This Writer For Hire. Have keyboard, will create. Find out more.

Selfie a Day #21: Women's March in Wichita

Women’s March in Wichita, and Protest Anxiety

Becoming more active in the community, and the world as a whole, has been a goal of mine for a while.  I’ve not been as good at it as I should be.  Facebook activism doesn’t count, and even that is sometime I carefully dole out (someday I’ll bother writing a blog post on the company site that explains why).  Now, I have been to a protest before.  Well, my running joke about it is that it was less of a “protest”, and more of a “loiter”.  I stood out on the corner of a Bank of America for nearly 30 minutes wondering where the rest of the protesters were – come to find out, part of them didn’t show, and since it was a cold day, a number of them didn’t bother getting out of their car.

For the Women’s March in Wichita, which is part of a larger series of marches going on throughout the US, totally different story.  I’m sure some people are going to view part of what I say as negative – it’s not intended that way, it’s just the observations of a first timer.  And, there’s a second part to the post, which covers a bit of anxiety issues.

Women’s March in Wichita

My first inclination of how large the march really was.

Trump becoming President of the United States has caused some serious unease in quite a few segments of America.  I won’t bother explaining why – that’s better documented by other people in many, many places online.  Just pull up Facebook, and look around a bit: unless your friend’s list is a bubble of ultra conservatives, you’ll see why people have a sense of unease.

I’ve wanted to be more involved, and when a friend (Meredith was the first one, I believe) sent me a Facebook invite to the Women’s March going on here in Wichita, I was fairly certain I wanted to go.  Thought, there was an anxiety issue I knew I’d have to deal with, and I also feel a little funny being a guy marching for Women’s Rights.  Not that it’s in appropriate, per se, but that I’m taking away from their message.  I ALMOST didn’t go.  But, the universe has a way of making things happen – two days before, Candice messaged me, asked me if I was going.  Well, what the heck – they’ll provide me a sign if I want, and at least then I know someone who’s going to be there.  I’m in.

Now, to be honest, what I expected was a couple hundred people, tops.  When I came around the bend to the park in front of the Keeper of the Plains, I stopped for a moment, slightly

Another view, closer into the crowd
Another view, closer into the crowd

shocked:  there had to be at least a thousand people there.  I tried calling and messaging Candice, but no dice:  it was just going to voicemail.  Crap.  Now, I’m pretty sure I knew some of my other circles of friends were probably here – you can’t have a thousand people in a given area of Wichita without me knowing probably 50 to 100, particularly if they’re moderate or liberally leaning.  But, finding them in that crowd?  Good luck.

I suppose in theory, my anxiety should have kicked in, and I should have headed back to the car. (Eventually, and it may happen today, I’ll post some more about anxiety and how I’m dealing with it.  It’s a thing.)  But, well… I hadn’t had any caffeine yet.  That meant my ADHD was in full swing, and there were SOOOOOO MANY THINGS TO SEE!

So, off I went.  I didn’t have anyone to anchor to, so I started wandering around the outskirts of the crowd, looking in.  I was keeping an eye out for Candice, or really, anyone I knew well enough to hang out with.  But, I think even if I had found someone (and I did), I’d probably keep moving:  I wanted to see everything.

I was taking a picture of the crowd, and this person says “what you really want is a picture of my sign.” Huh. So I snapped one – though, not for the reason they probably expected. “What do we want? Attention! When do we want it? Now!”

While I didn’t get a picture of him, when I was walking up to the Keeper, I was walking behind Batman.  No shit.  Guy in a Batman outfit.  That’s part of what triggered my whole “hey, let’s keep going” thing – this wasn’t going to be what I expected.  I expected a couple hundred people – mostly women – looking like normal people.  But, if Batman is here, well then, now we’re talking a whole different game.  There are sights to see.

I kept to the outskirts for two reasons:  one, I don’t like crowds.  Two, I could get a better view of what was going on.  As the march started, I stuck to the grass (which had the unfortunate side effect of me having to wipe my shoes off every 20 feet once we got to an apartment complex, because there was that much dog shit in front of the apartments along the whole route), and put about 5 feet between me and the crowd of people walking.

I’ll start with the “normal” people, for lack of a better way of putting it.  These were folks who you’d see dressed just like that in the mall, grocery store, or well, anywhere.  Quite a few of them had no protest signs, and usually had a group of folks with them.  A good number of them were families.  And, well, it most certainly wasn’t all women.  I couldn’t give you any sort of good guess on percentage, but there were a good number of men in the crowd.  Maybe 10%?  Possibly more?

Then there’s the people with signs and flags.  There was a world peace flag, a Pride flag, and a few others.  And the signs were a little of everything.  Some were Women’s Rights.  Some were anti-rape culture.  Some were anti-Trump.  Some were Black Lives Matter.  Some were pro LGBT.   Then, well, some where humorous:  Dice Rolls, Not Gender Roles, with a big D20 in the center really stuck out in my head.  Which is funny:  I didn’t see who was holding the sign, I was to amused by the sign:  it was the son of a couple of friends.

Beginning of the march

I still hadn’t gotten a really good idea of the size of the crowd until well after the march portion began.  We walked down Central from the Keeper of the Plains, headed for the City Building.  Along the way, there were cops, and people directing folks.  We were supposed to walk on the sidewalks, not in the road, according to one person with a yellow reflective vest on (I really need to buy a couple yellow reflective vests.  Seriously, get yourself a clipboard and a vest.  Two of the best investments you’ll ever make if you want to get in somewhere, control a crowd, or just generally mess with people.)  The cops blocked off the streets, and gave the march the right of way.  Which, well, is a pretty good choice. When we hit the mid point of the bend in the road on Central, I started getting the feeling that “at least a thousand” was probably an underestimate.  I started thinking it was probably two or three thousand, based on the density of people I was seeing.

I really wasn’t looking at specific people or watching faces anymore.  I actually did see one familiar face, just before the march started, that I had to stop and say “Hi” to – Asrah Little (Az).

In the process of the march, I got to observe some things about the process.  See, I’ve never done this before, and realized a few things quickly.  Part of the people are there to send a message to the world.  Part of the people are there to send a message of support, both to the people who are trying to send a message out, and to the people who are outside watching in.  So far, so good.  Now, one of the anomalies is the people who were on the outer edges of the march, trying to send the same message to inside of the protest.  It’s hard to describe.  I saw some people standing on the edges (a particular set that stood out were some late teens, early 20’s folks with a sign that was a play on “Grab ’em by the pussy”, yelling into the crowd.)  I haven’t really figured that one out.  I mean, we’re already here, so we’re already pumped about the message.  Shouldn’t it be the world that we’re talking to?

Starting into the bend around Central in Wichita

Then there’s the mixed messages.  It’s a Women’s Rights march.  So, I would expect it to be messages on Women’s Rights.  There’s actually crossover in that message into the LGBT community in many ways.  Still good.  Then there’s cross-over into anti-Trump territory:  “Keep your tiny hands off my rights” is an example sign for that.  Then, there’s the “No Nazis!  No KKK!”, and signs that are strictly anti-Trump.  “Dump Trump!”, for instance, is of little use or substance:  he already won the election.  At this point, changing that is highly unlikely, and even potentially counter productive (but, that’s a post for another day.)

Oddly, my thoughts got echoed later – but, I’ll get around to that.  Dump Trump! only barely has any tangential meaning to the main purpose.  That’s anger about a person, not a constructive message with a meaning; same goes for Not My President.  I don’t like Trump – the dude is scum.  But, he is indeed President, just like Obama before him.  I won’t say “he won, get over it.”  Fuck that.  What was happening here, sending a message of equal rights?  That’s what needed to happen.  Heck, it needed to happen no matter who was elected, to be honest.  I don’t think Hillary would have done that much for anyone, except be a break in the glass ceiling (which is no small thing, I admin, but I still don’t view her in a positive fashion like I do Obama, or Bernie.)

When we got to the end, they started crowding into the area in front of the court house, and this is the beginning of the end of my story.  It wasn’t possible to hear the speakers from where I was at, near the street, and random people kept talking to me, then eventually my anxiety kicked in.

After I walked across the street to get away from the crowd, I stopped and talked with one of the officers.  We chatted about the diversity of the crowd, and the numbers:  his guess was 3k (which ended up being a number I heard repeated on Facebook a number of times, so he may be right.)  We talked about the peacefulness (he said he recognized some trouble makers in the group, but they weren’t going to start anything), and the various groups present (though, he pointed out there there were two old retired “hippy dudes” who normally show up for any protest with legalize weed signs.  He was surprised he hadn’t seen them yet.)  Of note was how calm, friendly, and at ease he was:  he had no expectation that things were going to get out of hand.  He was there as much for the protection of those marching as of the citizenry not involved in the march.  A great balance, in my opinion.

You can see the march as it curves around Central headed towards the courthouse

Somehow, on the way up and the way back, I managed not to see the counter protesters.  I… I have a hard time understanding counter-protesting women’s rights.  But, people are allowed a voice for a reason.

When I got back by the apartment complex, there was a younger hispanic guy hanging along the sidewalk, watching the people go by.  So, I stopped and chatted with him for a bit.  Come to find out, he was a Trump voter.  He wasn’t looking particularly happy when I walked up, but non-anxiety Davis tends to start a conversation with anyone (which reminds me, I really need to finish my TShirt for that some day. Long story.)  Apparently earlier, his girlfriend had told him that a march was going on, so he stuck his head out and saw the crowds.  He hits Facebook, to see what’s going on:  Women’s March.  He was pretty happy with the idea.  Later, he wandered out, and talked with one of the groups as they walked back from the protest.  The told him it was an anti-Trump rally.  He told them he was a Trump supporter, so they chewed him out.

If it were an anti-Trump rally specifically, I wouldn’t have gone.  A pro-Women’s Rights march?  I’m all for it.  There’s a large division between the two things.  Considering this is already running longer than I expected, I’ll get into my analysis of that another day.

When I got home, I discovered the story here was the story in lots of the US.  If somewhere expected hundreds of people in a march, there were thousands.  If they expected thousands, there were ten’s of thousands.  I’m glad I came – I may have been just one person in a sea of people, but I’m proud to have stood up for the rights of so many people I know and love, and I’m even more proud of the amazing number of people who got out and did it.

Looking at part of the protest from the Central

I also was amazed at how many people I didn’t see.  I saw their posts and pictures on Facebook, but never saw them there – I was on overload, trying to see everything, without looking for specific things like “Hey, I know that person!” 😉

I’ll close this section out with something I posted on Facebook, inspired by the turnout not just in Wichita, but all over the US:

“Quite a few people have said things like the inauguration is the end of the world as we know it. I’m fine with that, not be cause it means we’re seeing a resurgence of something bad, but because we’re seeing the final last gasps of an ideology that needs to go away. Trump is, and will be, the last President of the United States of America to represent that ideology.

“Equality for all? With his Presidency, we may be getting closer than you think. It’s energized people – today, they came out in numbers in cities all over the US. It’s a catalyst, something we probably needed to get us off the couch and Facebook, and into more active approaches.”

— Me, on Facebook (hey, it’s uncommon I quote myself.)

My “Accept” TShirt. Long story behind this TShirt, but, it was given to me by WSU Associate Professor Robert Bubp for the protest

Protest Anxiety

No, I’m not suggesting a protest, nor did I attend a protest for or of anxiety.  Just, that I knew going into the march there was going to be some social anxiety involved.  As mentioned above, originally I was going to have someone there that would end up being my anchor point.  I didn’t have to worry about where I was going or what I was doing; I’d just follow them.  Big deal.  But, unfortunately, she ended up not making it due to an injured child.  And, I didn’t find someone else to glom on to.
There’s an interesting thing here:  my sense of adventure and exploration still far outweighs my anxiety issues.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that:  the easiest way to get my attention (and a couple of people know this key phrase) is to say “Want to go on an adventure?”  You have my attention at that point – better make it good, though.
In the march it’s self, I was taking in everything.  The sounds, the sights, estimating people, categorizing what I was seeing, and walking faster than the march it’s self, so I could see the next thing around the bend.  When I got there is when the problem started.  Standing around with nothing to do, and nothing left to explore, I could feel the unease begin.  Then people started talking to me.  It went from unease to gradual upswing into panic.  I had to. leave. NOW.
So, I walked across the street, and breathed for a moment while I walked.  That’s all it took – remove myself from the situation, and use some of the same breathing I do when meditating.  Problem solved.  Standing there was an officer, and ended up being the normal Davis at that point:  I struck up a conversation with some random person I had never met before, chatted for a good 5 minutes.  Then chatted with some random stranger who happened to be watching the people go past his apartment complex (and, at least once chewing him out.)
It doesn’t take me as much to overcome those situations now.  While not cured, I’m doing a hell of a lot better than I was.

Leave a Reply