Back In America

A reflective work of nonfiction that muses about political apathy, while contemplating if mass protests can influence actual change…

I arrived back in Seattle following a journey abroad on the day the inaugural Women’s March took place in protest of Donald Trump, which turned out to be the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. I’d forgotten about the protest almost entirely until my cabdriver who’d picked us up at SeaTac International Airport refreshed my memory. Paul, my longtime friend and current travel companion, had also apparently forgotten about it, because he said, “Oh, that’s right!” after our cabdriver brought it to our attention.

I’d been aware for some time now that a worldwide protest was scheduled to take place in connection to anti-woman and offensive rhetoric Donald Trump voiced prior to and amid his campaign. I listened to NPR regularly at work (I’d been working as a delivery driver) and nearly every day before Trump was elected president, there’d be an update about something ridiculous that Trump had either said or done. This marked the first time in my life that I started paying attention to politics and the first time I actually cared who became president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I’d felt sure that Hillary would win the election because Trump was just so awful, and besides, unlike Hillary, Trump didn’t have any experience in politics.

I’d forgotten all about the women’s march because I’d just spent the better part of two weeks in Amsterdam and my mind was essentially still across the pond even though my body was momentarily being driven from SeaTac to downtown Seattle. I was disappointed to be back in America, disappointed that the trip I’d looked forward to for months was already over. I really wasn’t looking forward to going back to my old life, back to work and all things familiar. In Amsterdam, I’d fantasized about living in the city for months, maybe even years, because it was such a distinctly new place for me. Each moment in Amsterdam had seemed precious and profound, similar to how moments seem to children who have no semblance of what the future will bring, whether in the short-term sense or in the years to come.

Our cabdriver was unable to drop us off in front of our downtown hotel because the street the hotel was on was the same street the march was momentarily about to occupy. So Paul and I got out a few blocks from the hotel and started walking.

I noticed groups of people on the sidewalks, standing around anxiously. The closer Paul and I came to the hotel, the more people there were, and soon after we crossed the street and made it to the hotel’s entrance I saw a crowd of people walking in the middle of the street, taking up the entire four-lane width.

Paul and I removed our backpacks and leaned against the wall of the hotel, just away from the windows, and watched all the people walking down the street, the crowd as thick as a school of fish, though a school of fish with no end in sight.

I stood there with Paul for I don’t know how long, waiting to see the protesters bringing up the rear, for the street to empty out again. As the march continued with no end in sight, Paul and I retreated into the hotel and sat at a little restaurant that adjoined the lobby, where we had a bite to eat and a drink.

We continued to watch the protestors pass by on the street outside through the windows of the restaurant. There were two little girls, quite young, standing on the sidewalk not far from where Paul and I sat inside, and they kept dancing in place and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” They made quite the impression on people, who smiled at them and took their picture. The young parents of the girls stood quietly to one side, smiling warmly at people who made eye contact with them.

It was nice to see so many people marching and making their voices and discontent be heard, to see so many people who were incensed that Donald Trump was now the President of the United States. I wondered, though, what the protest would accomplish in the concrete sense, if anything. Though I knew essentially nothing about the inner workings of politics at this point in my life, I doubted that a march, however large, however widespread, could oust Trump out of the presidency, or even do any considerable harm to his party.

Finally the last of the marchers passed the hotel’s façade, and Paul and I left the restaurant for the hotel’s front desk to check in. Once in our room, we turned on the television to the news and caught glimpses of people protesting not just all over the country, but indeed all over the world. A headline at the bottom of the screen read, “Largest Single-Day Protest in U.S. History.” That’s around the time when I thought maybe I’d been wrong earlier to be so skeptical, that maybe so many people in protest could in fact influence actual change.

The next morning Paul left Seattle for Houston, where he was living, and I left too, for the San Juan Islands, where I was living. I’d splurged on a seat on a floatplane, which was scheduled to take off from Lake Union late in the morning and drop me off in Friday Harbor less than an hour later. My other option was to take a slew of different buses followed by a ferry, all of which would’ve taken at least four hours.

Once I’d arrived back in Friday Harbor, my girlfriend was waiting for me on the docks below town, not far from where the floatplane had dropped me off. She smiled when she saw me, and I couldn’t help but smile back. When I came closer she stretched out her arms, and I went in for a hug. Then we walked towards the car together, quietly, as if we were strangers again, as if we hadn’t seen each other in a lot longer than a mere two weeks.

“How was it?” she finally asked, meaning my time in Amsterdam.

“It was good,” I said. “Better than I could’ve imagined.”

“I’m glad,” she said, smiling, looking into my eyes. “I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

As my girlfriend drove us out of town, to the house we were momentarily house-sitting at, I told her about the Women’s March, about how many people had taken part in it, not just in Seattle but worldwide.

“That’s good!” she said. “I hope it does something. I hope it gets that guy out of office before he wreaks havoc.” My girlfriend refused to call Donald Trump by his name, because the mere mention of his name made her feel nauseous, she claimed.

She told me that she’d gone to the march yesterday in the town we were momentarily driving through, Friday Harbor, and that there’d been quite a large turnout.

“Did you chant?” I asked.

“No,” she said, laughing a little. “Did you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m too self-conscious for that.”

“Me too. But at least I marched with everyone.”

“Yeah, that’s more than I can say. I just watched all the protestors pass by on the street while sitting in a restaurant with Paul.”

“That sounds about right,” my girlfriend said, and patted my knee with her hand until I took her hand and held it. Despite how I still missed Amsterdam and how I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the familiar routine of things, I had to admit that it felt good to be back.

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