Last Saturday, I and some 200,000 other people (or a small group of social miscreants, depending on how "alternative" you take your facts) converged on Civic Center Park in Denver for the Women's March on Washington. It was my first time protesting, first time condensing displeasure onto a cardboard sign, first time being warmed by the breath of thousands of voices being heard on a January morning. It was my first march.
I'd fallen into the trap of easy access to information in the months since the election. The future can be as bleak as you want it to be sitting behind a screen reading story after story, and for as many angry voices as I was reading, it wasn't doing much to convince me that the uncertainty I was feeling was being shared. "For so many months, I'd kept my emotions bottled up ... but there I was, alone in the dark with it all."
That last line is paraphrased from Georgia congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis' exhaustion after the Kennedy assassination in 1963. It's taken from book three of "March," a series of graphic novel memoirs about the civil rights movement in the '60s authored by Lewis and Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell, something I went out and scooped up immediately after the Women's March ended last weekend.
Illustrated in black and white, "March" follows the dedication — and the uncertainty — Lewis felt during the civil rights movement in the American South. Book three opens with the church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963 that killed four black schoolgirls and follows through Bloody Sunday in Selma (where Lewis had his skull cracked open with a billy club at the hands of police) to the march on Montgomery and eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Comics are not often associated with chronicling social movements (or even nonfiction), but "March" gives a near-perfect outlet for conveying the power of an individual's presence in effecting social change. Chests are drawn heaving with despair after three volunteers disappear while registering black people to vote in Mississippi, and Fannie Lou Hamer's face beams with assured confidence as she's illustrated speaking before the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The images are powerful, and Lewis' words are even more so.
I saw a lot of concern and confidence on faces in the crowd last Saturday. Before attending, I'd been cynical about the effect protesting could have. But being part of the mass expressing its discontent, getting out of the rabbit hole of distress the 24-hour news cycle can enable and into the street was immensely heartening. Also, a hidden truth about protesting: It just feels good. (Though admittedly, I've never been smacked with a billy club.)
Last year, book three of "March" became the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award. And on Saturday, Lewis spoke briefly in Atlanta for the Women's March, saying, "We have a moral obligation to fight, so never, ever lose hope. We cannot and must not stop now." I'm inclined to agree - it's time to show up.
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