It was time to march for women’s rights. But first, this woman had to skip-dive for the cardboard for her placard.
Where were you a couple of Fridays ago? I was bottom up, headfirst in a skip at the blind end of an alley.
Strange how, within the space of an hour, I’d gone from suburban mother, standing in the kitchen crumbing chicken, to furtive urban forager. Nobody was more surprised about this than me, and if the blood hadn’t been rushing to my head I would have paused to think. But other thoughts got there first, such as: There’s a good bit! Take that! And: I hope nobody can see my bum from here. Frankly, they could have seen my bum from the International Space Station. Yet I had a calling, and was now in a place beyond vanity.
This place was a loading dock beside Havana Coffee’s roastery, but the reference points don’t matter. What matters is that if happened to me, it could happen to you.
I’ll go if you go. Oh! The number of times I’ve heard this! When I was 10, probably, from some kid as we gazed at the highest diving board. Or from a teenage friend, as we mulled over a blue light disco.
This time it was Jane, replying to my text about the global march for women’s rights. It was early Friday evening and the march was the next day. I’d seen it on Twitter, and read more on Facebook. Wait a minute – even though it was only hours away, could I park my life and take part? After all, everything they’re marching about matters to me.
Jane is the most community-minded friend I have. She takes green holidays, has studied bike-paths in Copenhagen and thinks the world of Billy Bragg. I would never, ever tell her that for four months now I haven’t recycled a single tin. If anyone was citizen enough to join me, it was Jane.
We were doing it! I put down the phone with a twitch of nervous energy. How to prepare? Marchers carried signs! Marchers carried scroggin! I had nuts and raisins, but I didn’t have a sign!
It was 7pm; shortly our children’s bedtime. I hardly went anywhere in the evening; I’d spent countless Fridays at home. Suddenly I said to my husband, “Can I pop out? I need to get black paint and cardboard.” He gave me a quizzical look and agreed. So I gunned up the RAV4 and sped to town (well, I rarely break 45kph to be honest, but on this particular drive I felt airborne).
At the big box store I dumped brushes and paint at the till. “Do you have any spare boxes?” I asked the millennial who was serving. I leaned in, conspiratorially. “I’m going on a big-ass protest tomorrow and I’m making a sign.” Her eyes brightened; I’m sure her nose-ring glinted under the strip-lights.
“The women’s march?” she asked. “I’d go, but I’m on shift.” She told me where to find rejected packaging behind the building. “It’s for a good cause,” she said, justifying my pilfering. So off I went.
Hoisting myself up on the cage so I could scavenge inside for cardboard was the most anti-establishment thing I’d done since 1999, when a boyfriend persuaded me into the first-class carriage on Eurostar despite our second-class tickets. I was terrified of getting busted then; dimly, I worried that I was stealing now. But at that very minute the new President was waltzing at an inaugural ball, so I was off my rump and getting busy. I found two useful boxes and clambered down.
I walked past the warm belch of the coffee roaster and drove home with purpose. I’d explained to Maddy I was going to march tomorrow, because it was important to Be Kind. I was going to the Beehive to remind the Prime Minister, I’d told her.
Early Saturday I painted my sign and it dried under a hopeful sun. Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march, Gloria Steinem said. Marchers describe euphoria; the warmth of brushing shoulders with people you don’t know, but who’ve got your back.
Personally, I felt relief. Here you all are! Women who might otherwise be crumbing chicken in their own quiet kitchens. Women moved enough to move. The ghosts of activists past were watching us.
“You’re late,” Dame Whina Cooper seemed to scold, from up the front. “Truth,” added Rosa Parks. “Finally,” the wraith of Kate Sheppard rolled her eyes, “You got off your dimpled ass.”
“Here’s the test of a women’s protest,” Jane said, as we dominated Willis St. “Walking past a shoe shop with a sale, and not going in.”
I saw us reflected in store windows and later watched us streaming into squares, avenues and world capitals. We came late, and we were right on time.
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