Inside…the women’s march on San Diego.

Words and Photos By Bridget Clerkin

I lost my friends before I even showed up.

The logistical calamity of arriving to the San Diego Women’s March left me initially stranded, stepping straight from my surge-priced Uber into an already fast moving stream of supporters, all flowing to the city’s Civic Center.

Attempts to call or text the group were futile. Service was a no-go. No Facebook, not even Internet.

I later discovered—or, was reassured by a lovely older woman overhearing my technological grumbles—that the massive influx of demand on the network had shorted the server. My paranoid tendencies had posited, until that point, that it was “They,” of course, shutting down the system to prevent Us from sharing history in real-time.

But when she gently giggled at my delusions and said, “Honey, it’s not all that bad,” I knew it didn’t matter that my girlfriends were awash in a sea of 30,000 righteous souls. Comradery was all around.

I found it in Helene, an activist from the 70s and early 80s, living happily on the West Coast after spending her youth fighting for women’s and environmental rights in New York. She had brought her daughter, Rachel, who had, in turn, brought her boyfriend, Oscar, all with reasons of their own for attending. My first adopted family of the day.

“It’s all fear; all growing pains,” Helene mused while we waited for the marching to start. “They’re holding on to the past. It’s all this euphoric recall. They want ‘The Happiness of the 50s,’ ‘The Happiness of the 60s,’ but it’s all bullshit.”

The speeches had wrapped up and the rain had started, in trickles at first but eventually building strength. And with it, so did we, the rare water in this sun-soaked town only swelling our spirits further.

Impassioned, Oscar showed me his reason for attending: A sleek, knotty scar running down the center of his chest.

“Obamacare saved my life,” he said. He had needed an aortic transplant the previous year, a procedure he said he wouldn’t have been able to survive without, and wouldn’t have been able to afford without help from his healthcare plan.

“I’m 25 years old,” he said. “I have a lot of years left to live through.”

As we began moving forward, pushing toward Broadway, the sun broke up the clouds. It would stick around for the rest of the day.

It bounced off the pink sequins of one young girl’s backpack: “Girls Can Change the World,” the bag proclaimed.

Chants started up. One man who was especially enthusiastic about starting the chants was cheered on by other supporters in the crowd. “You know, my mother was a woman,” he offered, by way of explaining his gusto.

Further up Broadway, a median split the crowd, a great beach to hang out on and watch the waves of people roll by. A woman named Evelyn used it to promote her hand-painted sign, “By the Pussy, For the Pussy!”

“When you think about it, that’s really the source where we’re all from. And hearing him use that word—he ruined it,” she said. “We need to take it back. Reclaim it!”

Trump pinatas were a common sight, along with the familiar colors of the American flag and the pink posters of Planned Parenthood. Uteruses flipped the bird. Signs pleaded for ends to racism and sexism. Lots of hair jokes were made.

“You can’t comb over bigotry,” one sign read, orange block letters under a familiar-looking toupee.

The drum circle that had kicked off the parade, just a vague throbbing noise before, finally caught up. Some drummers wore the feather headdresses of their native tribes, others just their North Face pullovers. Still, their sound created an energy of unity, the crowd around them all clapping and walking and chanting in time. I marched with them awhile. I liked the beat.

Throngs of smiling women recounted the Activism Days of the late 60s and early 70s, sometimes reminiscing quietly to each other, sometimes explaining it to the younger women there.

Mothers and fathers held the hands of their children, pushed strollers and wrangled with their excitable family dogs.

A woman walked by with a large, black sign: “I walk to honor the struggles of my mother and her mother,” it read.

It made me think of my own mother, at the Philadelphia march with my sister that day, and what she had explained to me about What It Was Like. How she was refused for a loan to buy a used car because her husband was finishing school, jobless, and she was the the household’s primary breadwinner. When she was rejected for a job because she was childless, married three years, and told she wasn’t worth training since she’d likely be pregnant soon.

“The generations are all here,” another march mother of mine, Patty, said. “We’re all coming out for each other. We know what it was like. It was really bad. We can’t let that happen again.”

We rounded the corner to walk down Harbor Drive. Flanked by sprawling cruise ships and climbing towers, supporters lining the balconies of both, flags and signs waving, all eliciting cheers from the crowd. The chanting started up again.

“Hey! Ho! Donald Trump must go!” they shouted. “This is what Democracy looks like!”

They’re right, I thought. But Donald Trump was both the problem and the solution. Without him, would we so fiercely mobilize? Clutch our precious few rights so dearly to our breast, crouched like protective mothers? I couldn’t be sure.

The failed experiment of Occupy Wall Street still stung. Not because the movement had ever given off any particular air of perseverance, but because it ultimately gave credo to the incessant millennial stereotype of laziness. It was unfocused and extraordinarily unenergetic.

Certainly it never felt like this march, all the hope and fervor and concerted effort. Donald Trump, if nothing else, had given a central figure to rally around. If we could keep up the sincere effort, and keep fighting to strengthen our gains beyond where they once were, finally awoken to our civil charges, it would all be worth it, I thought. Growing pains, indeed.

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