Who knew that the revolution would begin with one stitch? And then another. And another.
Pink has been fully reclaimed. Our comrades at Code Pink have been working on this for some time, but now it’s happened. This color was not an epithet, like the words that African-Americans and queer folks have reclaimed. But it had its own negative connotations.
On the one hand, pink suggested something both feminine and insignificant. Except for a few of my favorite hotels, it was rarely used in architecture or design, unless it was the color of a young girl’s bedroom in a mythical suburbia. On the other hand, in my youth, pink—often amended to pinko—meant someone of communist tendencies, or at the very least, a fellow traveler.
But now it means the resistance. Knitting has also been raised from grandma’s craft to a creative outlet for men and women to share a common message with. On Saturday, January 21, hundreds of thousands of pink knit caps marched across Washington DC and cities all over the world. It was a great day in modern history. My own beautiful hat was knit by the wonderful Joann Gonchar.
On the night of inauguration, I went to an old Washington standby, the Tabard Inn, for dinner with my pal Maria Willett and her daughter Maggie. All of us were sporting our pink pussy hats. As our oysters arrived, so did two glasses of pink champagne. A gift from a neighboring table. More fellow travelers!
My friend Kristina Hagman and I met Maria and Maggie at their hotel Saturday morning. Mist hung low, but you could feel the excitement. Maggie had taken heart-shaped chocolates and attached the message #lovetrumpshate individually. She was planning on handing them out all day!
On the way over to the hotel, Kristina and I reminisced that we had been to several momentous events together. Events where public space had been converted to spaces of love and tolerance. We were together in Los Angeles when Nelson Mandela spoke at the Coliseum in the summer of 1990, just after his release. It felt like all Los Angeles was together for that historic evening.
And then in Central Park in 2005 when the Christos’ Gates turned an empty wintry park into the living room of the city, where everybody marveled at art’s potential for generating love.
And now here in DC to celebrate women and resist Trump. We saw men with the “Make America Great Again” caps (translation: “Make America White Again”) checking out of the hotel while folks with pussy hats were checking in. Our numbers were greater, but you know that.
On our way to the mall, we passed the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. As we were admiring the distinctive form, a woman approached us and asked if we wanted some tickets. Knowing that the museum is booked well into the spring, I thought this might be a scam. But then she explained that they had booked a lot of tickets for a group of students who were unable to make it, and so we asked if she had four. Our time slot was in 15 minutes. If we took this detour, it meant we wouldn’t get as close to the main stage later, but that seemed a worthy compromise!
The main entry hall feels too large. I thought, “Where is everybody?” Like people who grew up in shopping malls, we just took the escalators up. It is better to follow directions (something the adults in our group are not known for) and take the elevator down. Eventually, Kristina and I wandered down to the starting point. As we entered the first gallery, Kristina said to me, “This feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable.” That was intentional. The dark first rooms talk about the experience of the slave ships.
Gradually, you walk up ramps through exquisitely designed displays towards a little bit of light. Along the way are a slave cabin and a Pullman car and hundreds of years of our shared history. When you reach the end of the permanent exhibit, one level below the street, there is a space to sit down and watch a circle of water pour down like justice. (But they need to adjust the level of chlorine and HVAC in there!) A place to reflect before moving to the upper levels to view the rotating exhibits.
To really see this museum, you need several hours. After we emerged back onto the mall, now considerably more crowded, I reflected that this was a perfect anchor for the trip. Finally, a space that acknowledges the suffering of the African-American people. I thought, “If you really understand what this museum is telling us, you would never vote for Donald Trump.” A little extra strength for the journey.
We found ourselves someplace west of the mall, near some of those dull, old government buildings, with a partial view of a jumbotron. Honestly, the sound was terrible and out of sync with the images. But if what you wanted was to hear the speeches clearly, I think a sofa at home was the way to go. Here we got to feel the resistance growing.
One of the best speeches was by long-time activist Angela Davis where she placed what was happening in the context of history. On the ground, it was crowded, but everybody was polite, and everywhere you turned you saw pink: pink scarves, pink signs, pink hats. And everybody had a story. The three African-American women standing next to us came all the way from Georgia. There were lots of children, lots of funny signs and a few vulgar ones.
If there was a curb, a low fence, or a level change, we helped each other. The refuse was in the waste receptacles or, when those got full, piling up next to them. There was love everywhere. We were all excited to start the march, singing, flying banners, and waving to onlookers along the route. But soon enough there were so many of us that the route became blurred and we poured out everywhere. It was a like a platonic love-in!
Later I went to meet up with lots of pals at their hotel for drinks. It was hot in the corner of our bar, but the spirits were high. Writers, lawyers, NGO people, artists, all chatting about whom they met and what they saw. And pink, lots of reclaiming the pink.
Afterwards, I went to another party at my editor pal Brad McKee’s house, where I met an entirely new crowd of generous people. A large contingent came from St. Louis and points farther. I was thankful for a fine Mediterranean buffet, having eaten so little during the day. I was going to hail a Lyft, but a couple was leaving and said they would drop me off. We were all one generous family for that glorious day.
In New York, I mostly worked but took off just enough time to catch the Kerry James Marshall show at the Met Breuer. I’m a lover of abstract art, a place where the narrative remains unformed, so it takes time for me to enjoy representational work. There is a lot of narrative to be found in Marshall’s work. And what a perfect time for these stories, when white extremists have taken over the country. Of course, Marshall couldn’t have known that when the show was put together, long before the election. But to be African-American is to always be conscious of these stories. Maybe this election pulls the curtain back further. There are many levels to his work, and I am just starting to see. At the end of the show there were two recent abstract canvases. Marshall also seems to like pink.
On the way to the airport, the driver wanted to talk about the current situation. I stopped looking at my device and just listened. He told me that he came from Guyana in 1977 with only a change of clothes and that his cousin loaned him $30. He went to work for the car service in 1979, and his first job was to take someone out to the Hamptons. “I told the owner, ‘I don’t know where the Hamptons is.’ He said the lady knew, don’t worry,’ she went out all the time. He trusted me. I earned more in that afternoon than in a week at my first job. I worked for the same company since then. I love America, but Trump is against us.”
Who knew that one stitch would lead to the cover of Time and The New Yorker? Who knew that these pink hats would become an international symbol? Who knew that pink would be the color of the resistance?
For more info:
Angela Davis at the March:
About the writer
Kenneth Caldwell is a writer and communications consultant based in
the San Francisco Bay Area. His website is KennethCaldwell.com
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