The opening of a new chapter in our history will always be conducive to writing, but it is, I suppose, the just-almost-opening of one which possesses me to write now. I feel a Sisyphean urge to add my voice to the flurry of words and noise which we outpour into the “net” (although, for its name, very little seems to catch) in a plea to be heard or maybe to be felt or perhaps just to be a part of something. This will become a single blog post, which will register a micro-fraction of a decibel loud on some inconsequential scale. But I need to convey to myself the loudness of the moment, of the movement, of the silence when the chants died out and the hollowness was revealed underneath.
I walked against that movement- a stuttered but thick stream of chanting young people- with a myriad of homemade slogans shouted in small moving chunks, like my High School Homecoming parades. I have no way to know if the chants were actually thought up by the marchers of Boston, but they weren’t hashtags I had seen before, they were a part of an oral history: “HEY HEY, HO HO, DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO.” “WE DON’T NEED NO GODDAMN WALL, USA HAS ROOM FOR ALL.” “SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE: THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.” “NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO FASCIST USA.”
I imagined myself veering off from my projected course, which was against the flow, walking bleary eyed on the sidewalk occupied by photographers perched like vultures but wearing my clothing and my slow sense of awe, and jumping into the marching crowd as a slogan I liked passed by. Maybe, “THEIR BODY THEIR CHOICE,” and the girls marching behind with, “MY BODY MY CHOICE.” Just like any river, this one possessed its own current; it called to me with a promise of civil disobedience, of looking like those pretty women in Good Girls Revolt (the TV show I was watching earlier in the night) who wore long beads and did LSD in the sixties and fucked the patriarchy hard. I could understand, for the first time, the reason why counterculture existed: because there is nothing more thrilling than being one of a swarm of people, standing firmly on the moral high ground, and ignoring social convention with impunity.
The crowd gathered around The Gazebo, which was already occupied by a dangling row of white 18-21 year olds, one who had a megaphone, someone else with a noisemaker that sounded like police sirens. A girl in black leggings scrambled up the cement siding with the help of some guy in a hoodie, and, when she had accomplished her goal, stood up on her pedestal like a man with a foam finger who had made it onto the Fenway Jumbotron. I watched as the crowd pressed inward with searching eyes, concertgoers jostling for recognition from their favorite celebrity, except on the stage there were just more college students, and no news trucks to make them famous, and they knew it, too. They guzzled up obscenities like gasoline to keep the noise going. When “TRANS LIVES MATTER” started to fizzle out, there again would be “FUCK DONALD TRUMP” or fuck this or whoever or fuck everything, and even now, as “adults,” the joy of saying these words is the same joy as stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.
So I left.
I walked back toward my home past the smattered rows of Boston Police in iridescent vests who seemed more like loiterers than anyone, and met eyes with a few of the scattered people walking to and from and around the T stations, carrying out normal lives or leaving the protest like I was. It occurred to me when I met eyes with an Asian woman that everyone on this mostly-empty street with the piles of leaves must also be sure that they are the center of the universe, must also be experiencing my feeling, that the universe is large and incredible, that I am a tiny pinprick of light, and that the vast observable galaxies are mainly there to circulate around me.
I passed a girl from my floor, the girl with the baby face who apparently knows where there are parties. She was smoking a cigarette and leaning against the cold gray side of the T stop looking like she felt lonely and afraid. As I crossed the street, blue light flashed across my face from the police car parked parallel to the crosswalk. There was that girl Amy Houghman by the doors of the lobby, catching my eye for a split second. We’re Facebook friends. She was huddled with a group of five other girls, all dressed in white dresses and heels under pea coats and the flashes of their front-facing cameras. I think I heard something about white being a symbol for the Suffragettes. I’m sure I’ll find out later on Amy’s instagram.
As I climbed the stairs towards my dorm I heard someone ask the time, and then “You’re gonna miss American Horror Story?” and then the first girl, the one holding a protest sign like a textbook under her arm, “I don’t get why they couldn’t come, I’m really annoyed actually.”
I knew as I climbed those stairs that I was being pretentious. Everywhere I looked I saw through a lens of disdain, and, of course, just because I didn’t walk outside with the express intent to march in the protest didn’t mean that I hadn’t been there, or that I wasn’t white and young and privileged, or that I didn’t have an Instagram.
I wonder how exactly it helps to look down upon people just because I think their hearts aren’t behind their actions. I wonder what it would matter even if their motives were completely and objectively “genuine,” if we could even collectively decide on what “genuine” is. I wonder how it was in the sixties, which stands in our public lexicon as the real era of protest: if white college students looked at other white college students playacting at anger and felt a little far away from it all. If only I could tap into the Woodstock generation and feel what they felt. I wonder how I can get a slice of that magic, a hit of that bong, draw a needle of that urge in my stomach to light my bras on fire in the middle of the Common because FUCK SYSTEMIC SEXISM, FUCK FEELING AFRAID FOR MY LIFE, FUCK ‘LOCKER ROOM TALK’ AND FUCK THE MAN WHO STANDS FOR IT AND FUCK ALL THE PEOPLE WHO JUST MADE IT ALL ADMISSIBLE.
But the sixties are over, aren’t they? The protests fizzled out. As anyone who’s had sex, marched in a protest, or eaten a stolen cookie knows, you can only screw or screw the man for so long before you get tired and sick. Counterculture is simply a social Viagra; the best way for people who feel isolated and unheard and like they need to get away with something to actually get it up.
I don’t know. Maybe it was easier five decades ago. People were having orgies and their drugs did their thinking for them. Maybe my young, liberal professor is right, and things were better back then. /