It was just a coincidence that we stayed in the Tabard Inn in Washington the night before the 2020 Women’s March. A Middle Ages hostelry by that same name in Southwark, London was a popular starting point for pilgrimages to Canterbury and was indeed the starting point for the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales.
And as in Chaucer’s story, our weekend was organized around meeting with people who told us their tales—in this case, old friends and relatives. A Friday dinner with cousins in Gettysburg, a pre-march breakfast with another cousin, a post-march late lunch with friends from upstate New York and then drinks with other friends from Baltimore—closing it out Sunday meeting a nephew for brunch. If our friend Steve Miller had made it, we would have even had a Miller’s Tale.
Sandwiched in between was the march, an upbeat gathering that mostly distracted us from the chilly, sometimes drizzly weather that day. I had an SLR camera around my neck, an iPhone in my pocket and a sign in my hand, juggling between documenter and participant—a common approach in this march.
Our biggest surprise came right off the bat, while milling about prior to the march. I moved in to photograph an eye-catching sign, when the person holding it called my name. It was Tracey Stamatel, our friend from Glens Falls, who is married to Tom, one of my best friends from high school. We shared our astonishment at happenstance and agreed to meet for a late lunch.
We carried pretty great signs designed by my wife, Claire, and people often stopped us to take a photo. You know, like we were celebrities. One side of my sign depicted the president as Ronald McDonald, standing under a sign designed to look like the familiar restaurant’s, but phrased, “Donald’s, more than 15,000 lies told.” It was especially popular when we stopped in front of a McDonald’s Restaurant along the route.
Many signs, chants and drumbeats later, the progression emptied into Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, and the marchers transitioned back to tourists and residents. They (and we) posed for photos holding their signs with the White House as a backdrop, engaged with the more hard core protesters who camp out in the park, and listened to a group of eccentrically dressed singers belt out popular songs that were refreshed with anti-Trump lyrics.
Some marchers continued on to the Trump International Hotel, where loud chants like, “Lock him up,” rose up occasionally. Here I saw the only aggressive anti-march actions I encountered. (A number of anti-abortion protesters appeared along the route, but either protested silently or with the sort of non-stop, mindless preaching that is easy to ignore.) Here at the Trump Hotel, an anti-protestor was video recording, and when I caught up with him, a woman was telling him not to use the interview he’d apparently done with a 15 year-old girl (her daughter?). He was loudly and gleefully calling her a “retard,” insisting that he had the right to use any footage he shot in a public place. He seemed to enjoy flaunting the boorish behavior our president often employs. A number of people came to the woman’s defense, and we moved on.
Not long after that we abandoned the dwindling masses and took a cab to our afternoon lunch. The march we’d made didn’t feel as bold as the one in 2017, when so many came out so soon after the president’s inauguration. This year, the president was to be called out officially in an impeachment trial just a few days after the event. And come November, he’ll be tested again by a general election. With those dates inked on the calendar, the 2020 Women’s March felt more like what Chaucer might have called a prologue.