In our digital age, where we can organize and activate like never before—via social media, mass email blasts, robocalls, and more—the concept of a march or protest, where people physically show up to a prearranged location, can seem downright quaint or unnecessary. Well, we’ve now seen that this is simply not the case.
There is nothing like viewing a photograph of a vast sea of pink hats, signs, and determined faces to drive home the point and passion of a movement (equality and justice for all women).
There is nothing like the dawning realization that hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children, of all ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, sexual identities, socioeconomic status, as well as people with disabilities, actually showed up, to drive home the point and passion of a movement.
Think about it: for every person that attended the Women’s March on Washington, or any of the sister marches around the globe, there was a person who had to plan to be there. It took a commitment to the cause, a leap of faith that all would come together in the end, a willingness to shift around one’s schedule, find childcare for young children, and scrape together the funds, as well as make arrangements to travel, in many cases, long distances. It took people gathering together in their local communities to make signs and spread the word so that our family and friends would join in as well. And for those of us who helped organize what turned out to be the largest single day demonstration in US History (!), taking into account the hundreds of sister marches across the country, it took a willingness to work tirelessly to ensure that the event went off as well as it possibly could.
Along with so many other women, whom I am proud to now call my sisters, I enthusiastically showed up to the Women’s March on Washington. Why did I march? There are many reasons and I have cited them over time on Facebook, and Twitter, and in articles.
Those who follow my blog know that I have been a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton since 2008. As I watched the 2016 campaign season unfold, I couldn’t have been more disheartened. I heard large numbers of young women and young progressives generally commit to vote for Bernie Sanders during the primaries, saying that there’s no need for feminism and that women shouldn’t vote “with their vaginas” or for someone “just because” she’s a woman. I wrote extensively from various angles about why this was a misguided approach from my vantage point as a middle aged woman. Hillary Clinton was not just any woman.
She was the most qualified person—man or woman—to run for the presidency, ever.
She had devoted her entire adult life to progressive causes and to further the rights of women, children, families, minorities, the disabled, and more.
Her prospective election to the Presidency symbolized the first time the female perspective would be in the highest echelon of our federal government.
Indeed, Clinton gracefully bore the brunt of being a trailblazer from the time she attended Yale Law School, for decades, tenaciously determined to reach her goals and use her formidable smarts and skills for the greater good, despite the wider culture telling her to stay home and bake cookies.
She weathered false, sexist, and misogynistic attacks from her critics and opponents like a champion, demonstrating to all just how to go about being a strong and resilient (some would say nasty) woman. In the process, she helped pave the way for women to have opportunities like never before in American history—in world history, for that matter.
Yet, the younger Bernie supporters didn’t seem to know or care about any of this despite what anyone said or did. All that changed, however, seemingly in the blink of an eye, when the most highly qualified person to run for the presidency was narrowly defeated in the electoral college by the least qualified person ever to run for the presidency—a wealthy man who had never worked to help a soul other than himself, had zero government experience nor relevant background for the job, a con artist and pathological liar, and a known sexist, misogynistic, bigoted, admitted sex offender.
After November 8th, I began to hear more and more voices like my own, many coming from women who had never been political activists in their lives. The Woman’s March arose from the ashes of the wreckage of the shattered promise of an even more compassionate and progressive United States, and the grieving and despair that soon followed the election. It is the silver lining in the otherwise bleak and depressing cloud that is Trump’s America.
And speaking of Trump’s America, here are some stark contrasts I couldn’t help but observe between Inauguration Day (when I was in downtown DC for an event co-hosted by HuffPost) and March Day, between Trump’s supporters and Marchers:
On Inauguration Day
I rode the Metro to downtown DC around 8:30 am and had no problem getting a seat on a train normally packed with people heading for their workplaces. An older man with a rain poncho and his wife, and who held a map, kept staring at me, which I found rather creepy and disturbing. Further up in the car were a couple of people wearing red baseball caps. Spotted around the same time was a white man wearing a red shirt that proclaimed, “The Witch Is Dead,” an apparent reference to Hillary Clinton and slam against her supporters by a sore winner. A woman took a picture of him and shared it with me.
On Women’s March Day
I rode the Metro around 7:00 am and got a seat, but was surrounded by women and men heading to the march, wearing pink pussy hats and carrying signs. One woman in her 70’s from Maryland held a sign that said “I March for My Granddaughters’ Future,” with a shout out to Hillary Clinton: “We Still Love You...Thanks”; she told me she marched for women’s rights for the first time in the 1950s. Everyone was smiling and friendly. I also spoke with two female schoolteachers from Massachusetts who apparently decided not to go to the nearby Boston march and instead make the longer trek to DC.
On Inauguration Day
When I emerged from the Metro around 9:00 am, only two hours before the start of the Trump Inauguration, the scene was eerily quiet. Heading a few blocks over to the National Press Club, there were barriers set up, but very few people outside. Those people I saw tended to be male. The only people of color I observed were working at the Peet’s Coffee I stopped in to get coffee. The sky was grey with a foggy mist of rain. I saw a sign for the Trump Inauguration posted to a pole, which gave me a chill down my spine. The scene felt like something out of a dystopian movie. Seriously. Once inside the Press Club, at the HuffPost/Bustle event called “Watch Us Run,” I was transformed magically to another galaxy—listening to woman after woman talk about how we are going to use our skills to fight back against the man who was taking the oath of office about a mile away. Sometimes you just need to be in your bubble and this was one of those times.
On Women’s March Day
I honestly have never seen so many jubilant people together in my entire life. While packed in like sardines, straining to hear and see we were, almost to a person, a friendly, helpful group. Signs and pussy hats were everywhere—I saw an array of diversity representing the Melting Pot in which we all live. Given the crowded conditions and massive crowd size, it was striking that this remained a peaceful demonstration from start to finish and no arrests needed to be made.
In fact, the DC police were supportive of the Marchers throughout and some even donned pussy hats! One of my friends, who was a practicing physician in India where she’s from originally before moving to Washington, D.C., selflessly rushed to provide first aid to total strangers, and helped nine marchers avoid trips to the ER. We didn’t see her the vast majority of the day after an elderly woman behind us appeared to be on the verge of losing consciousness. My fellow organizers and I toted comfort kits with bandages, over-the-counter medications, and hand and toe warmers to help marchers in need. My male cousin in attendance with his girlfriend from Brooklyn reported that he has been involved in many protests and this one was striking in its “palpable, female energy that had a sense of positivity, clarity, grace, courteousness and, most notably, a kind of intelligence” that he had never seen before. You see, this social experiment revealed that women are peaceful and civilized and courteous even when assembling as a massive collection of diverse and fierce souls. Imagine if we were given the chance to run the show for once what that would look like!
However, as we approached the end of the march route, nearby the carousel on the Mall, my mood quickly turned from joyfulness to anguish. We were walking past three young white men, headed the opposite direction. Because so many marchers were supportive white boys and men (like my husband and son), we didn’t realize that they were Trump supporters. One of my March buddies is Muslim and was proudly wearing her hijab made from an American flag under her pussy hat. She carried a sign that said, “Profiling is Unconstitutional.” While so many people walking by—presumably marchers—had asked to take my friend’s photograph or simply gave us the thumbs up in a brief but unmistakeable message of solidarity, one of the tall male Trump supporters tried his hardest to shatter her feeling of being protected and safe and secure in her country. He veered off diagonally and headed straight towards her. Before we realized what was happening he had intentionally ran into her and kept going. She kept her footing but we looked back and saw the telltale red “Make America Great Again” cap. My friend’s attitude was remarkable and courageous I thought. “He is the loser,” she said. But then she added this, and my heart broke: “Muslims are treated like this all the time,” driving home the point again why it is so essential that we resist Donald Trump and the GOP, not just for ourselves but for all women, and especially those women who are marginalized for multiple reasons.
Still, we ended the March on a high note, without further incident. Having stayed to the end of the marathon rally (see complete footage of the March below, courtesy of Vox), we started marching late in the day. By the time we ended up near the White House, around dusk, I became emotional for the first time all day realizing that many marchers had left their signs—hundreds of them—along fences, for Donald Trump and all passersby to see. With the White House and Washington Monument lit up brightly in the background, I read many of them, and realized in that moment what we all had accomplished since Election Day simply by showing up in numbers too great to ignore. It was a bittersweet moment, and it left me feeling breathless.
Was the Women’s March on Washington perfect? No, though how could it be when staging such an epic, emotionally charged event, especially in such a short period of time. It didn’t help that crowd size was greatly underestimated, but there was an upside to that simple fact as well; a “conservative” estimate by FiveThirtyEight.com indicated that a whopping, record-breaking 3.2 million people showed up for Marches across the country, and estimates for the turnout in D.C. alone have varied but various sources have stated anywhere from about 500,000 to about 1 million, when organizers had originally expected about 200,000. Also, the March was distinctive in that it was organized from the grassroots up, gathering over 100 partner organizations by the time all was said and done, and not the other way around, as is typically the case for large demonstrations.
So, there was crowding, and waiting, and patience became a precious commodity and virtue. But for those of us who showed up, what we gained went well beyond attending a free outdoor show and strolling with family and friends for a mile and a half:
We suddenly realized that the efforts we had taken reflect an underlying passion and dedication to not only the cause of equality and justice for all women, but to our own highly personal reasons for being there in the first place.
We found in-the-flesh validation of and vindication for our views about the 2016 election, women’s and human rights, and the new administration.
We personally met and spoke with many people different from us, yet bonded nonetheless by coming together to support progressive principles that we hold dear.
We saw firsthand the power of showing up and making a political statement, and hopefully took away from this groundbreaking experience an unrelenting sense that we can’t go back—to complacency, to silence, to fear—but rather, must fight like hell against the forces seeking to turn back the clock to a time when women and minorities had no power in this country.
We heard from an array of speakers and artists, from Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis to Michael Moore and America Ferrera, to Alicia Keys and Madonna, imploring us that we must have the courage of our convictions and resist, by continuing to show up—both physically and metaphorically—in the days, weeks, months ahead, as we watch our state, federal, and local governments stand poised to strip away our current civil and human rights like never before in our lifetime.
Perhaps, in the end, the Women’s March was as much about discovering one’s voice, raising awareness, bridging gaps with those who are different from ourselves, and starting to come to grips about painful truths in this country, as it was about political activism. One of my friends, a white mother of two from Georgia, who considers herself to be a true moderate (conservative Democrat or liberal Republican), attended the March in Atlanta, and posted this on Facebook about her experience as a Marcher the day before—
As a woman next to me reminded me that I don't know what it's like to have a son that you fear for his life based on the color of his skin, it became evident that for so many [the March was about] a need to have their voices heard. I have never been PROUDER to be an American than I was yesterday.
If she hadn’t shown up, where or when else would she have had the opportunity to speak face to face with this woman, hear her perspective, and gain a greater understanding? We need more empathy and compassion, especially now. Coming together despite our differences is not the entire answer, but it’s a great way to start.