On The Road: Sign of the Times

Sign making in DC. A. Hinkle photo.
Sign making in DC. A. Hinkle photo.

By Annette Hinkle

On a recent Friday afternoon, I found myself in Washington, DC. It was January 20. Inauguration day. And while all the predictable pomp and circumstance was taking place a few miles down the road, I was in suburban DC with a group of people clustered around a dining room table filled with colorful markers and blank white poster boards awaiting our commands.

We were all focused on finding just the right message.

I had flown to DC earlier that day with my 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, along with a Sag Harbor friend and his daughter to take part in the Women’s March on Washington which was scheduled for the following day.

We flew Southwest Airlines, and as we waited to board at Islip Airport that morning, it was apparent our flight to Baltimore was going to be filled with other like minded individuals also headed down for the march. You could tell by the defiant look in their eyes, the sense of moral support among strangers, and the pink eared hats on many heads.

These were women on a mission. We even ran into people we knew — including another mother/teenage daughter duo from Sag Harbor determined to make themselves heard.

I knew that hundreds of East Enders would be heading down for the march the following day on buses, but when I saw lots of them were also flying down, I realized this was going to be big — I mean really big.

But first, we had to come up with our message, and that’s what we were doing on this Friday afternoon.

Our sign-making headquarters was the home of friends — former Sag Harbor residents who had moved to DC a few years ago. They have two teenage kids as well, so we all read out ideas for march signs as we came across them on our respective phones.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to find exactly the right message to carry over your head all day, unless you came of age in the ‘60s, in which case this sort of thing probably comes naturally, so we started narrowing it down.

“Yuge mistake,” said one among our number.

‘How about ‘Dumbledore wouldn’t let this happen,’ offered another.

Then there was my personal favorite — “Not usually a sign guy, but jeez.”

All were worthy contenders. We also found plenty of vulgar phrases as well, but none of us was interested in going there.

My daughter and her friends were very specific about the type of message they wanted. Forceful, yet positive. In the end, Sophie opted to recreate a graphically intricate sign depicting a raised fist that read “Hear Our Voice” — on the reverse side she wrote “Nasty Woman” with arrows pointing to her head.

Her friend went ‘80s retro with “Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights,” though she started grumbling halfway through when she realized how much lettering she’d have to do. But she persevered and in the end, came out with a fine looking and age appropriate sign.

Our friend’s teenage son came up with “I’m With Them” … you gotta love a boy like that.

Me? In the end I opted for what I felt says it all.

“Make America Think Again.”

It was a great sign, if I do say so myself — a little color, a little script, lot’s of bold sharpie and some floral accompaniment.

The next morning, we walked to the Metro with our signs. Initially we had the sidewalks to ourselves, but as we got closer to the station, we were joined at first by dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of people filing down the steps to buy subway tickets and join the throngs headed downtown. It was a calm and uplifting chaos in a way that rush hour in New York never is.

And people really liked our signs. Several of them asked if they could take a picture of mine and I happily obliged. We were in this together.

Well, most of us.

The previous day I had posted a photo on Facebook of the plane that would be flying us to the march saying we were on our way.

“What are you protesting?” asked one high school acquaintance in response — I’m reluctant to call her a “friend” as I haven’t laid eyes on her since the day we graduated, but I find it useful to stay apprised of what motivates people back in my hometown, since it usually runs counter to my own belief system.

“Preservation of women’s rights,” I wrote back.

“Don’t we already have that?” she responded.

“They’re being eroded even as we speak,” I countered.

That was the end of it, but it struck me that many people who have grown complacent in their lives have also grown complicit. They can’t think of a single reason to march, which I guess is great for them. But what about those who don’t feel secure about their rights in their relationships, their jobs or the world? Those who are afraid or unable to speak out?

That’s the danger I see now and that’s why I felt it was important to bring my daughter to the march. After making our signs, we took the girls downtown for a dinner event at a DC restaurant featuring speakers from several non-profit groups dedicated to helping women get involved and run for office at all levels. Emily’s List was there, as was She Should Run and Off the Sidelines which was founded by our own senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, to encourage women and girls to make their voices heard on issues they care about.

Our daughters were the youngest people in the room, and they were frequently pointed out as the ones who will make a difference. Here were powerful women encouraging our girls to not be complacent — that doesn’t happen every day and it had an effect that carried over to the march the following day. Seeing hundreds of thousands of people all in one place and knowing that hundreds of thousands more are marching in cities around the world will do that to you.

I think the day was good training for what we will face in the next few years. And the next time we vote for president in 2020, my own daughter will be old enough to go to the polls.

All in all, it was a great weekend. On Sunday, walking through Baltimore Airport with our signs tucked under our arms was quite an experience. Many women cheered us from the food court or grinned and gave the thumbs up as we passed. An older man in a blue uniform who worked at the airport quietly said, “I like your sign” as we passed. There were Trump supporters there too, groups of people who had obviously attended the inauguration. Like us, they were buoyed by enthusiasm from the weekend, but weren’t so interested in checking out our signs.

We had a bit of a snafu on the trip home. After boarding the plane, a problem was found and we had to move to a new gate and another plane. In the turmoil of transferring our luggage, I couldn’t find my sign in the overhead bin.

So I left it behind.

I wasn’t happy. But then it hit me — that plane would be crisscrossing the country countless times in the weeks ahead. Like a chain letter, I can only hope that my sign is now winging its way through the heartland without me — spreading the word that it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Yes, America, it is time to think again. Perhaps someone will end up getting the message and putting it to good use in their own neighborhood — maybe it will be the same neighborhood where I grew up.

I can hope, can’t I?