I’ve let a couple days pass since marching on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C., alongside my wife and her mother, before putting my thoughts and feelings onto this page.
We were in good spirits when we boarded the bus in Durham this past Saturday morning, bound for our nation’s capital. We took pictures, and smiled at all the women with pink hats who were traveling with us. There was energy in the air, which my wife Sarah and I needed, as we are parents of a 2-year-old boy whose job it is to expend our natural supply.
Sarah looked at me as we stood at that bus stop and said I should have worn something military related, referencing my service in the Army during those early post 9/11 years. I understood the context, as there is the subtle confusion that those who serve in the military mostly bend toward a conservative philosophy, and those who don’t are assumed otherwise. I’ve always been progressive, and the military did little to dampen my activist spirit and perhaps made participating in our democracy more personal for me.
Once you have volunteered to protect our nation, you tend to take that into the rest of your life. Ex-soldiers like me, and millions of other citizens, were heading out that day to let our new president know that the other half of the nation was still here, and we were not going away.
Five hours later we entered Washington, D.C., and were immediately greeted by streets alive with activity. I’ve been to protests and rallies, but this was altogether different and amazing.
As we started making our way down Independence Avenue, we joined the masses. There were smiles on faces, determined chants rising from our mouths, waving of signs with the messages that resonated with our grievances to the exclusionary vision of this new administration.
One woman behind me said “This is the best day I’ve had in months!” Yes, yes it was!
There are many who don’t understand the culture of protest, what its purpose is, or even why it should be permitted. There are also some that will link those who wield violence with the masses who protest in peace, employing nothing but love and a desire for change.
In response to those with questions, misunderstandings and accusations, democracies are not in themselves vessels of freedom and equality. They will always leave room for the majority to trample on the minority.
In our country, we have thus created a Constitution and supporting institutions to protect the rights of all. Additionally, we continue to cultivate a culture rooted in our inherent responsibility to take our complaints to the streets when our system fails to listen to all its people. Just as I believed it was my duty to serve my country in the armed forces, I believed it was my duty to be there in the capital, on that day.
In the hours that followed, I was affirmed that the values that seemed so deeply questioned by the outcome of the election, were not extinguished by the cold waves of anger, fear and thinly guised hatred that spewed from some corners of this new political regime. In fact, it seemed it was bringing us together, pulling us closer and making us stronger.
Yes, elections have consequences, but power is not found in executive actions; it is held by the people who I was marching next to.
President Trump promised to give the power back to the people, but I knew as I looked around me, that we never lost that power in the first place.
Douglas Boemker lives in Durham.