In the Beauty of the Day

Reflections on the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March.

The Rev. Evan Keely, Interim Minister

I am not aware of any event in the history of the world comparable to the Women’s March. I know of no other mass demonstration that can claim to have mobilized millions of people in more than six hundred locations on all seven continents. But while anyone can enumerate the astonishing stats from this once-in-history occurrence — the dozens of countries, the hundreds of locales, the millions of marchers — I can only speak for myself and the incomparable and unforgettable memories of that singular event and what it meant for me personally: on the Metro, the astonished and joyous and grateful looks on the faces of people at every station stop, as there went up a wild whoop, a throaty and generous holler from everyone in the car welcoming new travelers. Janelle Monáe singing “Hell You Talmbout,” defiantly grieving the unjust deaths of Sandra Bland and Natasha McKenna and Tanisha Anderson — and by extension, so many others, too many others who have been lost. Slowly making our way along Constitution Avenue NW, gazing on the beautiful sight of the National Museum of African-American History — and from that vantage point, another beautiful sight: it would be incorrect to say that we could see marchers and countless pink pussy hats as far as the eye could see. They were well beyond what the eye could see. A roaring, joyful, indefatigable and seemingly unending ocean of pussyhats. Marching.

The Pussyhat Project was, to me, sheer genius. The Women’s March sprang from many impulses and feelings: defiance, rage, horror, anguish, heartbreak, disappointment, confusion, courage, hope, love, determination, perseverance, self-respect. The pussyhats took all that and took nothing away and added color and playfulness and creativity. They did nothing to diminish the seriousness, the earnestness, the urgency of the march — far from it. The march for the liberation of the human race came and will keep coming, marching in pink hats to peaceably but resolutely confront the blundering, cruel, arrogant, misogynistic ignoramuses that have now seized power, and to escort them into the dustbin of history where they belong. It will take time, and it will take effort. My great-grandchildren will learn of a time in history when powerful people scoffed superciliously at those unending hordes of pink hats that took to the streets all over the face of the earth on a single day, and my great-grandchildren will learn what happened to those haughty know-nothings who failed to understand that the era of their ignorance and venality and greed and heartlessness began to end on January 21, 2017, when an outraged world saw the elevation of a coarse and cunning fraud and said No!, and when a hopeful world saw what might be, what can be, what must be — what must be! — and, to that, said Yes!

Like the Women’s March on Versailles in October of 1789, or the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912, or Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo, this was a march of women. As has been so often the case through the history of the world, where men failed to act or when men did too little good or too much harm, women lead the way.

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens,
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing,
“Bread and roses, bread and roses!”

James Oppenheim

There is a great deal one could say about the Women’s March. There is a great deal to say about its effects and what has transpired since then and what remains to be done, about what has been accomplished and about where we have failed and about the work that is still to be done. It was a complex event; there is much to praise, and some to criticize. I am all in favor of thoughtful critiques. And yet I admit that at this point in my life, I have run out of patience for the habit of making the perfect the enemy of the good. In life, we will strive for good; we will err along the way. In the name of the Everlasting God, can we have a little forbearance with ourselves and one another at least some of the time?

All that is very interesting and worthwhile, but for the most part, I will forbear.

I will say this much.

I declare that the Women’s March poses a question, a question for all humanity, a question for our country at this critical time and for every country on earth. The Women’s March poses a question, and it answers that question.

The question it poses — for us as Americans and for the peoples of every land — is: are we to live as subjects of Empire, or are we to live as free people, as citizens of a free, democratic Republic?

To speak of Empire and of Republic is to speak of ways that people live, of ways they move and act and think and feel. To speak of Empire and of Republic is to speak of the great question of all human history in every place on this earth.

The subjects of Empire live in scarcity. Resources must be hoarded and stingily allocated, because the subjects of Empire know that life is a zero-sum game, that the strong will always dominate the weak, and that the only way life is bearable is if one is numbered among the strong or can at least curry the favor of the strong — and to coax the strong into deigning to offer their protection, no sycophancy is too demeaning, no bribe is too extravagant, no plea is too pathetic; for the subjects of Empire, any of those indignities is small change compared to the desolation of not being strong or being favored by the strong.

The citizens of the Republic live in abundance. They know that scarcity is a reality, but they live in the determination that we must find a way for as many as possible to have enough. Sharing and taking care of one another are the law of the land and the law of the human heart in the Republic, for its citizens live in an abiding faith that life can be free and beautiful, that what makes life bearable and wonderful is knowing that we need one another and that we can be there for one another, that true freedom means freedom for all. No effort is too overwhelming, no task too arduous, no decision too monumental for the citizens of the Republic to strive for this true liberty.

The subjects of Empire live in fear, and the subjects of empire live by fear. In the Empire, the purpose of life is to discern who one’s enemies are, to identify them as enemies and to build defenses against them, and to stand at the ready to defeat them, to crush them, to annihilate them. The enemies of the Empire must be defeated, they must be destroyed. To be defeated, the Empire’s enemies must be found, and if they cannot be found, enemies are easy enough to invent. The Empire cannot thrive unless it is fighting or preparing to fight. The Empire cannot rest easy unless it is destroying.

The citizens of the Republic live in hope. In the Republic, the purpose of life is to discern who one’s friends are, to identify them as friends and to build coalitions and unions and alliances and friendships with them, and to stand at the ready to work with them to solve problems for mutual benefit. The friends of the Republic must be protected, they must be cherished, they must be advocated for and sacrificed for, just as the Republic itself must be protected and cherished and advocated for and sacrificed for, and sometimes with great sorrow some must even lay down their lives to do so, but that cruel truth does not and cannot and must not overshadow or eradicate the hope in which the Republic’s citizens live. The Republic cannot rest easy unless it is creating.

The Women’s March asked all humanity a question, never to be avoided: are we to live as subjects of Empire, or as the free citizens of a Republic? And the Women’s March answers that question. It answers that question, and points the way, leads the way, marching toward the Republic, an army innumerable and indomitable, clad in pink pussyhats and marching us all toward a greater and truer liberty.