A Day of Hope: Women’s March on Washington
I signed up for the Women’s March in Washington D.C. on a whim. I registered in mid-December, when the election results were still raw. I had almost forgotten about it until I heard that by early January, hotels were booking out and transportation costs were sky-rocketing. I wondered if I would still be able to go. I hadn’t realized how much momentum the movement had gained.
Like many others, I didn’t believe Trump could become President. It seemed too absurd, too ridiculous, too scary. I was so tired of the media and political circus in the lead up to the election, I completely disengaged from the news. I barely kept up-to-date, relying on headline notifications from my news apps as my main source of information. I also felt a little powerless – I’m an ex-pat in the US; I can’t vote, so I wasn’t sure what I could do.
My head was spinning in the days after the election. I was sad and shocked and angry at myself for being so complacent. I snapped out of my willful blindness and started paying attention again. I knew this was going to be a terrifying era of racism, sexism, prejudice and oppression of minorities. Registering for the march was one small thing I could do to fight back. This was my first proper protest march – the only other time I came close to one was when I watched a protest from the sidelines in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, protesting the US (with Australian support) invasion Iraq in 2003.
Like many others, I didn’t believe Trump could become President. It seemed too absurd, too ridiculous, too scary. I was so tired of the media and political circus in the lead up to the election, I completely disengaged from the news.
I left New York City at 5.30pm on Friday, January 20. The bus was full with (mostly) other women, who were carrying protest signs and knitting the now famous pink Pussy Hats. I was traveling solo, meeting up with a friend later that night in D.C. Thankfully, my friend’s brother lives in D.C., so we had free accommodation. I paid a little more than usual for a bus ticket, but I was very pleased to be going.
The traffic was heavy getting into D.C. – they were predicting upwards of 250,000 attendees. It was long ride in, the usual four hour trip taking six. I arrived just before midnight, and met my friend and some others at Archipelago Bar. I went to bed a tad later than I should have, and I woke up early on the day of the march – January 21.
I was tired and a little worse for wear, but after a coffee and a bagel, I was ready to go. My friend and I met up with a group of people and we began walking towards the National Mall. The crowds were beginning to swell miles away from where we wanted to be. The rally was due to start at 10am, but we couldn’t get even remotely close to where it was. In fact, I still have no idea where the rally was in relation to where we were, but we kept walking in the general vicinity of the National Mall until we couldn’t walk any further. We hit a deadlock of people.
I knew this was going to be a terrifying era of racism, sexism, prejudice and oppression of minorities. Registering for the march was one small thing I could do to fight back.
This would usually be an extremely frustrating and claustrophobic situation, but the spectacle of the crowd was enough to provide hours of entertainment. The signs, the signs, the signs! They ranged from the serious – like the one I was carrying, – “Don’t Normalize Misogyny” – to the semi-serious – “Girls just want to have FUN-DAMENTAL rights” – to the tongue in cheek – “This Pussy Grabs Back!” – to the hopeful “Love Trumps Hate” – to the exasperated “UGH!” – to the frustrated – “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this SHIT!” – and to the darkly hilarious – “Free Melania!”
The vibe was nothing but positive. Everyone was polite, no one was shoving through the crowd, people were chanting and singing and cheering. A person in our group was carrying a sign that read “Guns in schools are not a BEAR necessity” (a reference to incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s comments about having guns in schools to protect students from bears), which provided some comic relief, as he would randomly start a chant of “Keep bears out of schools, people! The bears are devouring our children! Let’s pay attention to the real issues, people!” Everyone around us laughed.
Another friend had brought extremely creepy and lifelike “tiny hands” to wear on his fingers, a reference to Trump’s allegedly tiny hands and his tiny… you know what. These were a real hit with the crowd. My friends wearing the tiny hands were stopped every few minutes by someone wanting a photo with said tiny hands. This may seem like we weren’t taking the march seriously, but sometimes you just need a good laugh and a bit of humor to get through a bleak situation.
It became clear that we would have no idea where or when the march would start – there was just too many people and we couldn’t hear any official announcements. The march was due to start at 1.15pm, and we waited until about 1pm until we decided to just, well, start walking. Many others started doing this too. We turned onto Constitution Ave and found even more people marching, so we joined the stream, heading towards the White House. At this stage, we still had no idea how many people were marching or if we were on the right route. All I could see was a sea of pink hats and clever signs. Occasionally there would be a rallying cry of “Show we what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” or “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” However, people were mostly peacefully walking and enjoying themselves.
The signs, the signs, the signs! They ranged from the serious – “Don’t Normalize Misogyny” – to the semi-serious – “Girls just want to have FUN-DAMENTAL rights” – to the tongue in cheek “This Pussy Grabs Back!” – to the hopeful “Love Trumps Hate” – to the exasperated “UGH!” – to the frustrated – “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this SHIT!” – and to the darkly hilarious – “Free Melania!”
As we made our way down Constitution Ave, I found myself experiencing a flood of emotion at random times. I got a lump in my throat like when I read a sign I found particularly moving, or when the crowd would start cheering at a young girl waving a sign on the sidewalk. My eyes welled up when a group of women starting singing “Let it Be”. I shed a few tears on more than one occasion, because the feeling of unity and solidarity among women and everyone at the march was overwhelming, in a warm and fuzzy way.
We had lost several members of our group after we got swept up in the crowd on Constitution Ave, so I was only with two other people by the time we made it to the White House. We had walked for about two hours, but had been at the event for about five hours, so we decided to head home. It wasn’t until we turned into Pennsylvania Ave that we realized the march was much, much bigger than we thought. Thousands of people were also marching down Pennsylvania Ave. There were huge stands set up on the sidewalks for people to sit on and watch the march. Every way we looked, there were people flooding the streets, marching towards the White House, waving signs and cheering. We managed to cut across the crowd and found ourselves walking up the hill of 14th Street.
As we got further up the hill, we turned around to get a better view, and our jaws dropped to the floor. The streets were full of people, as far as the eye could see. It was a blur of signs and pink hats; there was not an inch of the road that wasn’t covered by someone marching. It didn’t seem real, that this many people could fill the streets, wall to wall between the buildings that lined the roads. It was incredible to see that this many people had showed up.
I realized as we stood on the hill of 14th Street that I had been part of a special moment in history. A moment where women, those who support women and those who oppose extreme and oppressive politics came together and rallied. I knew this was just the beginning of a larger resistance movement. But at that moment, I was full of hope for the future.
A Day of Hope: Women’s March on Washington photo credit by Unsplash.