It’s very rare in life to feel that what you’re doing the most important thing you could be doing in a given moment—funerals are like that, weddings too. So many days I take the same route from my apartment to the train, only to return a few hours later completely unchanged. On Saturday, as I climbed out of the subway and walked the familiar path back to my home, the light looked different. I felt such a brilliant, breathless exhilaration that I could have been 17-years-old and reeling from a kiss.
They say that the metric that set Donald Trump’s supporters apart from Hillary’s was their enthusiasm; that they were absolutely amped up in a way the democrats just weren’t. No one coming from the march on Saturday would have said the liberals lacked zeal. The crowd in the street was fierce and hungry. And yet, the police stationed at the side of the protest seemed calm—parents brought their children, high school students were unsupervised, and the air was full of energy and something I almost didn’t recognize—hope.
I was completely in the bubble during the election. I feared the worst, but like so many I never took the time to examine what we would do if Trump actually won. The idea of it being horrible was all I had to hold on to, so when it did happen I felt like a helpless 10 year old whose most fantastic nightmare had just come to pass. Losing Hillary felt like losing professor McGonagall, and when Donald Trump and Barack Obama shook hands and switched places, it felt nothing short of watching Voldemort take over Hogwarts while Dumbledore is being sent out on a really, really nice helicopter.
Impotence is a terrible feeling—to feel powerless and unheard, to feel like no one cares for you or is going to listen to you or advocate for you as your rights are flicked away one by one…it’s the difference between feeling safe and feeling scared all the time. The march was the first of many steps towards putting an end to that feeling. Marching with my fellow New Yorkers for peace and equality was the first time since the election I fully felt like an adult. I felt brave, and in control, and that the world wasn’t over. For the first day in so long, Trump didn’t own the news cycle—we did.
The dread I’ve felt since the election amplifies a looming fear I’ve had since adolescence, a fear that there is a future in which America might just not be. I remember distinctly realizing in 7th grade that this nation is not a foregone conclusion—it hasn’t always been here and there was no guarantee it will continue to exist indefinitely. I remember last year, right when the election cycle was kicking into high gear, going to a fancy meal for my sister’s graduation reminiscent of the opening celebration of Gone With the Wind, and thinking how precarious a thing like success truly is. And I remember when Trump won, feeling a bone-drying disillusionment, and the sense that we were a nation in free-fall.
I felt brave, and in control, and that the world wasn’t over. For the first day in so long, Trump didn’t own the news cycle — we did.
Now the worst has happened—Barack Obama has left, Donald Trump has been sworn in, and, incredibly, we’re all still here. We picked up our signs, we found our friends in the crowd and made new ones, and we took a physical stand for our bodies and our rights, for the rights of our friends and loved ones, and for a future for our children that we don’t want to slip away because of a series of ill-considered 200 character remarks. And it felt damn good. It felt damn good to finally have a way of expressing our hurt and outrage and fear, and to watch it transform into hope and joy.
Books will be made about the signs that waved in the march, as myriad as its participants, personal expressions of individuals, no two entirely alike. The march was not a regimented group of chanting drones— it was not a KKK rally, it was not Weimar Germany. The collective chorus that rose up from the crowds was, “We are not going to be herded like sheep. We are all awake and we are all thinking, and we are not going to stand idly by while history repeats itself. We are not going to wait for someone to save us or take care of us. We are here now and we are together and we are going to fight and we are only going to get stronger.”
The sign that sticks most in my mind said, “Don’t panic, organize,” and it showed a giant fish chasing a bunch of small fish next to “panic,” and an even bigger fished comprised of lots of small fish chasing the bully fish next to “organize.” I’m so grateful to everyone who put together these successful, peaceful, and beautiful protests, for those who expended hours of effort so that someone like me to join in at the last minute. I was so humbled to be a part of it, so inspired by the passion and the positivity. I want to do more, and for the first time since the election, I feel like I actually can. And that, right there, is citizenship.