Ilana DeBare helps carry a large "Temple Sinai" banner in the march
Ilana DeBare (bottom left) at the Oakland Women's March

Why I marched

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The question wasn’t really “Should I march?” but “What should my sign say?”

I stood beside a table littered with heavyweight paper and magic markers in the social hall of Temple Sinai in Oakland and pondered. My temple — a 142-year-old Reform congregation with a proud history of social action — had organized a sign-making session before Shabbat services on the eve of the march.

There were too many messages to put on one sign, too many reasons to be both appalled and frightened by the Trump presidency. His crude, petty bullying. His unrepentant sexual assaults on women. His determination — together with his Cabinet of billionaires and the Republican majority in Congress — to roll back decades of environmental standards, civil rights, reproductive rights, consumer protections. His blithe eagerness to abandon a foreign policy based on democratic values and buddy up to strongmen like Vladimir Putin.

Luckily a sign has two sides. On one I wrote “My body, my choice” — an old slogan from when I was a young college feminist in the 1970s, but one that is sadly urgent again. On the other I wrote “No to racism.” African Americans and other racial minorities had already faced pervasive bias, even under our first black president. Now with Trump in power, I felt it was important as a white woman to take a public stand against racism.

Rabbi Hillel could have been holding the magic marker with me. One side of my sign expressed: “If I am not for myself, who will be?”

The other side: “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

And then it was time for the march. “If not now, when?”

Rabbi Hillel could have been holding the magic marker with me. One side of my sign expressed: “If I am not for myself, who will be?”

At 10 a.m. on Jan. 21, I wriggled through the already-jammed streets of downtown Oakland to join more than 200 members of Temple Sinai who had gathered alongside groups from Temple Beth El in Berkeley and Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont. A fellow congregant passed out song sheets — “We Shall Overcome,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.”

My husband joked that we were in the “Jewish Quarter” of the march. Besides seeing friends, it was an opportunity to express our values and our historical perspective as Jews. One woman carried a sign saying, “Jews resist Islamophobia.” Another carried a photo of her father in his World War II uniform, fighting against Hitler.

Soon enough we all melded into the larger crowd. There were tween girls and grandparents, people pushing strollers and using wheelchairs and beating drums. The mood was expansive and welcoming, even jubilant — the polar opposite of the “sore losers” that Trump’s camp had called us.

“Love, not hate, will make America great,” people chanted.

And this brings me to the multi-layered reasons for why I — why we — marched.

On the most obvious level, we marched to make a statement. We wanted the news media, the government, and the world to know that millions of Americans — a majority of the popular vote, remember? — reject Trump’s narcissistic, divisive world view.

Then we marched to reassure each other: I am with you. However you feel vulnerable — whether you fear deportation, or internment, or loss of your health care, or loss of your marriage — I will fight for you.

What we learned is that we also marched to nourish ourselves.

So many of my friends came away feeling hopeful for the first time in months. Outside the echo chamber of social media, beyond the bleak news headlines, there is a huge community of people who share the vision of a just, equal, inclusive America. It’s easy to forget that when you are sitting alone by your TV or computer. But we are real. We are strong. We are powerful. We are a movement!

What most impressed me was that Jan. 21 was the first full day of the Trump presidency. The civil rights and antiwar movements needed years of organizing before they could turn out crowds like we saw last weekend. If this was Day 1 … imagine where we can be in a year, or in November 2018 for midterm elections.

Now the hard work really begins. We’ll need to respond to a thousand terrible initiatives on a thousand fronts. We’ll need to build enduring alliances. Each of us as individuals will need to choose how, and where, to dig in and make a difference.

Temple Sinai, for one, is starting next week with a gathering on Feb. 2 — led by our rabbi and education director — to discuss “next steps in organizing.”

If not now, when?

Ilana DeBare

Ilana DeBare, a former board member of J., is working on a novel. She lives in Oakland.