WASHINGTON — On the Mall on Saturday, about halfway between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, a line of eight women, arms linked, snaked through a crowd so densely packed that walking sideways was the only way to move.
Hands gloved against the chill, the women’s faces were tanned and their expressions a mix of mellow and determined. One gloved hand held up a sign with three words: “ALOHA for ALL.”
It was part of a delegation of more than 100 people who traveled from all of the islands (Kauai included) to stand with a credibly estimated crowd of 500,000 people to advocate for women’s issues (which, if you think about it, are all issues that should be important to men, too), as well as to protest the presidency of Donald Trump.
It was all part of an extraordinary, spontaneous rising up of opinion and concern that has swept the United States. On Saturday, it included more than 1,500 people who turned out for a mass sign waving at the Lihue Airport, the half million in Washington (fewer than half that had been expected) and 750,000 in Los Angeles, which had anticipated only a quarter of that.
There were 400,000 in New York, among 408 events just in the United States and 673 worldwide.
It was a turnout and mass expression of opinion and solidarity that I had witnessed only once before, nearly 50 years ago, when as a young wire service reporter I covered the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. That was another phenomenon whose turnout and cultural importance turned out to vastly outstrip projections and make a political statement literally without precedent.
In the case of Woodstock in 1969, 60,000 was the expected crowd. But a credibly estimated 750,000 actually showed up.
The Women’s March on Washington, as it was called, has quickly become a statement just as emphatic and just as big as Woodstock. This is not hyperbole, just fact.
Like Woodstock, the march in Washington and its progeny as far away as Hawaii and beyond have instantly become a statement reflecting a collective view of previously unimagined magnitude. For Woodstock, it was not just outrage over an unpopular war, but a positive expression of a developing new view of the culture of America.
This time around, the common thread is concern about this president, his grasp of facts and even his possible detachment from reality, a symptom of which is his preoccupation with the size of the crowd for his inauguration on Friday — which he allowed to dominate a speech he made later to agents of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Imagine it: Speaking to the CIA, the president complained that media reported only about 250,000 attended his inauguration and argued the crowd numbered 1.5 million — an assertion that even Fox News found absurd.
We on Kauai, and throughout Hawaii, are accustomed to dealing with a completely multi-racial and multi-cultural society, which in our case has been at least 200 years in the making. We — or most of us, anyway — don’t give a second thought to working and living among people of every conceivable background.
So for the Hawaii contingent at the march in Washington, I suspect no one gave much thought to the fact that the crowd was a racial, gender, economic, generational and linguistic tossed salad, if not melting pot. Literally everyone was there and everyone got along and engaged in mutual support. It’s difficult, sometimes, living on Kauai to realize how unusual that is. While we are diverse racially and ethnically, our local progressive politics can be sadly divisive.
The density of the crowd in Washington was one thing that reminded me of Woodstock. But more important was an atmosphere that was a strange mix of festive and politically engaged. Cordial and open, but at the same time politically outraged at what a country like the United States has done to itself in electing Trump. Leave the Russians out of this for a moment, because whatever it was they did, we, the people, ultimately did it to ourselves.
Living on Kauai, we are less likely than people almost anywhere else, to feel the immediate effects of the Trump presidency. We are far away. We have a world view in so many ways different from the Mainland. We have economic distress, for sure, but we generally don’t see the federal government as the solution. Saturday’s events, I think, changed everything.
That’s largely why the unexpected size, geographic diversity and mass outrage that made itself known on Saturday is so significant. Whether you were standing on the grass outside the airport in Lihue or inching through the packed crowd in Washington, I think you quickly realized that a political statement was being made of a magnitude and significance that no one anticipated.
From Woodstock to the Women’s March, and at points before and between, we have been forced to recognize common concerns and values that have made America great.
This is a time for reflection by all of us. What do we want our country to mean and who are we, really? That is the question that we have now posed of ourselves, from Lihue to Washington, and beyond. We need to answer it together.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.