Editor’s Note: SheInTheCLE is a bipartisan platform for all women in Northeast Ohio.
“I think this is going to take awhile to get some perspective on and to process what I have just experienced.” That was my response the first time I spoke to my husband over the phone post-march. I knew it had been profound as I was compelled to tears a few times throughout the day, but how to find the words? What’s more, how am I to articulate an experience awash in so many ironies?
There hadn’t been any internet or phone accessibility at all during the march. Initially, I found that worrisome, but I ultimately liked how it ensured I remained present in the experience. Yet, for being in the heart of it all – in Washington D.C. - in the midst of the largest women’s march in history, being disconnected ensured we had no idea what was happening in the world, with Trump’s first day in Washington or even 15 feet ahead of us. We felt simultaneously isolated and included.
The ironies began before I even arrived in town. Leading up to the march (and inauguration) weekend, friends who had gone to Washington D.C. eight years prior for the inauguration weekend of President Obama, had posted photos. Decked out in their pro-Obama buttons and dressed head to toe in red, white and blue, their look was punctuated with their best accessories: their huge smiles and hope-filled faces. They were attending a parade.
I wasn’t going to Washington for a parade, It wasn’t a celebration, and I wasn’t particularly filled with hope. This trip was a response to a battle cry and I felt overwhelmingly compelled to respond. I wasn’t boarding a plane for a vacation but to defend the future life my daughter will grow up is now growing up in. My daughter, Penny, turns two next month. I had been filled with hope that she was going to witness a female President, sending her the message that there is an open path in our society for girls to reach the greatest heights. That hope has since been replaced by fear, as we seem to be going backward now, not forward. We are currently swimming in open-misogyny. That misogyny was exemplified by and thus approved by, the President himself, giving license to all those closet-misogynists to come out into the open. And sadly, they have.
Saturday morning, the day of the march, my friends and I set out around 9 a.m. and were met by a train clearly past max capacity. With urgency and desperation in our eyes, those near the door somehow made room for the three of us in my group. Yet, at the 11 subsequent stops, we were met with the same look of desperation to get onto that train. Each time, a train full of people with no more ability to squeeze together or make more room, squeezed together and made more room. This would be the metaphor for the entire day: Inexplicable amounts of people being kind to one another and banding together to support each other’s cause(s).
The smiles, congeniality, and patience on the train defied all logic. Even the most steely of minds ought to have felt some level of claustrophobia (and many of us were almost there). But, on the whole, people were still smiling.
When we spilled out of the train (and we did spill) We emptied into throngs of people let out before us, with signs already raised, and chanting all around us. We were in the right place.
We moved en masse, rather un-cattle-like, despite the obvious analogy. These throngs moved jovially and enthusiastically towards the escalators to street level. When we emerged onto the street, we were already in the thick of it. Speakers echoing all around, people on tippy-toes to see the screens putting faces and even more emotion to those voices and everyone photographing everyone with their otherwise non-functioning phones. Despite the crowds and food trucks, the oddity of it was that there was no previous experience that I could relate it to. It was not a parade.
For the most part, the only direction one could really look all day was up. You looked up for air, you looked up for a sense of freedom amidst crowds so intensely close and deep, and you looked up to read the signs! Oh! The signs!
Between the signs and the speakers (and MADONNA !!!!!), the crowd remained energized throughout. Even with a several hour-long-delay to the march, the throngs made the most of it. People were sharing food with neighbors, introducing themselves to those around them, and exchanging stories of where we were from and for whom we were marching.
From 9 a.m. until about 4 p.m. (5 maybe? I have no idea!) we swam up and down stream with crowds that felt a lot closer to a million people than half that. Either way, it was an incredible crowd to be sure. A crowd chanting, “Show me what democracy looks like” - “This is what democracy looks like!” A crowd comprised of friends, mothers and daughters, sisters, co-workers, and organizations made up of men and women, people of all ages (literally, from infants - octogenarians). People representing all races and religions as well as an awe-inspiring number of people with disabilities and in wheelchairs.
There were speeches, entertainment, chanting, marching and impromptu mini-rallies and mini-marches throughout the entire area for the entire day. Sometimes it was difficult to know if you were in the “real one” but what’s the difference, really? Hours later than scheduled, the entire mass of people left the area around the rally point and marched through D.C past the Washington monument, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and right into to President’s Park and towards the back side of The White House. Here, a temporary fence bore nearly every sign that marched before us and presumably after. Marchers, marching right up to it and depositing their signs, blanketing the lawn in our hopes, our demands and fears.
“Today is only DAY ONE.” It was said by many throughout that day and it was the greatest take away from the experience. This march and the marches all over the country and indeed, the world, signified the beginning of a new way of life for many of us. In truth, I don’t prefer to be political. I find it overwhelmingly negative, stressful and time-consuming. But, I cannot afford to be laissez-faire anymore. What stands to be lost is far too great. After all, I went to Washington to march, not for a parade.