The last time I marched the streets of downtown Denver was in the 1970s, for 16th of September demonstrations. Corky Gonzalez and the Crusade for Justice organized the first one in 1969, called it “Chicano Liberation Day.” One year I walked behind a flatbed truck of musicians playing “De Colores” over and over. I was learning Spanish and by the end of the march had learned that song. One year I was near the brown berets. They carried a street-wide banner in Spanish that said “It’s better to die on your feet than to go on living on your knees.”
Those were heady years of turmoil and change. There was violence. Radicals run out of patience, like the old cartoon of two vultures, one saying to the other: “Patience hell—I’m gonna kill something.” That’s what the extremes do in times like those, times like these: they kill something. When Obama was elected extremes on the right started the atrocious birther movement. They killed the hope that racism was behind us. On the left now, that angry, impatient tendency is rising. Patience. Hold on.
At the January 21st Women’s March on Denver, a band played this song:
I know the one thing we did right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.
One sign said “SO BAD even introverts are here.” That’s me. Being in the midst of a mass is normally my idea of hell. After standing among those thousands in Civic Center for over an hour, waiting to march, the chill of muddy snow seeping through the soles of my shoes, my fingers aching through my gloves, I had a strong headache coming on. Jammed together, we crept forward one small step at a time. People as far as I could see, blurring borders between park, one street and the next. As we moved, a woman ahead of us warned, “Curb.” Oh, my God, we’re on the street. It was as if we were blind. Yet, for the first time since the 70s, I felt compelled to attend, had no choice.
A chant: Love, not hate, makes America great.
In the fast walking of getting there, I was joyful—eight or ten of us at Coffee at the Point, thirty or forty pink pussy-hatted people at the light rail stop, standing room only on the train, the 16th Street Mall trickling with groups coursing in the same direction, bristling with placards, pouring toward Civic Center, creeks becoming streams becoming rivers at floodtide.
A sign: Build Bridges, Not Walls
“This is historic,” I said to Judy when we reached the teeming edge of the park. “We are participating in an historic event.” Estimates indicate this may have been the largest mass protest ever, world-wide. It was certainly the largest in Denver.
A responsorial chant: What do we want? Equal pay. When do we want it? Yesterday.
After nearly two hours, we had shuffled a block, reached a place on 15th street where we actually could walk, the marching band beside us. Enlivened again, we joined many others in dancing. Let me move and I’m fine.
A chant: Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.
To freely march the streets flaunting signs that say “Keep your tiny hands off my human rights” and “There is no Planet B.” To see the ascendancy of hate, racism, lies, violations of civil rights, threats to environmental protections, all we hold dear—and to be able to protest. Coming by the millions to this march. Basking in the company of like minds. Showing the world we are appalled by the direction our country is taking.
A march changes nothing, however numerous its participants. A march is like a campaign rally, fires up the base. But from enough marches, enough calls to congress people, voting, volunteering and putting your money where your mouth is, yes, change eventually comes. In the early 1970s, you could walk through City and County offices and seldom see a Latino face. Now there are many, and we’ve had Hispanic administrators, politicians, even a mayor, improvements to rights and opportunities for people of color. The Chicano movement spurred a renaissance of poetry and art, a renewed celebration of culture. We are all enriched now because those things happened then.
But here we are again. Hard-fought for gains under the gun.
Sign: I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit.
But we do. We will. Because this is what democracy looks like.