What Does Democracy Look Like?

Fury and helplessness had settled in after the Presidential election. People talked about “surviving” the next four years until 2020.  I considered the possibility of an America I wouldn’t recognize. When word got around about the Women’s March, nine of us committed to go. My niece, Julia, and her two friends traveled from Maine and New York City.


We joined more than half a million like-minded Americans at the Women’s March in the Nation’s Capital for “The Resistance.” Finally, an outlet! — because 10 weeks is a long time to be so furious.


I thought about what my sign would say, and my mind kept going to the Constitution. I decided on “We The People” and “I Love My 1st Amendment Rights.” They weren’t original ideas because this theme was playing for others, too.

After every other election in my lifetime, the new (or incumbent) President gave a unifying message. With this President, I am among the majority of voters he refers to as “the other side,” and to whom he continually gloats that he “won big.”  This is my country, too, and the leadership he assumed requires him to address that — and not in a vengeful way.




We The People were part of something big. There was a mood of cohesiveness and people were friendly. There were huge crowds at the Metro stations and packed trains from end to end. We emerged from Metro at the Building Museum and fell in with the throngs, working our way to a spot within sight and sound of the rally’s speakers.


We gathered. We chose LOVE over hate. We demonstrated love for our country. We demonstrated concern that this President would comb over women’s issues. We wore pussy hats. We marched. We wanted to reclaim the soul of our country. We were “Nasty Women!”  We chanted and affirmed: “This is what democracy looks like! “


Hope, intelligence, humor, passion, and the power of women and diversity were on display at the 2017 Women’s March.  Messages that made me LOL:  “If my uterus could shoot bullets, the government wouldn’t regulate it.” Another was “Free Melania.” And yet another, “In 2017, I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” Don’t you love candor?


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This March was an exercise of First Amendment rights — that  precious bundle of five rights about freedom of expression.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

People have sought asylum in countries that have these rights. We can’t take them for granted.  In my opinion, our rights are under attack or, at the very least, misunderstood.

Freedom of Religion. For years, politicians have been on the defensive about claims that they’re not Christian or not Christian enough. While Christianity has influenced American society, the U.S. was not established as a Christian nation. The relevance of Bible-citing blew up with this President’s candidacy. The Republican Party didn’t give a damn. How you worship, which deity you worship, or whether you worship at all is a personal right.

One of the performers at the March was a young Muslim named Alia Sharrief. She’s no novice to activism. Her performance was apropos for “The Resistance.” Here’s a sample of her art: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZJub-2fYho

Over the last year, I have heard some astonishing anti-Muslim sentiments from people I considered smart! Wearing a hijab, a Muslim woman is especially vulnerable because the garb marks her as Muslim. Her issue is our issue. We need to care.

These signs showed the intersectionality of human rights issues.

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Freedom of Speech.  This precious right has some restrictions — like, not inciting violence; or committing slander about others by spreading lies, falsehoods, or alternative facts; or uttering certain profanity. Whether a statement is actually slander also depends on whether the target is a private person or public figure. You may recall that Candidate Trump did a lot of name-calling:  “Lyin’ Ted” (Senator Ted Cruz), “Little Marco” (Senator Marco Rubio), and “Crooked Hillary” and “Nasty Woman” (Secretary Hillary Clinton). It was ugly behavior, but it was his right.

Freedom of speech includes actions and gestures. Colin Kaepernick, for instance, took the knee during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of Blacks in the U.S. People burned his football jersey, threatened to boycott the NFL, blah blah blah…. They said he should have protested some other way. But, it is Kaepernick’s right to express protest any way he wants (as long as it is not illegal), and how he does it is not subject to another person’s sensibilities. Kaepernick risked all to be a high-profile activist. He gives back to the community with his I Know My Rights Camp for kids, where they learn about their civic duty to be engaged and opinionated.


Freedom of the press. This freedom is definitely under attack. Freedom of the press is about access to, publication and distribution of information without government intervention. It’s also important that media outlets not be owned by only a few companies. Diversity of information sources is important for diversity of thought.

Somewhere in the world are media outlets that are government-owned or controlled, like Russia.  Some governments create propaganda and offer alternative facts, like Russia. I thought of an undesirable scenario based on the dystopian society in The Hunger Games called Panem. Therethe Capitol controlled its citizens through isolation, harsh policing (called peacekeeping), and propaganda.

Right to assemble. Black Lives Matter (BLM), for example, has held protests and demonstrations in a movement that is growing around the world. The movement’s very name was rabidly criticized by the ex-mayor of NY and a Wisconsin sheriff at the Republican National Convention. Both dismissed BLM with the counterclaim that all lives matter. The right to assemble means that people have the right to organize demonstrations and call their organization or movement any damn thing they want.



The Women’s March embraced BLM issues, too. Janelle Monae had the crowd do a call-and-response during her anthem against police brutality, “Hell You Talmbout.” One mother called out her child’s name: “Sandra Bland!” The crowd roared back:  “SAY HER NAME!” Another mother called out her child’s name: “Freddie Gray!” The crowd roared back: “SAY HIS NAME!” This roll call acknowledgment of a mother’s loss was simply powerful.

Right to petition the Government with grievances. Speakers at the Women’s March urged the crowd to exercise this right with their local representatives and members of Congress. This Constitutional right allows a slew of actions. We can lobby; write letters; and contact our representatives in Congress (or any level of government). We can testify before tribunals; file lawsuits; collect signatures for ballot initiatives; and engage in peaceful protests and picketing — all to influence government action. This would also include whistle-blowing, especially if you’re a Federal government employee.

When we returned home from the March, we watched the news. We were awed that over 600 marches or rallies had occurred that day in all 50 states. Approximately 2.9 million people participated!  What’s more, protests and women’s marches had also been held that day all over the world.

This is what democracy looks like!

A New Experience: Backpacking and Camping in Yosemite (Part 4)

I learned four things while on my adventure: 1) I loved it!; 2) hygiene is sort of overrated;  3)  how to “leave no trace”; and 4)how to sleep in the wilderness.

First (and most important):  This was a great experience! I want to do it again. I want to learn orienteering and how to cook in the wilderness. Yosemite park rangers say that only about 10% of the park’s visitors ever go up into the wilderness. Most visitors drive through, use the park shuttles, or take a  bus tour. I realized how lucky I was to see the back country, hard as it was to get there.

One day, we hiked to Ten Lakes (for which our trail was named). Fortunately, we used our daypacks instead of the backpacks. We only had to carry a portion of the camp lunch, our water, and personal snacks. Along the way, I’d forgotten that the last (and easiest) 20 minutes of our first day’s hike was downhill into the base camp. To leave base camp, we had to hike uphill. Those first 20 minutes kicked my ass, even with the lighter daypack. But, this experience was worth it!

We emerged in this alpine meadow.


The trail is very narrow for the least human impact as possible. Staying on the trail was essential to avoid damaging very fragile wildflowers.


From far above, you can see one of the Ten Lakes  — the bit of blue in the distance.  The Ten Lakes are named by number, and I don’t know which one this was. Our guide, Tyler, told us we were headed “down there.” That far down meant a steep climb back up.


On the way, we found moments to look over the treeline at the mountains on the other side, in awe and meditation.


When the glaciers pushed through they left landscape elements like this.


One huge rock surface was incredibly smooth like a granite kitchen counter. Izzy led us in yoga.


We also rested on that rock.


We made our way down the mountain to the lakes. We passed Boy Scouts and families with very young children. Wow, they sure started young (not in their 50s, like me).  As the saying goes: ‘There’s no time like the present.’


Another well-earned rest stop and hydration break.


We followed the trail across a little stream.


Our guides, Tyler and Izzy, gave us a wonderful lunch — a variety of meats, cheeses, gluten-free crackers, dried fruits, and guacamole made on-the-spot when we reached one of the lakes. We hung out there for awhile. I took in the peace of the scene. Others swam in the lake.


And we took a group photo.


Climbing back to the top wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Tyler set a slower, meditative pace.

Second:  Norovirus could be a problem for campers who don’t apply a basic level of hygiene when using the “facili-trees.” And norovirus spreads very easily. For me, hand sanitizer plus wet wipes provided that minimal level of hygiene. Hand sanitizer alone would just wet up and move dirt around on my hands. But, otherwise, I became indifferent about dirt.

“Washing dishes” after the meal was a minimally effective effort undertaken like an assembly line. We used a common scrubber to remove food remnants from dishes; then wiped off our dishes in cold water, in which bits of food had come off other plates; and then moved on to another vessel to dunk dishes in a sanitizing solution — bleach, maybe? — and, finally, hung them in a net bag to dry. The plates passed the wilderness standard of being clean enough. As long as I was eating from my own plate, I wasn’t going to worry about it. I was more focused on filling my plate with the good meals our guides prepared.

Third:  Our backpacking guides taught us the wilderness ethic of “leave no trace.” There are no garbage barrels with bear locks in the wilderness. There are no flushing toilets. You set up camp at minimally-prepared designated sites. You don’t pee (No. 1)  or move bowels (No. 2)  just anywhere. “Leave no trace” requires thoughtfulness and technique. It’s how we help minimize human impact and keep parkland pristine, even as we enjoy it.

Because friends asked me about this quite a bit, this is how you do No. 2 in the wilderness:

  1. Find your “spot.” You will need some privacy cover. While boulders may work for No. 1, they don’t for No. 2 because you’ll probably hit rock when you try to dig a hole. A wide enough tree located away from the trail and a water source will provide the best cover.
  2. Use a trowel to dig a 6×6-inch hole and scoop the dirt out. (Our camp trowel was usually on a stump by the campfire, along with hand sanitizer.)
  3. Squat and aim for the hole.
  4. Wipe yourself. I had a roll of camper toilet paper. The used paper went into a sealable black plastic baggie. I used a wet wipe for extra hygiene. Into the baggie it also went, until I could dump it all in a garbage bin at the end of our adventure. Leave no trace!
  5. Take a stick — not the trowel! — and scoot the waste that missed the hole into the hole. Bury it with the scooped-out dirt.
  6. Plant the stick vertically in the hole to mark the spot so no one else thinks they’ve found their spot. Ew.


Honestly, this beat the hell out of a stinking port-a-potty. (After the adventure, I found this 3rd edition book on this subject. Didn’t I just sum it up in six easy steps?)

Fourth:  I finally mastered how to get a good night’s sleep by my last night at Yosemite. Each night, I zipped myself inside the tent and sleeping bag, with no intention of getting up and out before daybreak. But, one night I had a stomach ache. I really needed to get the trowel and find a tree, but it was dark, cold, and scary. I didn’t budge … to my great discomfort.

I suffered.

I started hearing sounds, like a nest of rodents were burrowing a trench all around my tent. I heard them first on one side of the tent and then the other. I was surrounded! I heard sounds like something — a bear! — rooting about in my backpack (which was outside my tent and propped against a boulder). Why, I wondered, would the bear bother since my food was in a bear can? The only things with a scent were the plastic baggies of used toilet paper. And so my mind worked overtime … all night long.


Early riser at the base camp

At first light, I jumped up and ran for the trowel. As I walked back to my tent, I listened. The “bear” sound was the restless sleeping of another backpacker in a neighboring tent. The “rodent” sound was another restless backpacker, whose sleeping bag was on a sheet of plastic. Those were the movements I’d heard … all night long.

By our last night, I got it right. I knew how to stay warm while sleeping after the temperature dropped from 75 to 40 degrees. I ignored noises. And, finally, I slept like a baby … all night long.

On our last day at Yosemite, the final hike down to our cars went faster. We were motivated. We were mostly going downhill. Our packs were lighter, thank God. (We had eaten most of the food we had carried up and brought back down a minimal amount of garbage. Leave no trace!)

When we reached the parking lot, Izzy and Tyler treated us to steaming hot washcloths to wipe our faces. I couldn’t believe the amount of dirt and grime that was on my face. While I was on the adventure, I also didn’t care. At the end, though, a hot shower urgently beckoned; my body had surpassed its tolerance for minimal hygiene.


Thank you, Tyler and Izzy, for being great REI Adventure guides and giving us a gotta-do-it-again experience! Thanks to fellow backpackers, Santiago and Paul, whose wonderful photos contributed to this series!