Terrence McCoy has a very interesting article in today’s Washington Post:
Seventy-one miles into a 162-mile trip, the women riding the bus began to stir as the blackness of the morning lifted. They had gathered at 3:30 a.m. in a parking lot in Williamsport, Pa., and now, as signs for Washington started appearing, one woman applied makeup with a mirror, another bounced a baby on her lap, and two more talked about what could happen when they got where they were going.
As the bus entered the city on Baltimore Washington Parkway, Joanne Barr looked out the window. “So many buses,” she said quietly to herself. “It’s a lot of people.”
Forty-two people were riding with her, adding to the tens of thousands of people pouring into the city on 1,800 buses to join the Women’s March on Washington and protest the inauguration of President Trump. They have come, for the most part, from Hillary Clinton’s America: large metropolitan communities like Chicago or Atlanta, or smaller college towns like Ann Arbor, Mich., or Madison, Wis. But there were some women, though far fewer in number, who departed the America that fueled the rise of Trump, and this is the America of Williamsport.
A mountainous town of 30,000 residents in central Pennsylvania, its economy and culture have long been tethered to the vagaries of hard industry — first lumber, then manufacturing, then natural gas — and it anchors a county that is 92 percent white and went 71 percent for Trump.
This is the only town, the only America, that Barr, 54, riding the bus with her daughter, Ashley, 30, has ever known. A petite woman who feels most comfortable when no one is looking at her, she has never done anything like this before. She has only been to Washington one time, and big cities intimidate her. Back home in Williamsport, she manages a hardware store, which exclusively employs white men and almost exclusively services them. Most days, she adores the job. But more and more, especially after the campaign and election, she has begun to feel claustrophobic not only there, but in Williamsport.
Is she happy? Is she living the life she was supposed to? Is it too late at this point in her life — a middle-aged, divorced mother of three — to be someone different?
Why has she come?
She sat quietly toward the front of the bus, unsure, but hopeful, that this march, this trip to Washington, might provide an answer.
A woman transformed
Two days before that moment, Joanne was in a house with a bare refrigerator.
“No food in this house,” she said of her home miles outside Williamsport, up serpentine roads leading into the hills, where she moved a decade ago to escape the bustle and people of town. She went to the fridge and checked a grocery list hanging beside a schedule of local Alcoholic Anonymous meetings that her son had recently begun attending.
Grocery list in hand, she headed for the car, past a bookcase with 20 books she has read on addiction and recovery: “Addict in the Family,” “Why Don’t They Just Quit,” “Heroin is Killing our Children.”
There was a time when Barr thought addiction was something that happened to other families, to people not as successful, religious and conservative. But that was before her husband went from painkillers to cocaine to crack, before her son nearly died of a heroin overdose, before she realized how quickly success can yield to debt, religion to doubt, conservatism to whatever she had now become.
Getting behind the wheel, she flipped the ignition, and the radio came on. It was CNN Radio, and a voice was saying, “This is truly the beginning, as of right now, you’re witnessing it right now, the beginning of President-Elect Trump’s time in Washington, D.C.” At one time, she would have quickly turned the dial, worried she wasn’t smart enough to learn about politics. But now “I listen to it constantly. I used to listen to music and stupid things. Now I listen to this.”
She often thinks about all the things she once did — and did not do — wondering how she could have been so insecure for so long. In Williamsport, she grew up only wanting to marry a man who would take care of everything, and that’s exactly what she got. Bill was everything she was not: confident, effervescent, assertive. He owned two hardware stores and properties across the city, and they raised three children in a big, showy house in a nice part of town. He said he always knew best, and she always believed him, even when he told her not to worry about all of his empty prescription pill bottles and frequent nose bleeds and increasingly erratic behavior. For years she found a way to excuse everything he did, until one night in September 2006 when “he punched her in her face with a closed fist,” according to the criminal complaint, and told her “he would ‘kill her’ if she called the police.”
She now pulled the car out to the end of the driveway, stopped at the mailbox and reached inside to grab a package. . .
I imagine that events like this do inevitably alter the trajectory of many lives. They meet new people, encounter new ideas, realize that they can do things, and form a network and begin to get involved in politics. And I bet it works better with the connections that can be secured via the internet: email, Twitter, Facebook, and on and on. So they enter politics, and organizing skills are gender-neutral (and I would guess favor women, who often have organizing pushed off on them because it can get tedious), so that it might be a very effective block.
This time seems somewhat different: what is at stake is starkly clear, not just in the sexual assault issue but in the President’s absolute refusal to avoid conflicts of interest. I would bet that for him conflicts of interest are a feature and not a bug: he can schmooze a foreign potentate and lay the groundwork for lucrative projects, and do it all on someone else’s dime (that would be yours and mine: we taxpayers are fronting the costs for Trump to build his own (commercial) empire. It’s a gold mine! ).
So the threat is large and near-term: it gets one’s attention. So the response has been commensurate with the stimulus. And with the technology we have today, things can happen quickly.
That technology, though, is a two-edged sword: the same thing that facilitates the link-ups and coordination also facilitates tracking and recording those activities by the government. (The NSA reports to President Trump.) Dissidents can be identified not only by the content of their posts, but by the pattern of clicks and likes—and I bet Facebook can cook up a “Dissident Identifier” algorithm in two shakes.
Of course, the same is true for other movements that have been able to grow through the internet: the alt-Right, Stormfront, Steve Bannon crowd. But there are laws that protect them—and, of course, Steve Bannon now has some control over the use of such resources. Perhaps it’s good that President Trump thoroughly pissed off the intelligence community before he even took office. OTOH, that might lead to the rise of a second, separate intelligence service, one on which the President (and Bannon) can rely, and I’m sure you can figure out the sort selected to staff it.
And the data have a permanency, as many have discovered when old posts and tweets and emails return years later to haunt them. And I am sure that the encounter described in this post earlier today will result in records for each person becoming a part of various permanent databases, to be used as the government sees fit.
See also: “Yes, America, you can resist the brutishness of the reign of Trump — when progressives truly unite,” by Jim Hightower in Salon.