Archive for Protests

The Monday Women Marched in Black

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

“Wear all black,” the woman said over the phone.

Come at eight-thirty, and don’t carry too much.

Be prepared to go from the Supreme Court of the United States to the offices of senators.

Last Sunday, I learned the Women’s March organizers were a series of actions this week in Washington D.C. I wanted in. Over the last two years, I have been increasingly agitated by the attempts by male lawmakers to erase established civil rights, especially those of women and minorities. It feels like the final straw that the President’s nominee for an open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative judge alleged to have sexually assaulted a young woman during his high school days. Despite the fact that more claims have come about the judge’s sexually aggressive behavior, the President and most Republican senators don’t want an F.B.I. investigation or to postpone voting for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

President Trump and his supporters insist Chrstine’s report must be false, or else it would have been told to the police years ago. But I know that many women who do report rapes have their stories ignored or suffer repercussions for telling.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a psychologist now living in California. She says that when she was fifteen, a teenaged Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, forced her into a bedroom at a party. She claims Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth so nobody could hear her cry out for help. The men fell off her, and Christine did escape being raped, but she suffered post traumatic stress disorder. Christine moved 3000 miles away to get away from her painful memories, which she had discussed with others over the years, but that became increasingly hard to ignore when Kavanaugh came onto the national stage. Some months ago, Christine wrote a letter about her experiences to her Senator, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Christine asked Feinstein to keep her identity confidential but to share Kavanaugh’s past actions with the F.B.I. However, information was made public, and now Christine has received death threats and left her home.

I am grateful to live close enough to Washington D.C. to reach it in an hour’s train ride. I wanted to make a physical declaration that I believe women don’t make up stories about rape. I followed the instructions the woman had given me to assemble in front of the US Supreme Court on a gray Monday morning. Rape survivors among the marchers spoke about who hurt them and how the trauma still affects them. Some of their voices were very low, because the emotion was strong, and it was the first they had told these painful histories. After each story, our voices swelled in answer. “We believe you.”

The rally started out with a few hundred people, but as we marched to the Hart Senate Office Building, the numbers swelled. Long lines of cars had to stop to let us cross the intersection, and by the time we reached Hart, it seemed like close to one thousand were marching. There were so many marchers, we had to divide up to make it into the building through two different sides. Because we had no bullhorns, messages passed through the crowd by repetition. When people in the line began holding up a hand, it meant it was time to fall silent and listen for directions.

In the Hart and Dirksen Senate Office Buildings, the police were already waiting and had stiff plastic wrist bands, the modern version of handcuffs. While it is legal for people to enter a building to visit a senator, the police told us that it is against the law to protest inside government buildings.

In the atrium, some people prayed and many others got to know each other. I met many students from Yale Law School, the alma mater of Kavanaugh, and women and men from all over America. The organizers divided us into smaller groups that lined the halls outside the offices of Republican Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, as well as some others who might be swayed to vote against Kavanaugh.

I was unable to get inside any of the senators’ offices, but the people who did spoke to the senator’s staff about how the experience of rape impacted them. I did not know that during the same time, other rallies were being held around the country, that many women were wearing black as a sign of protest, and at 1 PM that Monday, many women would walk out of work for an hour to show they believed Christine.

At the Senate Buildings, 128 people were arrested in Dirksen and the Rotunda. The rest of us made it out.

As I walked through Capitol Hill, I caught sight of a protest sign about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh on a food truck, making me realize that people are creatively speaking their voices.

It was still raining when I reached Union Station, and my thoughts went back to my own social history. Christine and I came of age at the same time, and there are several uncomfortable experiences with men I’ve pushed very far back into my memory. Three decades ago, I believed that if I got away from someone without being hurt, I should consider myself lucky. Why should there be a consequence for the perpetrator?

In my Perveen Mistry series, I write about a woman solicitor battling for social justice for females constrained by the legal system in British colonial India. A century later, it is shocking that so much is still the same.

The Faces of Protest

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

I regret to interrupt my regularly scheduled post—which was going to be food-related, alas!—because my life keeps getting interrupted.

Just like my nation’s standard operating procedure.

These days, my writing schedule seems divided between fiction and emails to senators, congressmen, and activist friends. And I’ve been on Facebook more in the last week than in the last six months.

My new, highly distracted life began with the election of Donald Trump and the day after, my participation in the Women’s March on Washington. It was a large march with more than 500,000 participants. I imagine this might have been the largest group gathering I’ll ever attend.

Statisticians specializing in crowd counts put the talley of marchers participating in 500 simultaneous marches throughout the US on Jan. 21 at between 3.3-4.6 million.  Marches around the globe added thousands. As if to answer us, the day after the Women’s March, President Trump defunded Planned Parenthood and made other sweeping actions against women, including closing down the federal office that assists domestic violence prevention organizations. He also halted US aid for women’s health clinics overseas, if the clinics had anything to do with abortion.

I knew we were getting close to the march when I saw from the bus window a lot of women wearing pink hats. One week before, word spread via Internet to wear “pink pussy hats.” Some women confided they had learned to knit just to make a hat for the occasion, following a simple pattern for a cap with pussy-cat ears, a reference to the president’s vulgar reference to female genitals. The problem with throwing around a nasty word is that it can come back in a way that makes your eyes hurt.

Washington DC March photo: Helen Dellheim

The red-haired woman and the other one with a camera were reporting for Time magazine.

With me are fellow Quaker friends Kathy (right) and Nancy and Emilia (behind).

For me, the best thing about the Women’s March on Washington was the patience and kindness people showed to each other. It was a textbook example of peaceful protesting. I saw no pushing, lots of smiles and encouragement, and plenty of admiration for the witty signs and costumes. Women of all ages—from young children to grandmothers—came together for a shared purpose. The rally was multiracial and diverse, and included perhaps ten percent male participation. These men, who almost surely believed that “women’s issues are everyone’s issues” (thank you, California Senator Kamala Harris), were treated like equals.

A porta-potty line at the DC March is far longer than my camera could show.

The march’s map showed plans to proceed together on on one street toward the White House, but the crowd was so vast that it spilled onto the mall itself. There were plenty of police around, but they were non-threatening and in some cases, even jovial. They realized the impossibility of keeping marchers off the mall grounds. Can you believe a march of more than a half-million people without a single arrest?


Riding the bus home from the protest, we sang songs including “We Shall Overcome.” I felt so much stronger and happier.

But—wouldn’t you know?—disturbing executive orders kept coming from the White House. The most shocking, at week’s end, was that that refugees and green card-holders born in seven predominantly Muslim countries were being denied entry into the U.S.  Because we have laws barring immigration discrimination on religion and national origin, I was stunned. Freedom of religious expression is precisely what drove pilgrims from England and Europe to set up a colony that later became a nation.

On Saturday, I participated in a forum entitled “Emotional Survival During Difficult Times” at the Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. I sat with many of the same people who’d traveled to Washington together on the bus. The strategies for survival were helpful. One of the points a Friend made was that people who engaged in activism were happier and less stressed than those who stayed home. Therefore, when another person at Meeting mentioned there would be an airport protest that evening, I decided to change my plans and participate.

The airport protests of Jan. 28-29 were spontaneous and had no central planning committee. It was very different from the two months of planning that preceded the Women’s March. That Sunday, a Facebook event page appeared with links to information about protests being held at dozens of airports around the U.S.  The biggest protests were in New York, Los Angeles and Dulles International outside of Washington D.C.

I headed out to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) with a friend and her college student son. As we entered the airport, it was very quiet. We decided the protest was likely near the customs exit, so we headed in that direction. We walked along and soon enough were flanked by dozens of people carrying signs with statements like “We Welcome Everyone.” These protesters seemed to be mostly age 40 and younger. Because the presidential order targeted prospective immigrants, the draw to this protest included many people who were either immigrants themselves, or the children or grandchildren of people who came to this country.

Young crowd at BWI/Abhinav Khushalani

Compared with Women’s March, this protest felt very different.

It started with the sound. The airport’s high ceiling filled up with many call-and-response chants led by men with powerful voices. I chanted and took photos and shared a hug with a woman wearing a stars-and-stripes hijab, similar to the image on the Shepard Fairey “We are the People” poster we both carried.

Another difference was the presence of spectators—dozens of US military service members on an upper floor, pushing carts with luggage. The sight of us protesting would be their last image of the United States, as they headed off to the Middle East.

The airport protest was confined to two floors in the international arrivals and departures area. It was easier to move around than at the Women’s March. I wandered and came to chat with a large group of lawyers sitting at a table. They’d come as volunteers to assist families who might have someone arriving from the seven banned countries was being held. No such travelers were coming in during my time at BWI. Still, resounding cheers broke out anytime non-American travelers emerged from customs. I can imagine how surprised and pleased they were by this rousing welcome.

Jewish protesters shared their family experience with discrimination

Although there was no formal program of speakers, several lawmakers who came to BWI included former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who ran for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, and Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, who thanked me for being part of the protest.

High school photographer Abhinav Khushalani, far right of his mother and younger brother

Another highlight was running into friends from book club, the children’s schools, the Quaker Meeting, and neighborhood. I sensed that I could have sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee and good talk with almost anyone in the estimated crowd of 2,000.

Many Muslims represented /Abhinav Khushalani

He looks like a Scot but said he was a mutt!

Our new president might see himself as a populist leader. However, his actions have surprised all of us with the creation of a new people’s movement that is filling airports, city streets, and points still unknown.