Mental Health Matters: Women’s March reminiscent of Vietnam protests (opinion) |

Mental Health Matters: Women’s March reminiscent of Vietnam protests (opinion)

Andrew Whyman, MD
Mental Health Matters
Andrew Whyman
File photo |

  I didn’t intend to write this column. I had a more modest effort in mind, a piece on how to end the scourge of drug-related death and save America.

But, as hypnotists will tell you, sometimes “automatic writing” takes overŠ, and here’s what it produced.

We’re visiting San Francisco. A light rain is falling. Our 6-pound dog demands a late morning stroll. Outside were hundreds of “pro life” marchers from San Francisco and surrounding communities. The dog, never intimidated, greets everyone.

Marchers, dressed for the weather, weave their way through the downtown. Church groups hang together, banners aloft. Young people wave “I am the pro life generation” signs. Very civil.

I note a substantial number of Spanish speakers and smiling children wanting to “pet the dog.” Friendly enough. Not festive, but communion amongst folks with a purpose.

I wonder. It’s the day after the Donald Trump Inauguration, and I know that city marches are scheduled weeks or months in advance. I’m also concerned about the values of the new administration; Planned Parenthood on the chopping block, to be replaced with “something better.” Millions worry.

I decide to join my “significant other,” to whom I’ve been married for over 50 years, on the San Francisco Women’s March.

Memories emerge. I’ve seen and been a part of this picture once before: Almost 50 years ago, I’m a naive medical student. A lush sun-drenched sky, a march against the “war merchants” at Hewlett-Packard and other war profiteers as Vietnam rages on, me in a white lab coat with stethoscope fashionably draped around my neck, directing protestor traffic away from the tear gas and police ahead.

I was juiced on my act of resistance then, and I’m proud of it now.

Pride goeth before the fall, but it can also move you down untraveled roads that energize and enlighten.

Now, my wife and I are packed in near the Civic Center with 100,000 other sentient beings, the rain coming down with one tiny, very inadequate umbrella between us. Still, the atmosphere is festive, the milling crowd well-behaved.

Young, courteous, yellow rain slicker-clad crowd monitors gently instruct us. It’s the America I’m proud of; people of all ages, colors, gender types, languages and dress. Pink beanies everywhere.

Leading the march, a phalanx of San Francisco police, followed by chants of “keep us safe.” And, up in the sky, the whirr of a hovering helicopter.

We move down Market Street in fits and starts, the crowd progressing like a freeway at rush hour, moving slowly or not at all. Every several moments, a joyous roar erupts from somewhere and flows through the gathering and into the night sky. It’s wet and wonderful.

Signage is everywhere and befitting the occasion, mostly with an edgy message: “Love, not hate.” “Hands too small, can’t build the wall.” “Keep your hands off my daughter.” “This is what democracy looks like.” “So bad, even introverts are here.” “Free Melania.” Many signs about a woman’s right to choose.

A poignant reminder — one sign, “Never Again-No Muslim Registry,” with a photograph of the WWII government demand that “All persons of Japanese Ancestry…” turn themselves in.

Finally, happy, wet and tired (I confess we were several decades removed from most of the crowd), we seek refuge indoors to rest, rehydrate and wonder where we go from here.

More protest, another march, nonviolent resistance, getting arrested? It all depends.

I’m old enough not to be concerned about what my boss thinks, what colleagues or patients might say, about the next promotion, or if I might lose my license to practice medicine.

I want to believe that a President Trump will fulfill his populist rhetoric of “draining the swamp,” securing opportunities for “all the people,” uniting all Americans.

Trouble is, you can’t say one thing as President but do another for very long before a substantial number of people grow disenchanted, depressed, weary, angry or worse.

During the Vietnam era, millions marched. Those nonviolent protests eventually had an impact on government war policy, and, I would like to think, saved the lives of soldiers and civilians. I was reminded of those years on Saturday when some 4 million around the world marched.

I hope I won’t feel the need to march again, but if people lose their health care and die, if women lose their right to choose, if “forgotten” Americans remain forgotten, if undocumented immigrants who came here as children, the dreamers, are deported, I and millions more will be in the streets again.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at