I made my decision to join the AC March at the last moment, on the morning of the event. Before that, I was distracted by family troubles. So I woke up on Saturday, ate well and dressed warmly, and headed to Atlantic City, without a buddy or a single protest sign.
I reached the New Jersey Avenue assembly point early, and the March started late. I got chilled but had fun, greeting many friends among the arrivals, talking to people about their signs, organizations and interests, and doing my usual informal demographic analysis. (I’m always, in some sense, counting and classifying. Is good or bad? Comment below.)
About half the participants came as identifiable members of organizations. These are some of the groups I spotted:
- League of Women Voters
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Sororities – African American
- Students in Stockton University’s Master of Social Work program. Stockton supported the March with free parking.
- Young Muslim women, identifiable by head scarves
- Men (maybe 5% of participants)
- One Women’s Center (Cherry Hill)
- Two dance corps
- Local Democratic politicians
- At least three unions – CWA, NJ Education Association, and government employees
- Furloughed government employees – FAA
- Admirers of Ruth Bader Ginsberg
- Feminists and “girl power” advocates
- Immigration activists
Atlantic City suffers from poverty and political corruption, but the Women’s March brought out its wonderful diversity and multigenerational energy. I think it deserves the term “intersectional”. Of course, the various “stakeholder” groups have occasional disagreements, but the March was a positive and unifying event. The organizers dedicated it to the honor and memory of Fanny Lou Hamer (1917-1977), one of the leaders of the Mississippi Freedom Delegation that bravely challenged the Democratic Party at its 1964 national convention in Atlantic City.
FINALLY we started to walk. My feet warmed up and I forgot about the weather. We moved south towards Boardwalk Hall by fits and starts. There was some chanting, usually “call and response”, my favorite being
- “What does democracy look like?”
- “THIS is what democracy looks like!”
I was surprised by the lack of organizational guidance. I expected to be told “We have a permit and these are the conditions – stay on one side of the Boardwalk, cooperate with marshals and police, medics are on hand…” I remembered marches when no sticks (for signs or banners) were permitted. And no bags or backpacks…
There was no supervision except for an outside group performing some “marshal” type functions. I spotted about 25 women and men, wearing bright orange hoodies with “The PeaceKeepers Global Initiative” written on the back and “I AM PRESENT FOR PEACE” on the front. They were extremely tentative in giving directions about leaving a clear lane for non-participants and emergency vehicles. I wondered if they were in any way ready to deal with the unexpected.
On the other hand, it was unlikely that they would need to. The Atlantic City Police were present in good numbers and seemed entirely supportive of the March. If they had been hostile to it, they could easily have called the whole thing off, since Governor Murphy had declared a statewide emergency based on the expected harsh winter storm. But with his Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver a featured March speaker, was that going to happen? Nope. (The state wide march in Trenton, regrettably, was cancelled due to weather.)
I’ve written about my fear of demonstrations – see blog entry dated January 22, 2017 that includes my grim memories of a march that “went bad”. Any public demonstration can “go bad”. There was little at this March to trigger my anxiety. I kept an eye out. The crowd wasn’t so dense that I feared being trampled. There was no counter protest.
But what was it like in Charlottesville, VA? Would I have bailed out because of the huge crowd and the terrible, obvious hostility?
When we got to Boardwalk Hall, I hesitated to enter because I was tired and didn’t want to have a problem getting back out. After most of the marchers had entered, I followed. Upstairs, I finally had a chance to ask one of the orange garbed marshals who they were and how they got involved. I approached a small group and found a man who was happy to talk and who introduced himself and his companions, including a woman I probably should have heard of, a singer. They described themselves as a “local” group that supported community organizations, especially those oriented towards youth activities. He was truly local, and we uncovered some mutual acquaintances in the facilities management field. We might have talked longer, but I really needed a restroom break, and my new friends were able to send me in the right direction.
Refreshed, I entered the Ballroom. (We would have been a very tiny group in the giant main arena used for shows and sports events and national political conventions!) The rally was slow to get underway, and the crowd began to disperse. I circulated, finding more friends to greet and sizing up the speakers on the podium, but I ran out of energy, and left.
I made a quick Starbucks stop to fuel up, and walked alone to my car. Later, a friend offered the opinion that the speakers I missed had been long winded and, in some cases, repetitive. In other words, I’d have been fine if I had brought my needlework!
An event like this March takes so much work! I admire the organizers and think their efforts bore fruit. A large crowd in Atlantic City supporting progressive interests is a good thing, and I look forward to seeing what happens next for my region. New leadership is emerging.