By Beth Phillips
We carried our sign, “Vermont Women on the Right Side of History.” The Fox News reporter spotted us leaving the Capitol Mall, walking towards Central Station metro, and thrust her mic toward us, “So, Vermont women, why did you come to Washington? Why are you marching?”
Susie learned forward and shared her concern for social programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Obama-care and Social Security. I voiced objection to the president’s vulgarity and crude civic discourse. Other women gathered around and one lobbed climate change concerns at the microphone. The local Fox News reporter turned on her and responded aggressively, “Don’t you know about the terrible uranium deal the Clintons did with the Russians? How can you overlook that?” her long pointed fingernails jabbing at us. She didn’t want our point of view, she wanted to school us.
As we turned away and walked toward the metro, I mulled over the Fox reporter’s initial question: Why had I come to Washington, D.C.? Why was I marching? I’d not examined my reasons, but weeks before, an inarticulate urge took hold and I knew I wanted to go.
Certainly I recoiled from the distasteful image of the man that had been elected president of my country. I was appalled and angry. I wanted to be counted in protest and my voice heard in protest. I objected to this man, the things he said, and the way he said them. He insulted my sensibilities and I cringed at his voice and his ridiculous posturing. Those were feelings.
Why else was I marching? What causes motivated me, someone who rarely protested. I was marching against a liar. The man lies. Regularly and casually. And then lies about lying. Regularly and casually. People who speak for him lie. Casually and aggressively and apparently without shame. I value honesty. So, I might have said to the Fox reporter, I was marching for truth.
The man is a bully. He bullies women and union leaders. He bullies immigrants and Muslims. He bullies anyone who calls him to question. He bullies journalists and reporters. He would, without doubt, bully me and my family and friends if we caught his attention. I was marching against a bully.
I believe in the importance of freedom of speech and the importance of a strong and independent press. A library career and a long life have convinced me to value the work of investigative journalists and news organizations that support those journalists. Both the Vietnam War and the unraveling of Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency convinced me that the media guards our freedoms from over-reaching governments and politicians. I was marching for a strong, free and honest press.
I believe we are better together than divided. An integrated country with fairness for all is better than one divided by color and class and enormous gaps between rich and poor. I’ve lived and traveled overseas in countries with enormous gulfs between the haves and the have-nots and seen, first hand, the corruption and repression in those societies. I was marching against the rhetoric meant to inflame divisions among groups. I was marching for equity and social cohesion.
I believe climate change is real and serious and perhaps a threat to human life on our planet. Scientists are in agreement that action is necessary now to mitigate damage already done and prevent greater damage. To deny climate change, to retreat from science and climate agreements, and to abdicate leadership is destructive and cynical. I was marching for science and the health of the planet.
I was marching for all women’s continued ability to control their bodies and their medical decisions—a right absolutely essential to women’s reproductive freedom and economic freedom. This president disrespects women and put women’s hard-won health gains in jeopardy. I was marching for women and for choice.
There were plenty of reasons why this Vermont woman had come to Washington to be part of the Women’s March. Truth, fairness, civility, free speech, climate change, reproductive rights, as well as a deep personal sadness that fellow countrymen had elected such an unworthy man to lead our country.
How would the Fox reporter have responded that afternoon if I’d been ready with my marching manifesto? I cannot know. I wasn’t prepared and the opportunity to speak it passed. But what I did do—twice—in the minutes she harangued us was to reach out gently, ever so gently, and fold down her aggressive jabbing fingers. Did she notice our momentary contact?
Beth Phillips lives in Shelburne and is a member of the writing group at the Charlotte Senior Center.