A Different Kind of Protest

I had intended to leave Boston on morning of the 8th, that was before a remarkably confident young German man knocked on the window of a local network news truck parked in Copley Square to ask what they were reporting on: 

 “The women are protesting tomorrow.” 

 “What are they protesting?”

 “Whaddya think?”

 Imagining Trump effigies and the streets of he Democrat stronghold of Boston rumbling with valid feminine rage, I decide to delay my trip to New York by a day, and sort another night at the hostel. 

 On the Wednesday – which is International Women’s Day – women and supporters are being encouraged to strike from their work for the day, wear [Republican] red, and, where possible, abstain from purchasing. Some businesses – mainly restaurants – have closed in a sign of solidarity or necessity, and the Finagle A Bagel are offering a free bagel to anyone wearing red. When I pass by the shop is busy with rouge opportunists; I consider going in but don’t want to queue and am sceptical that my grey sweatshirt with Detroit Red Wings logo would be accepted as visual payment. 

 I have heard that the hub of the demonstration will be held in the Downtown Crossing area and so head there. The weather is the best for a week, 15˚C and beaming sunshine – there is no excuse for not attending in the skies. I have to pass through Copley Square again to get there and scan for any sign of ruckus or red but everything looks as it did yesterday, minus the truck. I am starting to get the impression that this march might not be the event that I imagined. I see people wearing red but it is hard to tell if they are doing it for the demonstration, or because they want to wear red.

 As I near Macy’s and Primark – “the nation’s only,” I have been [incorrectly] informed – I hear some very gentle, rather pleasant, singing, and when I round the corner I am greeted by about two dozen red clad women standing in an inward-looking circle that is sealed. They are homogenous white and are singing in hymn style, with a sound that suggests many of them practice every weekend. It is clear that those who have taken part in the strike and are here, are those that can afford to be; can afford to miss the day’s work. Each of the women holds a sign of some variety [of which the best reads: ‘The pussy grabber is President!?”] apart from two, who hold a sheet of A1 sized paper between them that I can’t quite read. The circle is sealed off fairly tightly and feels cheerfully uninviting – they don’t want amateurs turning this into a chant. As I watch, one woman moves forward into the centre of the circle and hits it with a warbling Aretha Franklin style voice; when she’s done everyone inside the circle and watching cheers and she slots back into the circle looking pleased with herself, but in an endearing way. 

 I move so that I can read the A1 sheet of paper and see that it holds the lyrics to their song, and that there are more pieces of the thick paper behind. The chorus of the current song runs: ‘I can’t be quiet, no no no.’ I think I recognise the tune that it has been put upon but can’t for the life of me place it – it is pleasant, if not particularly forceful. White Aretha makes no show of trying to blend into the singing pack and is audible throughout; I think I saw her gesturing with a single finger waving in front of her for a second but I might have imagined it.

 There is roughly as many people watching as there is performing and a young Harvard hopeful beside me laughs at the pussy grabber sign. He has been there a while and says that he is waiting for the show: when a boisterous and impossibly offended right-winger [of which Boston has very few storms in and starts shouting. Part of me would not be adverse to the spectacle being spiced up, but the event does not have that atmosphere: it feels more like a celebration of women than a protest – a ‘for’ event rather than an ‘against’. 

 The end of the song is reached and another is promptly started, the top leaf of paper being removed to reveal more lyrics behind. It was roughly midday when I arrive and, though I sadly don’t know and forget to find out when it began, this routine is repeated for about an hour, at which point the circle breaks up cheerfully and seemingly by mutual agreement, with a final self-congratulatory round of applause. Most of the women leave, bidding each other friendly goodbyes, but a few stay and mingle with one another in what had been the centre of the circle. When I speak to a woman who is wearing an expensive looking red scarf and who appeared to be one of the circle’s leaders, she insists that they had got as many people as they expected, then hurriedly corrects herself to say more than. She gives the impression of being happy with how things have gone. Getting my own impression that the demonstration has reached its conclusion, I leave.

 I hear of other demonstrations across the U.S. and the globe that are closer to what I had come in expecting; instead I was treated to a pleasant afternoon show, the quality of the singing feeling like the priority rather than the softly charged lyrics. The event has drawn my attention to International Women’s Day, which would have passed me by unnoticed otherwise – I guess that is something.

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