Even though I was born in the late 1950s, my protest history is pretty limited. The Vietnam War was winding to a close by the time I reached high school. My oldest sister Genna and her friends had already staged a sit-in at her university's student union and seen her university close as a result of Kent State. JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had all been assassinated before I became a teenager. Cesar Chavez had led the grape boycott to victory. It didn't seem like there was much left for the likes of me to protest.
I did partake in one very early protest. I was 10 years old when my friends and I took to the streets in our town of Larchmont, New York, to protest school budget cuts. My friend Jeannie led the protest. Unfortunately, my grandmother, who was taking care of us while my parents were out of town, would not let me actually protest with Jeannie and our other friends. Concerned for my safety, she made me walk on the other side of the street from the actual protesters. It was a bit of a bust, and the budget cuts went through anyway.
My next march had a much larger impact on me—especially on my feet, which were bloodied and blistered by the end. In 1971, when I was 13 years old, my middle-school friends and I set off on the "Hike for Hunger" outside of Chicago. With no training whatsoever, we joined about 150,000 other kids in a 30-mile walk across suburban streets to raise money to fight hunger.
I had a pair of Keds on, without socks. At the end of the day, as the skies darkened, I collapsed on the back of a pickup truck for the last mile to the finish line. My friend Carol wet her pants. Neither of us could find a ride home. I limped for days afterwards. Again, the day was a bit of a bust, but we did walk 30 miles and we did raise a lot of money. Most people don't believe this story. "YOU walked 30 miles in one day?!" they say. "No way!" But Carol and I will always remember. We talk about it often.
In 1978, I marched on Washington with more than 100,000 other women in support of the Equal Rights Amendment—the pinnacle of my protest career. It was pretty cool. The amendment had been passed by both the House and Senate, and only needed the ratification of three measly states to pass. My old pal Carol and I joined forces, joined by another sister, Jane. We chose to march with Illinois because Illinois was one of the states that had yet to ratify.
The organizers of the march told us all to wear white. I remember being bummed that I did not have a cute white outfit like many of the older feminists who wore loose, airy dresses. I suspected they had shopped in advance for this event, unlike me, who had to squeeze into an old pair of painter's pants and a T-shirt. We stood around for what seemed like hours waiting for the organizers to get organized. Apparently, thousands more women than expected had showed up, causing complications and delays.
"Sheesh, it's hot!" I complained. It was a very hot and humid day, as are most summer days in Washington, DC.
"I have to go to the bathroom," Jane said, at the start of the march and then many times throughout the day. Bathrooms were scarce and lines were long. What would you expect with that many women around?
"Just hold it!" I advised, again and again. Finally, we ducked into the men's room at a bar along the route in desperation. We may have grabbed a drink too. "Why are there never any lines in the men's room?" I wondered, not for the first—or last—time.
"Get back in step!" a strident woman in white shouted at us when we rejoined the march. She actually looked a lot like my old Girl Scout leader. She sounded like her too—all that yelling at us to march in sync. In fact, much of the march felt like a giant Girl Scout parade, up until the end when we got to see and hear people like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. That part was inspirational. The Equal Rights Amendment still didn't pass, though. Illinois never did ratify it, despite our best sweaty efforts.
Now I'm putting on my marching shoes again (not Keds, this time). It's 2017 and I'm joining forces with thousands of women across America again to march on Washington. I'll be marching in Portland, Oregon, where I now live. Instructions are pretty iffy so far. Lots of T-shirts for sale promoting the event, but it's January, so I'm not buying. Too cold for T-shirts.
My sister Genna did send me a handmade pussycat hat to wear, made with real cat hair. (She's a fiber artist. Don't worry, no cats died in the process.) She called me yesterday to tell me it's the wrong color, though. Apparently all pussycat hats are supposed to be pink for this march. But I don't care about that. I'll wear it with pride. I am a bit concerned about the bathroom issue. We'll definitely have to limit our fluid intake, even though we Portlanders do like our coffee.
I'll be marching with friends again this time, too. Not Carol, although we did consider flying to D.C. for the event. No, this time, I'll go with my walking group out here in Portland. We call ourselves the "Walkie-Talkies," although we now drink more wine than we walk. I sent out a text this morning, asking "who is with me," and heard back within seconds. "Hell yes!" "I'm totally in!" "Yep!!!" they chimed in immediately. I don't expect the march will change much of anything. My short history of protesting hasn't actually brought about much change. But I'll be with my friends and we will march with enthusiasm. Because, in the end, doing something is so much better than doing nothing. Especially when you're doing it with friends.