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The Women's March: When the Personal and the Political Collide

Is there such a thing as being too old to protest?

By Jill Smolowe

To march or not to march. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune, or take arms against a sea of alt-troubles and by opposing dream of ending them…

Hmm. I confess this question gives me pause.

My hesitation owes nothing to ambivalence. Given my particular stew of passions, the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 feels more an imperative than an option for me. (I realize there are women who have very different views than mine, and respect that.)

The feeling I have about going is unfamiliar for someone who’s never considered attending — let alone waded into — a mass protest. As a member of the national press since age 21, I have observed the rules of my trade, which frowns on member participation in partisan events. Instead, volunteer work and my checkbook have been my outlets to quietly support issues and apolitical groups of importance to me.

But with my retirement from reporting for the news biz, my profession’s proscription — which I now realize was also a handy excuse — has fallen away. And here’s what I’ve found: Much as I fervently want to support this cause I care about, I no less fervently don’t want to go. As a boomer whose coming of age was informed by the idea that the personal is political, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.

A Million Reasons Not to Join the Protest March

In a nutshell: I hate crowds. Loathe them. Every year when I flick on the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square, I cringe at the sight of the teeming masses, and welcome in the new year with the thought: Thank God I’m not there.

I've long hated the feeling of being hemmed in so much that during my office days, I favored a corner chair at the conference table. Without having to jostle for elbow room, I found that my voice could be heard just fine from the far end of the table. (Added bonus: I could slip out quietly, without detection.)

There’s also the standing factor. I’m all in for walking, all in for sitting. But standing for hours on end, being propelled forward in inch-long increments by an ever-thickening crowd? About as appealing as joining that Times Square logjam. Standing in the cold? Ditto.

Then, there’s the frustrating fact that I’m a directional dyslexic. You won’t find this diagnosis in your DSM or on WebMD, but I’m telling you, it’s a real disability. Almost 100 percent of the time when I walk out an unfamiliar exit, I turn the wrong way. I worry that during the trajectory of all that incremental inching, I may get pushed so far off course that I won’t be able to find my way back to Union Station in time for the departure of my bus. Not a biggy. But a cause for pause nonetheless.

And yet... While participating in a mass protest has never been on my Bucket List, this event speaks to me. Loudly. Almost like a command that’s saying, Stop putting your money where your mouth is. Get out there!

Too Old to Protest?

When I shared these reservations with my husband, he tossed out a list of concerns that hadn’t crossed my mind:

“There could be counter-activity. You could get hurt.” (Oh, come on.)

“What if you have to go to the bathroom? Just how many bathrooms will there be?” (Okay, this one I can relate to.)


“Do you really want to be doing this at your age?” (Whoa!)

His suggestion that, at 61, I’m too old to join a protest march angered me so much that it propelled me to coordinate with a friend, then buy a bus ticket. Take that, husband mine!

Transport secured, I found my feelings about whether to attend the march growing only more ambiguous. By raising age considerations, my husband had opened a different brand of personal-is-political. Am I too old for mass protest? If I don’t go, does that mean I agree with him that the marching ground is best trod by the young?

Polling for Answers

Curious, I emailed a bunch of friends whose politics I know to be in line with the aims of the march. I asked if they were going; if not, why not; and, oh yeah, their age.

Of the 20 who responded, 10 said they were going, eight were not, two remained undecided. In a group that ranged from age 51 to 70, age-tinged considerations reared only a few times, and vaguely, at that.

The youngest, who is not going, felt “it’s a big energy spend and maybe more feel-good than the best use of energy” for targeting concrete results. The oldest, who had plans to go, said, “I'd rather be home drinking a hot cup of coffee, but as an act of conscience I feel like I have to go.”

I resonated with both of those responses. But the response that hit closest to home came from one of the undecideds, who said that she had “an aversion to being with a million people for any reason, even a good one. And where are the bathrooms?”

Is that an age thing? An introvert thing? An entitled thing? Or is it simply an honest thing, one that, no matter how worthy the cause, should be respected? In other words, an I-am-who-I-am thing?

Whatever it is, I felt let off the hook when my friend who felt like she had to go changed her travel itinerary. I canceled my bus ticket, then reached out to a friend who had indicated she occupied the same fence I was on. Might she instead consider attending a same-day Women's March closer to home? She bit.

Miracle of miracles, by shifting my locus, I was also able to persuade my 22-year-old daughter to join us. Talk about a perfect match of the personal and the political.                                                                                                         

Photograph of Jill Smolowe
Jill Smolowe is the author of "Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief." To learn more about her book and her grief and divorce coaching, visit Read More
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