Columnist Margaret Bullitt-Jonas: Women’s March lesson is all of us or none of us

  • Mia Flower, front left, Marleyna George, back center, and Sidney Key, all students of Northfield Mount Hermon School, hold up their  handmade posters during the Women’s March in Northampton on Jan. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Johanna Callard, left, created a puppet for the Women's March in Northampton on Jan. 20. The puppet symbolizes compassion and love and bears the words “be the change.”  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Megan McGrath, of Holyoke, center, raises her handmade poster during the Women's March in Northampton on Jan. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Brenda Kennedy Davies with Progressive Pioneer Valley, center, is one of many women who led the Women's March in Northampton on Jan. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Lola Mullen Colaizzi, left, and her sister, Tilly Mullen Colaizzi, right, attend the Women's March in Northampton with their mother, Merritt Colaizzia, on Jan. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

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    Gail Shapiro, center, plays for the activist punk band Prone to Mischief and wears a sign in her hat that states "Still here! Still nasty! Still voting!" during the Women's March that began at Sheldon Field in Northampton on Jan. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/6/2018 7:35:01 PM

On Jan. 20, the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, over 1,000 women, men and children took to the streets of Northampton.

The Pioneer Valley Women’s March gathered up in one great flow of collective energy a multitude of voices and concerns, among them women’s rights, gay and transgender rights, rights of immigrants, rights of the poor, climate justice, racial justice and economic justice.

I was struck by the range and creativity of the signs.

“Fact-checkers of the world unite.” “I’m with her” beside a drawing of the Statue of Liberty. “We (heart) democracy.” “Black lives matter.” “Enough is enough.” “Time’s up.”

“Kindness is cool” held aloft by a little girl in pink boots and mittens. “I will not go quietly back to the 1950s” carried by an older woman.

“Our rights are not up for grabs.” “Science is not a liberal agenda.” “There is no Planet B.” “Nature bats last.” “Grab ‘em by the patriarchy.” “Even Ikea has a better cabinet.” “So bad, even introverts are here.”

One sign conveyed resilience — “They tried to bury us … they didn’t know we were seeds.” Another was committed to solidarity — “All of us or none of us.” One sign, which made me laugh, expressed dazed incredulity — “Not usually a sign guy, but geez.”

As for me, I didn’t bring a sign. I brought a flag, the Earth flag that has traveled with me to countless marches and rallies. Here we are, clinging to life on one singular, precious planet, all of us together with so many forces trying to tear us apart. The stakes are high.

In the same week that President Trump announced that he was opening nearly all offshore waters to drilling for oil and gas, including more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern seaboard, a new study was published that examined all the major research on oxygen loss in the ocean.

The findings? Because of climate change, the ocean is rapidly warming. As a result, over the past 50 years the amount of water in the open ocean that is without oxygen has more than quadrupled. As one headline puts it, the ocean is losing its breath. The ocean is suffocating.

Lest we imagine that land creatures will not be affected, one scientist points out that about half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean. A professor of marine science commented that the need for action was best summarized by the motto of the American Lung Association: “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

Here’s one reason I joined the march: I like to breathe. It’s literally breathtaking to realize that the ocean is losing oxygen. It’s enraging and baffling when a government opens additional areas of the ocean to drilling for oil and gas, when burning oil and gas is throttling the ocean and could eventually suffocate us land creatures, too. Hello?

So I marched flag in hand, grateful for every breath and for the people alongside me, all of us trying to build momentum and political will for a better future.

For me, the most memorable incident took place before the march began. Hundreds of us were gathered near Sheldon Field and preparing for the march to City Hall. Suddenly the young woman in front of me began to sag. She sank slowly, like a leaf dropping gently to the forest floor. People cried out in surprise, hands reached out to cushion her fall, and in a moment she was splayed uncomfortably on the asphalt, unconscious.

She regained consciousness quickly, but remained seated on the pavement, upset and confused. “I’m 17!” she cried. “I want my mother!” She began to sob uncontrollably.

Kneeling beside her with my arm around her shoulders, I kept murmuring in her ear, “You’re OK. My name is Margaret. What’s your name? You fainted. We’ll get you some help. You’re OK.”

The girl kept sobbing, “I want my mother!” like a mantra, like a prayer, fumbling for her phone, repeatedly dialing a number. At last her mother answered, and the girl sobbed, “Mom, I lost consciousness! I’m frightened!” She listened for a while to her mother’s voice, and then, slightly calmer, she passed the phone over to me. Her daughter was excitable, the mother said, and easily overwhelmed; this was the first time she’d gone to a big event without her parents. Probably she needed simply to be calmed.

So I kept my arm around the girl’s shoulders, kept offering words of reassurance. Eventually she accepted a sip of water, wiped her nose, and took an Oreo cookie from one of her friends. The crowds surrounding us began to move, so when she was calm enough to stand, I walked her to the side of the street.

Someone had called for medical help. As we waited for the ambulance, I told the girl how brave she was. “I’m so glad you were here,” I told her. “You will look back on today as a day when you were courageous and strong, a day when you stepped out to make a difference in the world, even though you were afraid. We need you in this movement. I hope you’ll come back when you’re 18, and 19, and 20.”

She smiled at me as the medic arrived. “Thank you,” she said.

“I’ll pray for you,” I told her, before I stepped back into the flow of the crowd.

I trust that she will indeed come back, stronger than ever. I see myself in her. I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. I know how much it matters when someone — even if it’s only a stranger in a crowd — offers help when we need it.

I expect that, when the time comes, she will offer strength to someone else, for that is how community works: we share what we have, and lift each other up when someone falls. That’s the point of a Women’s March and of every march that celebrates mutual relationship and solidarity — we intend to show up for each other, to fight for each other and to keep enlarging the circle, until no one is left out.

I hope we’ll keep doing that for as long as we have breath. That’s the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who hears God calling for a world in which the oppressed are set free, the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and we no longer turn our backs on our own kin (Isaiah 58). Women and men, black and white, land creatures and sea creatures, we are all in this together.

Like the sign says: It’s all of us or none of us.

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, of Northampton, is missioner for creation care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ. This column is based on a blog post on her website,

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