On Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, the 45th president of the United States was sworn into office. He delivered an apocalyptic address before approximately 160,000 people on the National Mall. The next day, three times that many flooded the same mall for the Women’s March on Washington (womensmarch.com), according to crowd ex perts (Tim Wallace and Alicia Parlapiano, “Crowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration,” The New York Times, Jan. 22, 2017; nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/22/us/politics/womens-march-trump-crowd-estimates.html). There were more than 600 sister marches across the nation that day, with at least 4.2 million marchers (750,000 in Los Angeles!), making it the largest demonstration day in the history of the nation. The massive gatherings developed spontaneously and organically, organized solely on information shared on social media (Sarah Frostenson, “The Women’s Marches May Have Been the Largest Demonstration in US History,” Vox, Jan. 31, 2017; vox.com/2017/1/22/14350808/womens-marches-largest-demonstration-us-history-map).
Many of the women at the marches wore knitted pink hats that had pointy corners resembling cat ears, that is, “pussy hats.” This was a reference to the 2005 recorded comments by Donald Trump in which he states that because he is famous, he can just walk up to women and kiss them. He goes on to note that he feels free to “grab ’em by the pussy,” with “pussy” in this case being a derogatory term for female genitalia. The official Pussyhat Project (pussyhatproject.com) was organized by screenwriter Krista Suh and architect Jayna Zweiman in Los Angeles. In honor of the Women’s March, their site offers knit, crochet, and sewing instructions for making the hat as well as a way to exchange hats online.
The seas of pink faded and the presidency began. Fourteen executive orders came out of the Oval Office in the first week, including a federal hiring freeze and instructions to the De partment of Homeland Security to start building a 1,900-mile- long wall along the southern border with Mexico. Finally, on Friday night, Jan. 27, an order was issued “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” The vague but broad order immediately threw Customs and Border Patrol agencies into turmoil in airports across the nation. Travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries were detained for hours in windowless rooms. By Saturday, Jan. 28, the word got out on Facebook: Come to your closest international airport on Sunday and stay until the travelers are released.
I couldn’t attend the Women’s March on Jan. 21. Still, my son and I were free on this weekend. We cut cardboard and grabbed a fat pen to fashion protest signs. Then we hopped in the car and drove to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
We were able to park in a far lot and walk in. When we turned the corner to the Bradley International Terminal, we saw at least a thousand people chanting and clapping. The protesters were peaceful and kind, allowing travelers to pass through to the terminal. At one point, a lone member of the opposition approached us with a bullhorn to repeatedly shout the president’s name. The Los Angeles Police Department officer said quietly to us that this man had the right to express himself. The officer explained that he would remove him after 15 minutes. That sounded fair to us, so we resumed our chant: “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here!”
My son and I only stayed for about an hour that afternoon. Still, after a glum week fielding the shocks shot out of the White House, standing with peaceful strangers helped us to feel less isolated and anxious.
The crowd at the airport continued to grow, peaking at about 2,000 by 6:00 p.m. And that is when, finally, the imprisoned travelers were released. Again, the gatherings at airports across the country in protest of a president’s executive order were spontaneous and unprecedented (or, as the president tweeted, “unpresidented”).
Those who wish to participate in future protests can visit a calendar offered by The Progressive Resistance: progressiveresistance league.com/eventsmarches.