Columnist Nancy Cheevers: March changes lives forever

  • Ryan Cheevers-Brown and Nancy Cheevers, of Leeds, on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., during the Women’s March on Jan. 21. COURTESY NANCY CHEEVERS

Published: 1/31/2017 8:52:14 PM

Marching in a crowd of a half million women and allies in Washington, D.C., changed our lives forever. My 15-year-old son, Ryan, and I continue to process this empowering experience every day since our return, with every tweet and New York Times report.

Our march on Washington was also uniquely framed by tours of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the two days before Jan. 21.

While in the Holocaust museum, we perused thousands of photographs, artifacts, and original footage of Hitler’s rise to power, as well as the world’s responses to human rights’ abuses of Jews around the world – how some countries took great risks to hide them, others passively stood by, while others actively resisted. Horrifically, some countries sent Jews back to their country of origin even in the face of imminent death.

Considering the newly elected president’s threats toward refugees, the progression of those events are key understandings in which to view the present administration. Music and art as tools of resistance was also a key theme throughout the museums — as well as, of course, the demise of many talented musicians and artists as threats to an authoritarian regime. We had in mind the recent financial threats to the National Endowment for the Arts as we prepared to march on Washington the following day.

Our tour through the African American museum resurrected an even deeper appreciation of the struggle for equality and human rights. Our entrance into the museum began with a uniquely sacred moment. Fully realizing that the entire museum was filled with marchers from all over the world, we moved inside the first exhibit and began to view the floor-to-ceiling photo gallery of black Americans — many of whom were slaves. All at once everyone in the room walked to the center where we met each others’ gazes. Unexpectedly and unabashedly we joined hands in solidarity and felt the love of truth, appreciation for the struggle, and the necessity of witnessing the atrocities of the past in order to face the day before us — the inauguration.

The beauty and irony of this moment will stay with me forever – solidarity through resistance. We realized the importance of witnessing the day before us and, most especially, the importance of actively participating in the day to follow.

As we walked out the museum door into the crisp Washington air, we were filled with purpose, clarity, and — most of all — responsibility. The consensus of those marchers who toured the African American museum that day was this: If all of those who were enslaved, imprisoned, and denied a free life could endure and resist all of these atrocities through the ages, we must engage our privilege, power, and stamina to actively participate in this present-day fight for freedom, equity, and human rights. In fact, it is our responsibility to do so.

Our predecessors resisted by organizing sit-ins, insisting on riding in the front of the bus, learning to read and write, spreading the words of freedom and equity and by coming together collaboratively to resist.

The deep philosophical discussions we engaged in with each other and Ryan’s interviews with other marchers for the Northampton High School television show, “The Transcript,” were especially meaningful. He interviewed women from France, South America, Canada, and across the nation. They eagerly shared their vision for an environmentally responsible and equitable America.

In the midst of this vastly diverse crowd of women and allies from all over the world marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, we registered our solidarity and resistance to a racist, xenophobic, sexist, and environmentally blind administration.

People made myriad arrangements to get there. They flew, drove, trained, hitchhiked, and rented vans. Millennials arrived with their mothers, their fathers, and their grandparents. We met a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair, and other people with physical disabilities who were wheeled, carried, and used canes. Mothers arrived with strollers and babies strapped to their chests. Men carried signs proudly with their young sons in tow.

Refugees placed themselves in the sea of people and spoke about their desire to stay in the United States to finish school, provide for their families, and pursue good things for themselves and our country.

Chants, songs of hope, resistance, and fear — some positive and upbeat, others angry and stacked with dark humor — ruled the day. We stopped to chant at the new Trump International Hotel, directly across from the Newseum building on which the First Amendment is engraved on the building in bold, beautiful letters. The ironies of this day were numerous and profound.

I suspect if those whose photographs we saw on the museum walls could speak to us today, they would boldly proclaim solidarity for our cause — the Jews, the blacks, the Christians, the Muslims, the atheists, the Baptists, the gay, the straight, the clergy, the bus riders, the cotton pickers, the resisters of every creed and culture, would all say — go forth and march.

Be strong. Speak loud. Stay together. It is the job of the millennial, the boomer and everyone in between to actively stand strong together.

The March on Washington will forever shape our family’s understanding of the past and our vision for the future. Everyday acts of resistance by ordinary citizens will forge a hopeful, equitable society for all. March on.

Nancy Cheevers, of Leeds, a lifelong educator, is director of curriculum for the Northampton School Department.


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