EDITORIAL: What follows the march?

WE ARRIVED AT 7th Street Park half an hour before the 1 p.m. march was scheduled to begin. A few folks milled around. The morning clouds had moved on, the temperature was nudging the 50s. Only the handmade signs hinted at something more than a nice afternoon ahead.

Crowds in Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston were already the mainstream news story of the day. What had become a series of international Women’s Marches had spawned smaller events in Albany and Poughkeepsie too. But Hudson?

I counted 70 people who looked ready to march down Warren Street. We knew folks who’d traveled to the larger events to support women’s rights and to claim their right to dispute the policies of the day-old Trump administration. I wondered if the big city demonstrations had attracted all the county residents who felt the need to voice their concerns in public. In the park we chatted five minutes with neighbors from Chatham. I counted the crowd again. It had grown to 200.

Less than 48 hours earlier, The Columbia Paper received a tip that a demonstration was planned. It took time to find the Facebook page, which didn’t say much. We uploaded the link and some information about buses to the march in Manhattan on our website. Victor Mendolia, who was helping the Hudson march organizers, Courtney Brown and Julie Torres, said he’d had over 100 people confirm to him on social media that they would attend. I’d just seen double the number he expected.

Across Warren Street on South 7th is a good vantage point to watch parades leaving the park. I tried counting this one and soon gave up. Too many passed too fast. I stepped into the march line toward the tail end and calculated how many people per row, how many rows per block, how many blocks they filled. I also needed to factor in my bias that people need to speak up when they disagree with their elected leaders. It’s a reasonable response and I was reassured by the sight of so many people exercising their rights to assemble and speak here in the county seat. These rights are best protected when they are used. I was biased in favor of a big turnout. I underestimated the march by half.

The federal government does not release figures on the size of crowds on the National Mall, but the Hudson Police Department wisely thought to have two officers at different points along the parade route count the number of people passing by. Their tally might not have the same precision as measuring the number of riders who took the Washington subway to the Mall for last week’s inauguration and comparing it to the number of folks who took it for President Obama’s first inauguration. Likewise there’s more data available on the number of people who attend Winter Walk or the Flag Day Parade in Hudson, or the County Fair in Chatham.

But Hudson Police Chief Edward Moore shared his department’s conclusion that the Women’s March here drew 1,200 people. They were active participants, not spectators. They showed up with practically no advance publicity. In Columbia County that’s a big deal.

The size of the participation in the Hudson Women’s March may not surprise politicians in a county where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5% last November, receiving 1,500 more votes. These are facts from the county’s certified election results. Political people will be talking about this march. Some may be shivering.

As non-fact-based observation, the marchers, women, men and children too, struck me as more representative of the whole county than the city of Hudson. The most recent census data say the county is 90% white. A quarter of the city’s population is black. Speculating about the economic or social characteristics of strangers wastes time. Better to resolve now to build more and more inclusive connections. Diversity isn’t an option, it’s an essential ingredient for political change.

The search for political change is what brought 1,200 people to Hudson last Saturday. These neighbors of ours were joyful and serious and enthusiastic and determined as were the millions of others around the world who gathered to press for human rights and sane environmental policies. But spontaneity has limitations, as the president’s statements often remind us.

The march offered me hope but no prescription for what comes next. And it set me to wondering what if, someday, 1,200 residents showed up for a meeting of the County Board of Supervisors.

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