I’ve been trying to write something profound about how it felt to be at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st but the best I can come up with is…
Seriously, if the word “wow” means mind blowing and life altering.
I met my friend Jennifer, another mom of a daughter with a serious medical condition, in New Jersey. She and I then travelled by charter bus sponsored by the Unitarian Church to Washington DC. The first time I said “wow” was at a rest stop in Delaware. There were hundreds of busses packed with thousands of excited women. We were all going to Washington DC that cold, foggy morning. The weather wouldn’t keep us home.
In Washington, the bus crept into the stadium parking lot. After parking, we joined the long line of women, men and some children in pink pussy hats, carrying signs and talking excitedly. The security person shouted that the Metro was overwhelmed, but if we wanted to catch a ride, turn left and wait about an hour. “Or walk two miles that way.” Jennifer and I chose to walk. Thousands of us walked, filling the sidewalks and roads with cheerful protest songs. The march had begun and we weren’t at the event yet.
When we reached the Capitol building we stood on the steps and looked across the Capitol Mall, stunned by the hundreds of thousands of people we saw. It was a milling sea of pink capped people. Slowly we walked into the crowd, unsure of what we’d find. There were so many angry, frustrated, mobilized people, but instead of rioting or breaking windows, people were holding signs, singing songs, and talking to each other. A woman stood on the edge of the reflection pool, holding up a sign and described her sign as if she was Donald Trump. “My sign is soo huuuuuge.” “This the greatest sign of all time. I promise. It’s great.” “This sign will make America great again.” Everyone laughed and cheered.
We We pushed on, trying to reach the main stage where the speakers were, determined to catch a glimpse of Angela Davis. As we got closer to 3rd and Independence, people stopped moving and we were surrounded, shoulder to shoulder, pressed forward and then back by the waves of the crowd. No more room at the stage area. The larger than expected crowd of women had maxed designated space and spilled out into the surrounding roads.
Managing to turn around, we struggled like eels fighting up stream and made it to the line for the porta-potties. Might as well stand in line for 30 minutes; by the time it’s our turn to pee we’ll need to go. People chatted and laughed at signs or discussed politics. Occasionally a cheer would rise from the stage area and then spread outward to our line, passing by in a wave of sound. A famous person would walk through a cordoned off security passage. We caught a glimpse of Drew Kerry’s neck. More cheers passed through and onward and we wondered who was speaking.
After using the porta-potties, Jennifer and I decided to try and work around the edge of the crowd to where the march was to officially start. Only problem: there was no edge to the crowd! We thought we found it but instead of widening, the pathway narrowed and we were squeezed with a thousand others onto a sidewalk between cement barriers. The crowd stopped. No where to go. We had to wait for the crowd to move as one before we could escape. But rather than feeling anxious, I was calm. The crowd stayed calm. People were impatient, but not enough people became agitated to cause any problems. One woman and her friends forced their way through the crowd with a force so strong she spun me, which then spun Jennifer and then the woman behind us, as if we were all attached to cogs! Instead of getting mad, we three laughed. I glanced to the other side and realized I was pressed against a movie star. She and I chatted, but I didn’t break her cover. On this day, we were all just women.
At last the crowd was allowed to move and the march began! Jennifer and I unfolded our banner, a pink blanket with “Respect Young Women with Disabilities” embossed on it, as well as the names of young women we were representing. My daughter’s name was next to Jennifer’s daughter’s name, and next to those names were the names of daughters of friends. So many young women who are under threat by the Trump presidency. We walked in the street and chanted with others. We stood beside a teacher in front of the Department of Education Building and held up a sign that said, “Protect Our Schools.” Three teachers fighting for education. I’m sure there were thousands of teachers there that day.
The march lasted two blocks. As the marchers rounded a corner we crashed into another crowd of people being pushed back from the stage area. Jennifer and I realized we had to get back to the other side of the crowd so we could catch our shuttle bus on time, but how? We dove in and wiggled up stream again, but were tossed back over and over by the force of people. Finally we found a way through by squeezing behind food trucks and stepping over boxes. It took 45 minutes to travel one block. We were exhausted and still had to walk two miles to the bus parking lot.
Sitting on a curb to rest, we watched four young women take turns snapping pictures of each other. Jennifer got up and asked if they wanted a group photo. The women smiled and said thank you, then posed with their signs pronouncing, “Black Lives Matter.” I wasn’t tired any more. Their excitement and energy filled me with joy. These young women were probably in their early twenties and were thrilled to be a part of history. They believed down to their bones change could happen. My 50 year old jaded self wanted to cry, because in that moment, I knew how they felt.
We rested again in Lincoln park after walking a mile and watched thousands of protestors walk by, heading back to their shuttle bus just as we were. Everyone was so happy. Tired, but inspired! The police were still smiling at the end of a long day and I realized they had been kind and respectful all day. I never felt threatened. The locals watched us walk by their homes and waved and cheered, as thrilled by our protest as we were.
On the bus, everyone slept, worn out from such an epic day. I now know what that word means too. Epic. A part of history. Something that has changed me. Reframed my way of looking at the world. And all I can say is…