This morning, shortly after 6, nearly 40 Milwaukeeans climbed aboard a white charter bus in the parking lot of the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. It was raining and foggy – the gray mist so thick you couldn’t make out Lake Michigan just feet away. While most of the passengers were women, a few men and children also shuffled up to the bus and settled into its cloth and leather seats. The riders came equipped with backpacks, pillows, and signs, which they’ll put to use at the women’s march on Washington tomorrow afternoon.
Today, while Donald Trump is being inaugurated as the 45th president, this group will travel about 12 hours until dispersing in the capital city to spend the night at hotels or with friends before tomorrow’s events. They’ll meet up again on Saturday morning, joining others who’ve traveled from Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and then as a much larger group, they’ll walk to the march’s starting point, near the southwest side of the Capitol building.
Once the riders were settled in, a few begin handing out Penzey’s heart pins that read “kind,” Rocket Baby Bakery treats, Starbucks coffee and Life Savers candies.
At 8 a.m., just as the bus began to hit Chicago’s rush hour traffic, the organizers of the trip, Barbara Velez and Megan Holbrook, introduced themselves to the group. “I went to a Rotary meeting the week after the [women’s march on Washington] was announced,” says Holbrook, “and [Barbara and I] were in an elevator together and we looked at each other and said, ‘Are you going?’ We both knew we had to be there.” Afterward, riders wiggled to the front of the bus, grasping the seats for support as the bus rocked in the stop-and-go traffic. One by one, they introduced themselves and, sometimes through tears, told the other riders why the felt they needed to march.
The bus has just passed South Bend, Ind., and its passengers are playing trivia games, trying to nap, and munching on chips and chocolates. After a brief break at a rest stop at 10:45, the bus’ driver, an African-American man named Charles, stepped up to the mike that had been passed around for introductions. In all of those intros, he said, what he hadn’t heard anyone address was “how can you relieve pressure on black women so they can be here to participate?” He received applauding and shouts of “yes!” And then told the bus that before the election, he drove throughout Wisconsin and saw no Hillary Clinton signs. “Trump everywhere, all over Wisconsin and Michigan.”
“Not in Milwaukee,” someone yelled. “It was nerve-wracking and scary,” he said of the abundance of Trump signs. “It was unreal.” Without missing a beat, he said, “OK, thanks, we’re ready to go.” More clapping. Charles is clearly ferrying like minds.
At the brief break at an Indiana truck stop, I spoke with one of the riders, Jeff Seidl, 56, a white man who lives in Lake Mills, where he says he’s almost entirely surrounded by conservatives. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our chat.
Why is going to the march important to you?
Well I have two male-to-female transgender friends, I have a niece that’s three years old, and I have some other friends who are African Americans, and I am scared to hell. I’m scared to death of what’s going to become of this country when Donald Trump is president. I think the white supremacists are going to try to rule over this country because they have carte blanche now to do whatever they feel. It’s just very scary. I told my nephew, he’s 22, [that] it’s the first time in my 56 years – and I’ve been through about 11 elections – this is the first time I feel scared.
Is there a policy or law you’re most passionate about?
Roe vs. Wade. Very big. That goes back to my three-year-old niece. I want her to be in charge of her body when she gets older. And anything that the Republicans and Trump are for, I’m against.
You mentioned this is the first time you’ve ever protested or marched for anything.
Yes, first march, first time in D.C., definitely a virgin when it comes to all that stuff… I decided to go big right away. My brother was one of the reasons, after the election he was like, well, “You have to give him a chance. And there’s not much you can do about it now.” That really stuck with me. First of all, you don’t have to give him a chance, someone that acts that way toward women and minorities, everybody that disagrees with him. You don’t give someone a chance like that. Then he said, “Well, there’s nothing you can really do about it.” This is me doing something about it.
I’ll be updating this story all day with additional interviews and photos by former staff photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki. Stay tuned!