By Amanda Laughtland
Just last Saturday, I had walked and chanted my way through the first few city blocks of my first-ever protest march when an air raid siren sounded, and I lay down with twenty other activists in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Seattle, staging a die-in to bring awareness to the threat of nuclear war while shoppers and tourists took photos and videos from the sidewalk.
The street still wet from the morning’s rain, I lay down on top of the protest sign I’d been carrying. I lay next to Tessi, a woman I’d met only weeks before, my hand resting against her leg as two men in hazmat suits drew chalk lines around our bodies.
I hadn’t participated in the Women’s March. I hadn’t participated in the Science March. Friends had invited me to both events, but my protests of the Trump/Pence administration and their anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, and all-around anti-humanistic policies had been limited to writing to my legislators. The sexist, homophobic rhetoric of the administration was affecting me personally, and I felt angry and sad much of the time, but I didn’t see how I could do anything about it.
Then I met Tessi. She told me about her involvement with a group called Refuse Fascism. She’d been going out postering for months to inform people that a series of protests would begin on November 4, 2017 with the intention of lasting until Trump and Pence are forced out of office through the constant pressure of people taking to the streets day after day and expressing their discontent with the administration. Refuse Fascism looked to the model of the large-scale protest movement in South Korea that led to the impeachment of President Park in December of 2016, asking the question: why couldn’t that happen here?
In the days leading up to November 4, I saw quite a lot of Tessi. Sometimes when we went out at night, she’d tell me how she’d spent the hours of the afternoon commute doing a banner drop from a freeway overpass, reminding drivers that it’s neither normal nor acceptable to live under an administration that actively oppresses our friends and neighbors (and ourselves). Some nights she was busy attending an organizing meeting, so we scheduled our time together around it.
The more I knew Tessi, the more I respected her, and the more I respected her, the more I could no longer rationalize my own lack of political engagement. Tessi and I shared the same political views, yet I was sitting at home while she was making every attempt within her power to share information with other people to let them know that none of us are alone in our frustration with the current administration—in fact, we could join with others to collectively express our refusal to accept the climate of hate and disregard for the rights and welfare of others pervading Washington DC and the country as a whole.
I decided to attend the next organizing meeting. I listened as the group shared plans for November 4 and the subsequent daily protests to follow. Tessi and I picked up a big stack of postcards to distribute together the next day. I missed the kickoff march and rally on November 4 but attended some of the smaller daily events where we gathered outside Seattle City Hall, handed out information about the movement, and held signs which read, “NO! In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.”
Finally, I attended my first march on November 11. We walked behind a banner with a huge image of a mushroom cloud. We raised our voices together with chants about equal rights and the need to put humanity—not America—first. I could hear Tessi’s voice in my ear and the voices of other people who had chosen to walk outside of their living rooms and into the street. I was still sad and angry, but I wasn’t alone.
As we lay in the middle of the street at 4th and Pine, our action felt both small and large at the same time. Our group of protestors was almost outnumbered by the amount of police who had been assigned to the march after our organizers received a permit from the city. How were we going to follow the South Korean model of thousands of people clamoring in the streets for impeachment when we couldn’t gather a crowd of 100 people to march downtown?
But I knew people were noticing what we were doing. They were holding their phones in the air to capture images of us and the signs we held. Would they tell their friends about it? Would they share the images on social media? I posted to Facebook that night, and the next morning, one of my friends told me that he and his daughter would be joining us at our next march on November 18. Other friends thanked me for representing our shared views by participating in the march, but they didn’t offer to attend the next one—I could relate because this is almost exactly what I would have said just a few short weeks ago.
I’ve tried to distill my experience in joining the movement into a prescription for action. What made me get off the couch? What made me move through my feelings of powerlessness? It was seeing someone else do it. It was knowing that Tessi fought through her own frustrations and outrage and tears to follow her beliefs into action. If Tessi could do it, why couldn’t I? If South Korea could impeach their president, why couldn’t we? Maybe we could. We’ll never know if none of us try.
When I was a young girl, I was in a Camp Fire group, and we used to sing a song that told us it was “better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.” Well, I hadn’t thought of that song in 30 years, but I’ve been hearing it in my head as I try and put my short history as an activist into words for you. I’m remembering the feeling of sitting in a big circle in the gym after school with girls of all ages, singing together. On the one hand, nobody outside of that gym gave a damn that a bunch of girls were singing together. On the other hand, we weren’t alone in the dark.
For more information about Refuse Fascism, visit the national website at RefuseFascism.org and the Seattle area Facebook page at facebook.com/RefuseFascismSea. There is a “Bring the Noise” parade happening this Saturday, November 18, at 1 p.m. at Seattle City Hall; people of all ages are invited to bring their instruments and all variety of noisemakers! Check out the Facebook event page for more details: facebook.com/events/1908315539178552.
Amanda Laughtland is a poet, English teacher, and lifelong resident of the Seattle area. According to Rate My Professors, she is both “a helpful, understanding teacher” and “the worst instructor ever.”