On Saturday morning in D.C., we had to push our way onto the Metro. It wasn’t like rush hour on the subway in Manhattan, though, where everyone stares with dead eyes in the silence except for the occasional “ouch” when someone steps on your toes. Here, in this train full of women, many wearing pink hats and carrying signs, and some, like myself, just bundled up for the cold, there was an excited buzz. Everyone was quick to say where they had come from — Florida, Los Angeles, Seattle, Des Moines, New Orleans, New Hampshire — just to participate in the march we were all heading to.
We all had our reasons
I came with my boyfriend’s mother, Beth, a D.C. resident of three decades, and two of her friends from Atlanta, Frank and Joan. There was a lot of talk about bubbles this election cycle, which very well might be a fair assessment, and so, at the March, I attempted to leave the bubble I know and love so dear — my good friends, all Millennials living in New York with creative jobs — to share the experience with others I did not know as well. Though I shared certain ideals about gender and racial equality with my compatriots, they came with their own worries about America. Instead of fighting for a spot near the stage, we joined the throngs on Jefferson Avenue, far from the speakers but close enough to the action to be huddled with thousands tightly packed around us.
If you’ve lived through a number of elections you have a sense that this is not normal.
There I met Wanda Moffat, a literature professor who had traveled with her husband and son-in-law from the town west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She, like many protestors, was inspired to come after the election. “Many of my students were very shocked and kind of staggered and didn’t know what would happen,” said Moffat. “If this is your first or second time voting this might seem strange or dispiriting. If you’ve lived through a number of elections you have a sense that this is not normal.” She pointed to a bumper sticker she sported on her back, which her husband had given her, and others, as a Christmas present. It read, “IT’S NOT OK.” “I think the worst thing that could happen is we could normalize him,” she said.
Anything but normal
The idea that the current state of affairs is not normal was everywhere at the March. Standing at the cross section of so many generations and cultures — some marchers were but babes in arms while others were spry grandparents pushing 80 and represented a full rainbow of religions, ethnicities, and genders — everyone was brought together by a feeling that they needed to do something to make sure their concerns were heard.
Another woman near us, Wanda Hubbard, explained that she had driven all the way from Boston by herself. “I had no choice,” Wanda told me about her decision to make the voyage. “This is about citizenship.” Hubbard, an Assistant Director of Government Compliance in Massachusetts, spoke of her distress at the election results, and said, “I had to look at me, and say, ‘What am I not doing?’”
Though the inspiration for the march might have originally stemmed from a cry of outrage, many hopes came together. I met people who were shouting out for issues that directly affect themselves and their community, like young women who cared about affordable and easy access to birth control and a family from a South Dakota reservation who spoke out against the DAPL. Young women sporting pro-choice signs with slogans about women’s reproductive rights chanted near Catholic nuns who carried signs about loving thy neighbor and protecting immigrants and refugees.
Not a march for all women
Of course, while millions of women marched, many more stayed home. One such woman, Rebekah Alemagno, told me she was put off by the what she had heard about the event. “I felt very frustrated this weekend when I saw the coverage of many of the marches for a few reasons,” Alemagno wrote. “I couldn’t identify what it was that all of these women were assembling to support. Some called it a ‘march,’ others called it a ‘protest,’ and the reasons that different individuals gave for participating were so varied, didn’t all have direct ties to women’s issues, and (in some cases) were so exclusionary that I did not feel that I would have been welcome, given the fact that I do not agree with all of the platforms.”
We have to stay strong and assertive and not glaze over any privilege we have.
For the 500,000 who did march on Washington though, in a peaceful manner, these differences seemed more like conversation points. A woman who agreed with the fight for equal pay for equal work, did not necessarily need to agree with a call for prison reform. Only to greet these ideas with the possibility that their experience was different from your own.
Two younger women, who had been starting chants behind us like “this is what democracy looks like” and “save my healthcare” were also brought together that day, despite being total strangers. Tori Claflin, 23, of Buffalo said, “I’m here for people of all races. We can’t normalize bigotry. We have to stay strong and assertive and not glaze over any privilege we have.” Corrie Hall, 31, of Michigan said she came because, “I want this administration to know they can’t take away our rights without a fight.”
When it was time to start marching, the route chosen by the organizers was too full of supporters, who stretched all the way from in front of the stage down another 10 blocks and spilled onto Jefferson, where we stood, and beyond. So instead of moving slowly down Independence Ave., we erupted onto the National Mall. Looking ahead to the Washington Monument, veiled in fog but still visible in its splendor, we finally had a sense of the scope of the rally as a sea of peaceful dissenters came crashing into the National Park. Beth and I held hands as we weaved through the crowd, united originally in a love for her son, but then, more importantly, as two people sharing in the democratic process.
Did you participate in the Women’s March? Tell us why (or why you chose not to) in the comments below!
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