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Yvonne Abraham

In marches, a chance to see hope and a way forward

Senator Elizabeth Warren incited a crowd of tens of thousands who gathered on Boston Common Saturday afternoon for the Women’s March.
Senator Elizabeth Warren incited a crowd of tens of thousands who gathered on Boston Common Saturday afternoon for the Women’s March.

So many snowflakes.

That’s what some Trump partisans call his foes, who trembled at his rise. But for the millions appalled at the man who just attained the presidency, Saturday felt like a blessed relief and a proof of power. Across the nation they massed, what was until now an abstract number in public polls suddenly and spectacularly visible on the streets.

Seeing all of those pink hats on the Boston Common — all of those women and their supporters showing up to make their voices heard, crammed together so tightly you could barely move — was enough to break the grip of even the most stubborn despair, if only temporarily.

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“Action is an antidote for despair,” said Grace Gregorcq, 70, of Boston, who recalled being so upset in the days after the election that she couldn’t get out of bed. A choir sang “America the Beautiful” behind her. The crowd waved American flags and homemade signs: “Make America Kind Again,” and “Dumbledore Wouldn’t Let this Happen.” People were energized, happy, kind to each other — and above all, relieved to see how not alone they really are.

“I feel hopeful here,” said Natalie Sanchez, 22, from Nashua. “This can make a difference in the way people think about women in America. We’re a small visual representation of the millions of women who voted for Hillary Clinton.”

But boy, the despair has been intense. Every day since his election has served to convince those who lament his victory that Donald Trump’s presidency will not meet even their cratered expectations: stacking the administration with the very Wall Street profiteers he railed against; the nomination of Cabinet secretaries who are either utterly ignorant of the departments they will lead or ideologically at odds with their very purpose; a leader of the free world doggedly determined that neither his temperament nor his rhetoric shall surpass that of a spoiled third-grader. A case in point: As dramatic images of those massive marches filled screens Saturday yesterday, the new commander in chief obsessed over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, making the demonstrably false claim that it numbered over a million.

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His inauguration speech did nothing to dispel the dread. Instead of appealing to the nation’s virtues, calling for unity and understanding, reaching out to the majority who did not vote for him, Trump doubled down on his dystopian vision of an American wasteland beset by the freeloaders determined to bleed Real Americans dry: foreign countries, immigrants, the global economy, even the very government he now leads.

No more, he said Friday. “Only America First,” he repeated, invoking the xenophobic rallying cry of another nativist era for which he and many of his devotees appear nostalgic. It could not have been more of a departure from the inclusive optimism of Barack Obama — optimism Obama held to until his last minutes in office, even in the face of an election that gave many reason to abandon hope.

Thousands along Beacon Street cheered as they listened to Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday.
Thousands along Beacon Street cheered as they listened to Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Trump’s definition of what it is to be American is so narrow as to be claustrophobic. On Saturday, the nation saw some of the rest of us (not all of us, though: huge as it was, the crowd was overwhelmingly white).

Trumpkins like to deride the president’s critics as delicate and fragile, unable to get over his victory, nursing their pathetic hurt feelings. Among the T-shirts that became popular at his rallies, one read, “Trump 2016: [Expletive] Your Feelings.”

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Only one set of feelings matters as far as they’re concerned: those of white workers who feel forgotten, left behind by globalization and by the demographic changes embodied in the nation’s first black president. Their feelings carry extra weight, just as their votes did.

The rest of us, people who are upset about racial injustice, concerned about poverty of all kinds, about immigrants, refugees, and respect for women, are all quick to melt. In this universe, outrage over the bizarre circumstances of this election, alarm over Russia’s role, distress over Trump’s massive and unresolved conflicts of interest are manifestations of those same hurt feelings. And feelings are so much easier to dismiss than facts.

Friday, which formally ushered in an era detached from facts, was for so many the darkest of days. But a kind of dawn came on Saturday, as the opposition turned out in numbers that took even organizers by surprise.

Whether we hold onto the light or go back to cursing the darkness is the question now.

The marches were more than a show of strength: They were demonstrations of political potential. It made one wonder what might have been if people had mobilized like this before the Nov. 8th, or during any of the recent battles that preceded it.

For those of us who have been despondent over this election, Saturday was enormously encouraging. But comforting each other won’t change much. Only political involvement does that.

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Together, snowflakes can make an avalanche.


Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.