January 19, 2017 | PERSONAL

Put on your boots and march

I’ve been to a lot of protests and a lot of presidential inaugurations. I’m hoping this time their lesson will stick with me.

The day after the November election I was a bit shellshocked. I hadn’t slept much, and rolled into work even more quiet than usual. I could hardly look strangers in the face. I was ashamed and distressed, and worried about people I know, and the millions of Americans I don’t know but who are going to suffer the consequences of this epically bad result.

I slipped away from work for a little while around lunchtime and walked down the National Mall. I’ve been there hundreds of times, but it always reminds me of childhood trips to DC where I would try to make my Dad drag me to every museum in one day (along with the zoo, and maybe a civil war battlefield on the drive to or from the city). I looked at some artwork at the wonderful Hirschorn and wondered who the patrons there voted for. I nodded, subdued, to the security guards and gift-shop cashiers, thinking about how the next administration might affect their livelihoods and families.

I was down, but I didn’t feel hopeless. I was invigorated a bit by the art and the inspiring monuments; beauty and ideals will endure. And it seemed to me that Donald Trump came from so far outside of political norms that he might, in the end, be a mildly successful president. He wasn’t beholden to the Republican party and their terrible, dumb ideologies. He seems mostly to care about popularity and success, which doesn’t sound especially bad.

Washington Mall, November 9, 2016
The Washington Mall, November 9, 2016

But as usual, the time between election and inauguration proved that things were not going to turn out for the best. Eight years ago, when Obama took office, I shivered in a massive crowd with a couple of dear friends and felt hopeful. But even then, I was wary of his top choices — Rahm Emanuel and all the old Clintonistas rolling back into the White House triumphantly. The Trump transition has been equally dismaying. We have an incoming administration that is treating government like a joke, as if there are no important consequences if agencies are shuttered and social safety nets eliminated. La la la, we are billionaires, it won’t impact us, these cabinet nominees appear to think.

So here I am again, about to go protest an inauguration. In January 2001, I was on the streets yelling at George W. Bush as his motorcade ran by.

Bush inaugural protests, 2001, from Fahrenheit 9/11. I didn't throw any eggs.

In 2005, after an election that still feels worse to me than the most recent one, I went to a rally at Malcolm X Park where I was introduced to the charged political music of Son of Nun:

During the Obama era, protest — and radical politics in general — became a tool of the right wing. I felt a lot of sympathy for the tea party movement even as I disagreed with most of their politics. As that group gradually morphed into something that became Trumpism, I never stopped thinking that they had plenty of legitimate gripes. I just think they’ve been choosing the wrong outlet. I was nostalgic for the anticapitalist, antiwar movement. If more of us had dedicated our time and effort to fighting the Democrats and Obama administration from the left, it would have put the nation on a better path and maybe thrown up some barriers in the path of the Trump express train. Though of course some amazing people kept up the fight all along (thank you and sorry for not doing more to assist!), the dropoff in activism — by me and so many others — was a collossal mistake. Now, as Yoda would say, matters are worse.

Just like elections, protests are not really about one topic. Analysts fail to understand them. Centrist political sycophants usually despise idealistic protesters. Talk show hosts who lean to the left or the right mock the misspelled signs and unsavvy slogans in protests from the other side.

The point of a protest is to protest. They aren’t full-on movements or ideologies. They are expressions of discontent. We have so much to be discontented about.

For the past few years I’ve kept coming back to a line from a Jessica Hopper interview with Jim DeRogatis about R. Kelly. They are discussing how nobody wanted to think about R. Kelly’s assault record or victims because his music was so enjoyable. Hopper comments, self-critically, “It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.

It’s time for us all to stop being cool and go back to giving a shit. It’s time to hit the streets, to support one another, and to support those who can’t march for themselves. I grabbed some old bandanas and some spare socks and I’m excited to sharpie a lawyer’s phone number on my arm and go vent some frustration.

Afterwards, there will be years of work to dive into. I hope that this time I will remember that the work never ends.

Last comment: one of my artistic inspirations in speaking out against the system is punk troubadour Ted Leo. The following song can almost bring me to tears, especially the line about “wasting the time I’ve been given” — something I feel like I’ve been doing — but being persuaded to still put on boots and march.

Be safe and be strong.

Ted Leo -- "Shake the Sheets" (2004)

I said… “Is it
wasting the time I’ve been given, to maybe
Wait for the day of oblivion?” and she said
“Roll out and make your mark. Pull on your boots and march
Then roll on and meet me where you’ll find me doing my own part”