Dispatch From a Sister March: An Anxious Guy Marches

As soon as I dropped the guy I care for off to go with his mom to Portland I started getting nervous. I thought I’d go on a long walk and forget the whole idea. I put on my jacket and decided to brood some more. Brooding is chain smoking smoking cigarettes, so after a couple minutes I went out to smoke. Rain made the decision for me. It was going to be an awful walk either way and I had to walk because my stationary bike broke. I could at least walk in Salem. I wanted to pick up a box of popcorn anyway and going to Salem for the march was going to be my excuse to pick one up. I got in the car and headed for Salem, it was a bit early but I had a plan. I was going to use some of the time to pick up that popcorn, then I’d drive down by the capitol building. That was my bare minimum. I figured even as anxious as I am I could stand to drive by a thing. Plus it would soothe of my fears. I worried that it’s Salem which is pretty conservative. And Portland is so close that most people would drive up for the bigger march. I’m sure some did, but there were at least a few hundred people milling about when I drove past. I was chain smoking at this point. Cigarettes are amazing for anxiety. In the moment at least, I’m sure they’re a terrible crutch. That led to step two of my plan. I needed to walk and it would be a pain to find parking nearby, so I drove down to Waterfront park and left my car there. I didn’t need to go that far to find parking, but it was a good walk and it made getting out of Salem at the end easier. I parked in an empty parking lot and headed toward the capitol. The rain and wind meant that there weren’t many people out in downtown Salem. As I got closer to the capitol building the sidewalk became more and more crowded. People with signs, people with their kids. I saw a little kid with his Mom and reflected on how different his life growing up must be to mine. My parents wouldn’t protest anything. They’re conservative Mormons so they don’t particularly care for Trump, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they voted for him. Then again, my Mom may have left the top of the ticket blank since we discussed her doing that. I got up to the capitol mall and there were a few hundred people when I got there. It was about twenty minutes before the scheduled start. I found a corner of the sidewalk that seemed far enough away from the crowd to smoke and lit up. I was sort of hiding behind a lamppost as much as you can hide behind a lamppost. It was cold as hell, but I was happy to be there, to be doing something. I chatted with a woman who came to smoke near me in what was now an unofficial smoking area. She said she moved from Seattle a few weeks ago and was happy with the turnout. We had the same fear, that no one would be there when we got there. I finished smoking and went to stand in the crowd. They were playing typical protest type music. Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, etc, before the speaking section of the event began. I snapped a couple photos of the people together with the capitol building in the background. It’s bad angle to fit a golden pioneer statue at the top of a building in with a crowd below it. I stood listening to the music and checking Twitter. I wasn’t the most active participant but my body was there and I figured that was something. Especially coming from someone as anxious as I am. About that time I started to regret not wearing my thermals. It was drizzling and cold as hell, the wind gusts brought occasional flurries of hard rain. Regretting my clothing decision became an obsession for the entire event. Around eleven they started, someone said something I don’t remember exactly. The entire speaking section was plagued with improper microphone technique. The microphones worked the entire time, but people jostled around and went up and down in volume. It make it hard to hear them in the back or even in the middle. Oregon Governor Kate Brown spoke first. She had the best microphone technique of the whole event and was the most capable speaker. Then a couple other people I forget spoke, the basic premise being unity and love over hate. I don’t mean to diminish what they said, but it slipped straight through my mind. It was hard to concentrate and to hear them. About halfway through the speakers I slipped to the side to smoke another cigarette. I was starting to feel a little boxed in. I initially stood in the back, but as I left to smoke I realized I was actually in the middle of the crowd. And more people were still pouring in. I smoked and walked to the new back of the crowd. I stood like I had for most of the event. Shivering, with my hands stuck in my pockets and my mouth feeling glued shut from the anxiety of it all. I kept reminding myself that I was there at least and that was something. They tried to rally the crowd into chants, but it was a pretty unenthusiastic crowd. The people running it weren’t all that good at starting chants either, so the crowd was flat. People were milling about, running into people they knew, and taking pictures of signs. It was a good time despite the cold and rain. The actual march section of the event held more enthusiasm. Around noon we started moving. The march consisted of going west about four blocks then around one and straight back up. It did bring out more noise from the crowd though, so it was enjoyable. Plus I’m sure moving instead of shivering kept my body a little warmer. By the time we started marching I had been out in the rain for an hour and a half. My jacket soaked through and the sweatshirt I had on underneath was getting damp. The worst was my feet. My shoes and socks soaked through from standing in the muddy grass. I felt my feet starting to go numb. My shoulders were stiff and sore. I wasn’t miserable though, but a little uncomfortable. The march was nice, we walked down the street and cheered, whooped, and chanted. Other people did, my anxious mouth still wasn’t moving. Earlier I did have a short chat with a guy about the interstate popular vote compact. Besides that chat and the one with the woman when I got there I didn’t say a word the entire time. I took an undue amount of joy in walking in the middle of the street through red lights. While we were marching you could see how big the crowd had become. I guessed a thousand and a bit. People are terrible at estimating crowd sizes, but the police estimated a couple thousand. I felt two things while marching. I felt like I wasn’t alone in the anger and upset which was a nice feeling to have. It was healing in a sense. The second was that the march wasn’t doing much for anyone in Salem. We completely avoided the downtown area where people might see the march. The weather meant everyone was inside anyway. The only people who saw the march were the people marching. I suppose we contributed to the global number. I’m sure some people read about it in the paper, so it might be meaningful. Still, it felt rather masturbatory. I’m glad I went though. We got back to the capitol mall and people started dispersing back to their cars or lingering around. I was wet, cold, and figured I needed to be home soon to be there when the guy I care for got back so I headed home. As I crossed the street from the capitol mall there was a young guy standing in a Make America Great Again hat. His hood covered it, but he looked sort of creepy being the only one there. I’d say mass shooting creepy, but it was more pathetic than that. I don’t know if he expected a counter protest to occur or wanted to revel in pissed off liberals, but it was weird. I figure if our protest did nothing else we at least made one asshole stand in the cold rain for two hours. And that’s something.

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