There are many African Americans who have made a cozy new life for themselves in other parts of the globe. They’ve fled these shores troubled by the social, political or economic climate of this country. Writer Audrey Edwards said “Deuces!” to these United States and hopped on a flight to Paris after Donald Trump was elected president. She felt exhaustively pessimistic about this country’s political situation and felt it would be beyond repair under Trump’s watch.
Now the 70-year-old ex-pat has settled in Paris, a land where Black people can just be and are worthy of respect. In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, American Runaway: Refuge from the Dark in the City of Light, the Trump runaway talks about how on her first day in the City of Light, she took to the streets in a worldwide women’s protest march against Number 45.
Onward Marching Sisters…
The last place this Trump runaway thought she’d be on her first day in Paris was the worldwide women’s protest march against Trump.
“Girl, you crack me up,” I am telling Jo, sitting at the Ikea counter in the studio’s kitchen area, sipping some of the good wine you can get for cheap in Paris. “You still going on marches. At your age! You still a little revolutionary. This is why I love you so.” I laugh. Jo sighs. “Well, if people had just listened to Bernie, we wouldn’t have to march today,” she says, getting all snippy. “Hillary sabotaged him. Nobody wants to talk about that, but it’s true.”
Oh, Jo, give it up! Your boy Bernie lost. He was not going to win—ever! I want to say but don’t. What’s the point? I have said it all before—to Jo. It is what it is. I have always been the wisecracking, cynical one. Jo is still something of a dreamer, eternally hopeful. Still believes it is possible to change the world, just like we both believed a million years ago when we first met in Seattle as college students.
Of course, I am not so cynical that I do not recognize the world has indeed changed. Enormously. We would not be sitting here today if it had not. Jo has been living in Paris for over thirty years, having married and divorced a Frenchman, and raised three children. Enormous changes during that time, for sure, though she still wears her hair in a short pixie like she did in college. Except it is now as white as her skin. My short pixie, which has been Afroed and cornrowed since college, is now permed straight and tinted off-black, still colored, like me.
Jo has been going on protest marches on and off for over fifty years now, going back to protesting against the war in Vietnam. Long time. She was what we black girls called “a cute little white girl.” Petite and pale-skinned, with large, dreamy brown eyes, she was a painting major, an artist, who sometimes saw more than I did. She would turn out to be the perfect Ivory Key to Ebony Key tall, dark and skinny, level-eyed me. The black and white, long and short of it, is that this girl here, Josephine Floy Lowrey, is my longest-running bestie, my road girl, and happens to be white.
Jo and I became college roommates in the second quarter of our freshman year at the University of Washington, and I think in some ways never left our dorm room. We would run to other parts of the country and the world, marry, divorce, raise children, but never run too far from each other, never losing touch, always running back to that dorm room of our own—sharing secrets, confidences, pain, joy, fears. We always signed off on our letters, and now our emails, with endless variations of the “Love, your roomie theme. “Love, your roomie, the Brooklyn babe.” “Bises, the roomie in Paris waiting for the Brooklyn roomie to get here.”
Now the Brooklyn roomie is here, and I cannot believe I let the Paris roomie talk me into going on a protest march with her my very first day in the city as an American runaway. She knows marches have never been my thing. (Not since my parents refused to let me attend the only march I ever wanted to be in, the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963 when I was 16.) Marches have too many people. I am claustrophobic. Too much noise. I like quiet. And too much pointless bullshit.
So a gazillion people will be out today all over the world, protesting the election of Donald Trump. So what? He is still about to ascend to the throne of the empire in a few hours. All the protests in the world are not going to change that. Did these worldwide people even vote in the election? No. It is all just silly symbolism. Like my man, the late comic George Carlin pointed out, “I leave symbolism to the symbol-minded.”
We are waiting for Henri, my French landlord, to drop off the microwave he just had repaired. Then we’ll be heading off to meet up with some of Jo’s friends. “I think I can get Henri to drive us,” I tell Jo, trying to sound hopeful, though I am just hoping we can be driven to the march instead of trudging to it via the metro subway. Riding to a march? Why does that seem like a disconnect? Whatever.
“Yeah, I know Henri will drive us for sure if you let him put his tongue in your mouth,” Jo says, cracking big time: “Every time he calls the office, it’s all I can do not to say, ‘So Henri, heard you tried to put your tongue in Audrey’s mouth again!’ Heh, heh, heh!”
Okay, Jo. Stop it! I glare, giving her my best angry-black-woman look. Then we break out laughing, as we do every time that particular image of me and Henri is conjured up. I met Henri ten years ago at a Christmas party at The American University of Paris where Jo works in the student housing office. Silver-haired, divorced, courtly and charming, he is what I consider to be a rather successful ladies’ man—the kind of man who actually likes women, is nice to them, chivalrous even. He also comes from that entitled, privileged class of European men who don’t have to worry too much about money because the family has plenty of it.
On our first date ten years ago, Henri showed me the chic little studio apartment his father gave him that he rents out to AUP students. He was one of the landlords Jo’s office referred students to. Henri had suggested when we first met and learned I was an American real estate broker that perhaps I could help market his apartment as an Airbnb to Americans visiting Paris. Well, how about I market it to this American, me, who will be on the run from America for at least Trump’s first one hundred days in office, and after that, who knows?
“I am happy to receive you with open arms,” Henri told me with dashing chivalry when I told him I needed a place to run to, and learned that his place was available. Yes, he has tried to put moves on me a few times over the years. But he is French. That is what French men do. This Frenchman is also late getting to the apartment today. That is what he do. Always late. “Soo sorry,” Henri says when he does finally arrive, microwave in his open arms, half an hour late.
“Henri,” I say quickly after he has installed the microwave, “Jo and I are going to the big women’s protest march. We’ve got to get moving, otherwise, we’ll be late. Do you mind driving us?” To a march with thousands of women expected to be on hand? Of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, nationalities, religions? I really did not have to ask.
I feel a little dislocated when Henri drops us off twenty minutes later on the vista slope at Trocadéro Square where the march is to start off, going downhill toward the Eiffel Tower for some photo-ops before heading out for a few more miles through the streets of Paris. Still jet-lagged and tired, my mood is already going downhill.
Where are Jo’s friends? I am wondering. And who the hell meets anybody at a march anyway? Should have met up beforehand and come to the march together. Whatever. The sun is out at least, but it is still freakin’ cold! Should have packed the mink. The one I bought for myself as a fortieth birthday gift. Still can’t believe that idiot I worked for back then had the nerve to crack when he first saw me wearing it, “Humph, so how many niggers did you have to sleep with to get that?” Really? Sounds like some dumb shit Trump would say. Come on, let’s get this march started!
I am surprised there are not more people. Just looks like a loose, motley crowd of mostly white women, young and older; a few men sprinkled about, also young and old. Okay, Jo, so where are your friends? I’m thinking, now in a seriously pissy mood. What am I doing here? I’m too old for this bullshit!
Jo finds a couple of the friends she was to meet up with and introduces me. I tell them I just arrived in Paris yesterday, an American runaway getting out before the fall of the empire. “Wow, I know so many people who swore they would leave the country if Trump was elected, but you really did it!” one of them said.
Yes, I really did it. Got out of America. And the last thing I want is to be reminded of the man who made me do it by going on a march that is all about him. But of course, this march, this worldwide women’s protest, is not just about or against Donald Trump; it is about and against all the other men like him. Men who think that their bad, piggish behavior towards women is fine, acceptable, even within their rights as men, as patriarchs. Men like my old boss, a black man, who made a piggish, disrespectful crack about what he thought I must have done to get a fur coat.
More people are assembling. There are the young and older women wearing the official hats of the march–bright pink wool pullovers with pointy cat ears representing a third-finger up “screw you” to Trump, who was caught on an old tape recording that surfaced during the presidential campaign bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy.” There is a young white girl carrying a sign that says, “This pussy has claws!”
Turns out we arrived at the march early—or more accurately, the French are late in getting the march started. Guess this is where Henri gets time challenges from. More people gathering. Jo suggests we cheat a bit and take the short-cut steps on the slope down to the Eiffel Tower so we will already be there, near the front, when the marchers arrive in full swing.
The march finally kicks off. Jo and I near the front, walking, talking, asking strangers to take our picture. It is warming up. Not so cold anymore. Then… I turn around. Damn. Behind us, marching up fast, passing us, and as far as I can see, all the way to the top of the hill and beyond are the marchers, fanned out, stepping hard, carrying banners, waving signs, swooping down.
There go the French ladies, the ones in front are marching about ten abreast, carrying a huge banner that says, Vive la Révolution! They are of revolutionary Boomer age, from early fifties to early seventies. The girls still have style.
Here comes the smaller contingent of women in France, the Americans, the big Boomers, louder and brasher than the French sisters, yet somber and heartbroken over Hillary Clinton’s stinging defeat, carrying the banner that proclaims, “Democrats Abroad—France.” A few others have signs that read: “Black Lives Matter.” “Michelle in 2020.”
Here comes the rest of the people, thousands, it looks like, mostly white, but a fair number of blacks in the crowd, too.
I am a little stunned. A bit overwhelmed. Then I feel like I am going to cry. Because just when you were starting to think we have reached a nadir, that the victories scored in the civil rights and women’s revolutions of the last 50 years may be all but lost, here come the frontline Boomer marchers, the first runners of the revolution, passing off the baton. Here come the younger runners, the X and Y geners, the Millennials, seizing the baton, carrying it onward. Here come the united forces across the generations; across all the blurred lines of race and gender, nation and religion. Tight, strong, resolute, organized worldwide who will do whatever it takes, by any means necessary, to keep bad ideas, dangerous ideas, old ideas, from having life, from being brought back from the dead.
Who better to do this than women, who bring forth life? Who better to push back against the bad and dangerous ideas represented by a new old leadership spewing misogyny in all of its dangerous, vulgar, degrading forms; or patriarchy in all of its dangerous, controlling forms; or sexism in all of its dangerous, harassing forms, than women, the oppressed objects of all these dangerous, bad behaviors? Women around the world, marching strong on one day, the same day; at one time, the same time. Sometimes, George, symbolism does matter.
Audrey Edwards is a former executive editor and editor of Essence magazine. This essay is adapted from her forthcoming book, American Runaway: Refuge from the Dark in the City of Light, which grew out of her HuffPost essay published a year ago, “Punking Out in Paris.”