Journalist Audrey Edwards vowed to leave America if Donald Trump was elected President. He was elected, and she left, arriving in Paris the day he was to be inaugurated, January 20, 2017. The date coincided with the Women's March, scheduled for the same day and the same time in hundreds of cities around the world. In this excerpt from her book AMERICAN RUNAWAY: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years (August Press, 2020), Edwards, who was never into marching, goes on this historic march with her former college roommate, Jo Lowrey, a White woman living in Paris — and learns something about the meaning of protest.
I cannot believe I let Jo talk me into going on a protest march with her my very first day in the city. She has always been a revolutionary little White girl, still going on protest marches 50 years after first protesting the war in Vietnam. But she knows marches have never been my thing. Not since my parents refused to let me attend the only civil rights march I ever wanted to be a part of – the 1963 March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when I was 16. Now marches have too many people. I am claustrophobic. Too much noise. I like quiet. And too much pointless bull. So a gazillion people will be out today all over the world, protesting the election of Donald J. Trump. So freakin' what?
He was still about to ascend to the throne of the empire in a few hours. All the protests in the world were not going to change that. Did these worldwide people even vote in the American election? No. Hillary would have won if they had. It was all just silly symbolism. Like my man, the late comic George Carlin pointed out, "I leave symbolism to the symbolminded."
Still, I did agree to go with Jo on the march. So march on! My French landlord was even happy to drive us to the neighborhood where the march was to start. I felt a little dislocated, though, when he dropped us off at the Tracadero Place Square in a Paris suburb. The square was high on a vista slope, where the march would start, then move downhill toward the Eiffel Tower for some photo-ops before heading out for a few more miles through the streets of Paris. I was still jet-lagged and tired, and my mood was already going downhill.
The sun was out at least, but it was still freakin' cold! Should have packed the mink. The one I bought for myself as a fortieth-birthday gift. I still could not believe that idiot I worked for back then had the nerve to crack when he first saw me wearing it, "Humph, so how many niggers did you have to sleep with to get that?" Really? Sounds like some dumbness Trump would say. Would not be surprised if my fool-ass boss had voted for him, though I don't think even he would sink that low. Come on, let's get this march started!
At first it looked like just a loose, motley crowd of people gathering: mostly white women, young and older; a few men sprinkled about, also young, and older. Then more people started assembling. There were the young and older women wearing the official hats of the march – bright pink wool pullovers with pointy cat ears representing a third finger up "screw you" to Trump, who was caught on an old tape recording that surfaced during the presidential campaign bragging about "grabbing women by the pussy." There was a young white girl carrying a sign that said, "This pussy has claws!"
Turned out we had arrived at the march early – or more accurately, the French were late in getting the march started. More people gathering. Jo suggested we cheat a bit by taking the short-cut steps on the slope down to the Eiffel Tower so we would already be there, near the front, when the marchers arrived in full swing.
Jo and I took a few selfies when we got to the Eiffel Tower. The march finally kicked off. Jo and I near the front, walking, talking, asking strangers to take our photos. It was warming up. Not so cold anymore. Then… I turned around. Damn. Behind us, marching up fast, passing us, and as far as I could see, all the way to the top of the hill and beyond were the marchers, fanned out, stepping hard, carrying banners, waving signs, swooping down by the hundreds.
There go the French ladies, the ones in front were marching about ten abreast, carrying a huge banner that said, Vive la Revolution! They were of revolutionary Boomer age, from early fifties to early seventies, looking jaunty and stylish. You go, ladies, you legacies of the French Revolution. Cutting off the heads of your king and queen who represented the absolute bad rule and piggish behavior of absolute monarchies. Now, that was a revolution. Much respect.
Here comes the smaller contingent of women in France, the Americans, the big Boomers, louder and brasher than the French sisters, yet somber and heartbroken over Hillary Clinton's stinging defeat, carrying the banner that proclaimed, "Democrats Abroad – France." A few others had signs that read: "Black Lives Matter." "Michelle in 2020."
Here come the rest of the people, thousands, it looked like, mostly white, but a fair number of blacks and other people of color in the crowd, too. A young brother, French African, looked to be about 25, wearing a pulled-down ski cap and thin zip-up jacket, his hands in the jacket's pockets, was marching in perfect step with the French ladies. Marching just a little off to the side, but up front, right next to their banner. He turned, caught me staring at him, and shot me a wink.
I was a little stunned. A bit overwhelmed. Then I felt like I was going to cry. Because just when it was starting to look as if we might have reached a nadir, that the victories scored in the revolutions of the last fifty years may be all but lost, here come the frontline Boomer marchers, the first runners of the revolution, passing off the baton. Here come the younger runners, the X Gens, the Millennials, seizing the baton, carrying it onward. Here come the united forces across the generations, across all the blurred lines of race and gender, nation and religion. Tight, strong, resolute, resourceful. Organized worldwide who will do whatever it takes, by any means necessary, to keep bad ideas, dangerous ideas, old ideas, from having life, from being brought back from the dead.
Who better to do this than women, who bring forth life? Who better to push back against the bad and dangerous ideas represented by a Trump presidency spewing misogyny in all of its dangerous, vulgar, degrading forms; or patriarchy in all of its dangerous, controlling forms; or sexism in all of its dangerous, harassing forms, than women, the oppressed objects of all these bad ideas and behaviors? Women around the world, marching strong on one day, the same day; at one time, the same time. Sometimes, George, symbolism does matter.
Jo told me this march was going to be historic, that I would be glad I came. She was right. I now understood why she still likes to go on protest marches – and why they still matter. Watching the troops swooping down from the hill, marching confidently in against male domination over women was galvanizing, stirring even.
Marches march on through every generation, and always have a place for every time and circumstance. Because at any given time, it may become necessary to put evil on notice publicly with a public protest. Be it protesting racism or sexism or homophobia or ageism or any other evil ism that assaults our humanity. Revolutions may not be televised, but they are bound to be rerun when history seems to be retrograde.
Audrey Edwards, a former editor, and executive editor for Essence magazine, is a journalist, author and real estate broker living in Brooklyn, New York. Her book, AMERICAN RUNAWAY: Black and Free in the Trump Years, is available on Amazon, or by ordering direct at Americanrunaway.com.