After a long day spent at the rally and marching as close to the White House as we could get on Saturday during the historic Women’s March on Washington, my wife, Rosella, and I slowly meandered through the city back to our accommodations for the weekend.
The throngs of protestors had disappeared, it was dark, and as we walked through D.C., which is so majestic at night with all of its historic buildings and monuments, we saw discarded protest signs everywhere. Some were jammed into overflowing trashcans. Many were propped up against fences and buildings. Others laid in the street, covered in footprints.
“How could people throw away their signs?” I kept saying.
I felt so attached to mine. I had written “Let’s Make America Great For Everyone” in big letters on a piece of white foam core with a king-size black Sharpie. I am not the most proficient at lettering, and I made the “Let’s” way bigger than it should have been, but I was proud of my sign.
And even though I was tired of carrying it after 10 hours, I wasn’t going to leave my sign behind. I wanted to keep it as a memento.
My wife kept hers, too. It took her hours to make her sign, which read “We Won’t Accept Misogyny Racism Homophobia.” She used her Japanese watercolor pen set, filling in each letter with shades of gray to create an ombre effect.
As we walked through the damp night, I kept stopping to take pictures of the signs that didn’t go home with the people who had carried them during the march. Rosella supported my desire to document them . . . for a while.
“I was right there with you until the 75th photograph,” she finally cracked when we were on the National Mall, tired of having to stop so often. She was also tired of carrying both of our signs so I could take photos.
“I feel bad,” I lamented. “They’re all just laying there.”
Only a few hours before, these signs brought strangers together during the Women’s March. These were signs that got us all talking to each other, laughing together, crying together, taking photos of each other, exchanging contact information, and promising to take care of one other.
No matter the message—and the signs ranged from inspirational to crassly funny—or level of artistic presentation, there was a person behind each sign who made an effort, who sat down with markers and paint, glue and glitter, cardboard and construction paper, and used their creativity to craft a handmade sign expressing a wish, a declaration, a wisecrack that invited interaction.
At a time when we are bombarded with political opinions and jokes via Twitter from people we will never meet, the old-school protest sign shared in person remains a powerful means of communication.
I know it isn’t the end of the world that people left their signs behind after the march—really, I do. People had their reasons. I am sure some figured the signs had done their job, and they had no more need for them. Others left their signs in front of buildings, including the Trump International Hotel, to make a statement, and I understand that.
But after spending the day with intelligent, caring, passionate, funny, and like-minded people with whom I connected through conversations, or sometimes even a smile of acknowledgment, regarding their handiwork, I was feeling emotional that evening about all of these signs being tossed out, or abandoned. Even then, so soon after the Women’s March had ended, I already missed being around the people who had carried them.