Written by  Katherine Ottaway MD


A friend of mine put up a meme the other day. Masked people with clubs, some Caucasian, some African American, coming towards the camera. The lower half was an older woman on a rural porch with a shotgun, saying “Come on out, I’ve made pie!”

I am now afraid to go to my friend’s house, because I was just visiting African American friends in the Midwest, so I am afraid my friend will shoot me. The meme made me think about demonstrations.

I have walked through multiple demonstrations and have demonstrated, and I have NEVER seen violence or been frightened. The most frightening crowd I have been in was the 1976 Fourth of July Bicentennial on the Mall. Everyone went and put out blankets and brought food and beer and the kids all ran around. Not scary yet. Finally, it is dark, and the amazing fireworks go up with the reflecting pool as a background and everyone saying Ooooooo! Also, not scary. Then it ended. Everyone gathered their things, stood up, collected the kids and headed for cars and the metro.

Traffic stopped. It is night. It is mostly dark. The crowd is so enormous that it flows into the streets and cars sit like islands watching us. We hold hands so as not to be separated. We get quiet, a little scared. EVERYONE GOT QUIET, A LITTLE SCARED. The sounds were the police helicopters and traffic helicopters above us. It was very much like a disaster movie, only no one was screaming or running or yelling. Silent walking and the metro overwhelmed and enormous silent lines. It took hours to get home. I was 15.

I worked at the Smithsonian Museum, the Natural History Museum, in high school and after college. I worked in the gift shop. I rode the metro in from Alexandria. There was always someone demonstrating in the mall. Always. They all yelled. We didn’t care, because we had to go to work. They would try to engage us, “Join us to demonstrate about orphans or guns or public transit or Kathmandu.” I would say back, “I am going to work.” If that didn’t work, I would say, “Get out of my way, I am going to work.”

So, in Washington, DC, I was inured to yelling. If someone is yelling, they are upset. We mostly ignored yelling. Gunshots, on the other hand, had our immediate attention. Dive for cover. Washington, DC had the highest per capita drive by shooting rate in the US at that time. There were lots of parts of Washington that I was told not to visit, at least not unless I had a very big strong African American friend with me. I went to Richmond, Virginia for medical school. Richmond had the second highest drive by shooting rate, at that time. The emergency room was a famous training for trauma.

HEALTH CARE, not PROFIT. Medicare has a way lower overhead and no profit. It could cover more if it covered everyone. It would save money and with one system, it would be way more efficient. And ONE electronic medical record instead of 500 competing companies. Sounds good?

Anyhow, we went all the way to Washington, DC from Oregon. In Washington we set up a march, singing and yelling, signs and all. My compatriot doctors got confused. “Why is everyone ignoring us?” they said. “Oh.” I said, “I grew up here. We have demonstrations all the time. If you pay attention to them all, no one would ever get to work.” We did our program in front of the White House and Dennis Kucinich came and spoke. We all felt like amateurs after he spoke. Holy smoke. And he had been working for a single payer for 42 years. We didn’t get single payer yet, but we will. I think Covid-19 may be the final catalyst.

So, fear of demonstrations. The vast majority in the United States are peaceful. Someone demonstrates in front of the Capitol or in the mall every day. Almost all peaceful. They do not storm the Capitol; you don’t DO that.

I know that women are getting jailed and killed currently for refusing morality police. I have felt lucky to live in a country where the majority of demonstrations are peaceful, where I can be both a city girl and a country girl and feel comfortable in both places. I am in a country where there is still massive discrimination against people for gender or race or both. I am hoping that we stay a democracy, and we keep voting, and we are not taken over by people who are afraid or threatened by someone’s race or gender. I do not want the morality police here.

Peace you and peace me.


Text ©  Katherine Ottaway MD



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