The little girl looks like she came from a latter-day Norman Rockwell illustration.
Maybe two years old, she sits in her stroller and waves a tiny, hand-made “Girl Power” pennant. She’s one of the couple thousand people gathered for the Women United March on this crisp January Saturday.
Her mother and her mother’s friends coo over her. Other marchers come up to take pictures of her.
“I’m glad she’s here,” her mother tells a friend, “even if she won’t remember it. It’s important for her to be part of this, to know she can make a difference.”
“She’ll remember,” the friend replies. “You’ll remind her. We’ll remind her.”
On the temporary stage at First Ward Park, speaker after speaker comes to the stage. They all run past the time allotted to them. They hit similar themes – the need for inclusion, the importance of redressing historic injustices. They almost all step on their applause lines. Several shout their speeches, overloading the makeshift sound system so their words are distorted.
It doesn’t matter.
The crowd brought energy with it. The people here feed off each other. They don’t need to be fired up.
They’ve gathered on the day after a couple of milestones.
President Donald Trump acknowledged he’d lost his faceoff with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, over securing funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and reopened a federal government that had been shut down for more than a month. And veteran conservative political bad boy and longtime Trump crony Roger Stone had been arrested in connection with the Russia investigation.
This, too, energizes the crowd.
Most marchers, like the little girl in the stroller, carry homemade signs.
One sign reads: “WOMEN ARE THE WALL TRUMP WON’T GET OVER.”
Another: “MY RIGHTS? I THINK I’LL KEEP THEM.”
Still another: “NOTE THE ABSENCE OF NAZIS AT OUR RALLY.”
The speeches end. It’s time to march. The crowd gathers at the far corner of the park, ready to move through downtown Charlotte.
They’ll step through a burgeoning business mecca of a state with one of the most regressive legislatures in America. These people often have been on the losing side, and they like the taste of victory.
They march and chant: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”
Far from here, Roger Stone faces justice. He came to prominence as part of the wave of rightwing trickster political strategists inspired by Richard Nixon. They helped shatter the New Deal governing coalition.
These tricksters’ fundamental insight and operating principle was that anger is a much more effective political motivator than hope. They stoked fear, encouraged resentment, prodded festering furies.
In the process, they created what came to be known as the “enthusiasm gap.” Because resentful conservative voters were more motivated than other citizens, a disproportionate percentage of them showed up at the polls. This allowed them often to overcome greater numbers on the other side.
In Donald Trump, Stone said he’d found the ultimate embodiment of this politics of rage, the perfect voice and face for the right’s messages of grievance. Stone was right. Trump motivated his base like few other politicians in history.
His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” perfectly captured the sense Trump voters had that it all was slipping away from them.
The problem for Stone and his ilk, though, was that Trump also mobilized opponents like no other politician in American history. Without planning to, he closed the enthusiasm gap.
And a battle was joined to determine what America should be and who belongs in it.
The marchers here move across railroad tracks and step down a wide street of a city in a state that not long ago was a conservative firewall. They carry signs they spent hours working on. They step lively, pausing only to hug acquaintances as they spot them in the crowd.
There are children in strollers among them. White women. Black women. Latin-American women. White men. Black men. Latin-American men. People in wheelchairs. People on crutches. Young people. Old people. Gay people. Straight people.
“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” they chant.
They look like America, as it is.
Maybe that’s what scares the folks on the other side so much.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.