On January 21, we marched... well we didn’t actually march... we stood, and we listened, and we cheered, and laughed and greeted people we had never met before. We took pictures of funny but poignant signs, we heard words of encouragement and strength, we sang along to songs we all knew. The Women’s March on Washington, was my first experience in a protest rally and it was an experience I will never forget.
Early on Saturday morning, I grabbed my heavy winter coat, a scarf and a pair of mismatched gloves (excuse me but I’m a Floridian now J ), and headed to the airport at 5:00 a.m. My first hint of what the day would bring, was a couple of older ladies with walking sticks, slowly making their way to the gate wearing bright pink knitted hats with ears. I knew of the Pink “Pussyhat” project that launched back in November where people across the nation were encouraged to knit pink hats with cat ears to keep the marchers warm in D.C. This was my first pink hat sighting. [https://www.pussyhatproject.com]
The plane was full of women with a few men sprinkled in. They were cheerful, full of exuberance for what lay ahead. People read my shirt “Feminism is the Radical Notion that Women are People” and smiled, I read their shirts and smiled. The feeling of camaraderie among total strangers was empowering. You had the feeling that even though we didn’t know each other, we were all in this together. My seatmate smiled at me as we were disembarking, she said thanks for marching, good luck and be safe.
We landed in the nation’s capital at around 8:30 and I made my way to the Metro. There were a few additional pink hats on the train but at the Crystal City stop, the doors opened and an avalanche of pink and many other bright beautiful colors flowed on to the train. People were squeezing together, making room, pulling others into the crowded car. This was the most cheerfully jam-packed train I had ever travelled on.
At L’Enfant Plaza, everyone poured out of the train and the platform was instantly filled to capacity. Inch by inch we made our way to the escalators (which had been turned off for safety). Every 3 minutes another train pulled in and more marchers in pink hats flowed onto the platform. Hundreds of homemade signs were held high, people were cheering, smiling, nodding, encouraging, supporting. When we finally made it to the top, we were greeted by the smooth sounds of an electric cello, a young local musician supporting the march and tens of thousands of people overflowing the streets. Food trucks of every variety were parked by the metro stop.
By around 9:45 we made our way to Constitutional Avenue, the crowds were already thick. We staked out a spot near the National Air and Space Museum. The music was rocking, people were chatting and the air was filled with anticipation and even dare I say hope... a feeling that has evaded many of us in the past several months. There is a certain strength that comes from unity in purpose and the realization that you are not alone, that there are others who share your fears, your concerns, your convictions and your hopes and dreams.
Most fittingly, the rally began with a powerful speech from a woman who bears our collective name. America Ferrera fired up the crowd with a call for unity...“We reject the demonization of our Muslim brothers and sisters," America said. "We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortions. We will not ask our LGBTQ families to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants, to a nation of ignorance." The list of speakers and artists was impressive. From renowned activists like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Cecile Richards to legacy voices like Ilyasah Shabazz (Malcolm X’s daughter) Maryum Ali (Muhammad Ali’s daughter); to grassroots leaders like LaDonna Harris (president of Americans for Indian Opportunity); Melanie Campbell (President and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation) and so many other strong, vibrant voices. Before we knew it, 3 and ½ hours had passed and we were still cheering, clapping, pulling our coats a little closer as the wind started to pick up in the early afternoon.
The actual march was supposed to start at 1:15, by around 1:30 people started chanting “let us march, let us march” but unknown to us in our small corner, the attendance was so massive that we could not march. We had more than doubled the projected 200,000 attendees, and the march organizers realized that the entire march route was filled from start to finish and there was nowhere to march.
Throughout the morning we saw pictures from all over the country and around the world of people supporting and standing with us. Large group marches in New York City, Los Angeles, as far north as Anchorage, as far west as Maui. Thousands of people in Prague, Paris, Berlin, Rome, London, Amsterdam, smaller groups but still strong and vocal from our African friends in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, we saw pictures from Australia, New Zealand and so many other countries indicating their love and support. Later, when the numbers were counted, we realized that this was collectively the largest one-day protest in US History!
Around 2:00 p.m. I had to slip away to head back to Reagan National and catch a flight home. The protest was still in full swing, so I hugged my friends, and slipped through the crowds across Constitutional Avenue. Making my way back to the metro station was no easy task. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. It took several minutes just to cross the street, but still the vibe was so positive, people were smiling, talking, laughing and gracious enough to let me through. When I finally collapsed in a seat on the Metro Yellow line, a woman sat beside me who had also been at the march. She was a California native who now lived in Virginia and worked for a congresswoman. We talked about the experience, she told me that just a week before she stood up to 6 rowdy men on this same train who were insulting and denigrating women and suggesting that with this new administration, women should now take a backseat. She said she found the strength to speak out against the hatred and misogyny. She said by the end they were apologizing. I told her we need more people like you, we took a selfie to remember each other and we parted.
The flight home was much quieter, gave me time to reflect on what I had been a part of. My seatmates were also returning to Orlando but from attending the inauguration. Images of the march were playing on the television screens. The wife turned to her husband and said “why are you watching that s***, isn’t there football on?” I decided to speak. I turned to them and said, I was there and it was such a positive experience, one I will never forget. I engaged them in conversation and by the time we were done she was saying it was good to hear perspectives other than her own. I know I didn't change them (and wasn't trying to) but at least they recognize that other perspectives are valid.
I am most proud of the fact that the protest was a woman-led movement strong in its diversity, recognizing and supporting women and our multiple and intersecting identities. The march brought together people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations, disabilities, and backgrounds. The feminist movement stood with black activists, LGBTQIA activists, Muslim-Americans, Immigrants, American Indians..., they spoke on disability rights, workers’ rights, environmental justice. We affirmed our shared humanity and we shouted to the world a bold message of resistance and self-determination.
See next steps for the women’s march here: https://www.womensmarch.com/100/ Going forward, we must commit to working together to ensure a government that is based on the principles of liberty and justice for all.