rejoin the queue. Eventually we decide to “London it”. There IS room in the trains, you just have to play the armpit Tetris that is played every morning across the tube network. I’m back to hapless Brit: “Goodness this is fun, it reminds me of being home in London, here if you put your elbow in my navel then I can fit the back of your head under my left knee, and if it stops suddenly just grab my beard.”
Once on the train we get to the thick of it super quickly. It’s not so much of a march by the time we’re there. More of a stand. We end up stationary at First and Broadway. Coincidentally there’s a stage right by the spot where we grind to a halt. We’ve hit the centre by mistake. A man called Charlie BeReal comes up on stage with a guitar and plays the star spangled banner. The word in the crowd is that he is one of the roadies and he built the stage. He’s just grandstanding to the biggest crowd he’s ever had. That would make sense considering he is followed by a steward making crowd control announcements too quietly, fruitlessly asking the marchers to keep moving. The crowd is not movable though. We have nowhere to move to. We have people coming towards us from 4 directions. We stay put. Chants bubble up and fade. I’m slipping in and out of American accent. Everyone is smiling. There is not a sniff of bad energy here, no impatience, no fractiousness. Lisa Marie says “That’s because it’s a women’s march,” which is a fair point. A number of speakers and activists hit the stage, as well as the mayor. There are a lot of people, and more coming all the time. It’s like being part of some huge friendly slightly geeky beast. Some of the placards are ridiculous. Lots of trumpvaginas. Lots of cultural references : “We’d prefer Joffrey” , Dumbledore quotes. A 12 year old has “I don’t want a cheeto for a president.” (Cheetos look like Wotsits.) It’s a creative, friendly, sparky, fun warm protest. And statistically there were 750,000 people in downtown LA for it.
That’s huge for such a friendly atmosphere. It felt like the Notting Hill Carnival with less beer, weed, music and stabbing. Actually, no it felt nothing like Notting Hill in the slightest. It was just lots of people. And no fighting. The poster in front of me read “Please put women in charge” and based on that protest, I’m in. If the symbol of “la republique”, the triumph of the republic, is a strong green woman that fairly welcomes the dispossessed and calls for reason and liberty, I’ll take that any day over this cruel, inward-looking, vain, entitled blustering hypocrite. With his small gropey hands and his orange sweaty face.