I saw so many things at the Women’s March. I felt so many things.
Were we perfect? No.
Were we together? Yes.
Did we love? Absolutely.
“Sound and Color”
The Women’s March on Washington offered a visual representation of how Americans feel right now. From signs and posters to crowd chants and body art, attendees delivered their messages through sound and color. A form of poster poetry accented the signs at the march along with chants, calls, and answers. With signs reading “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance”, “I’m with Her” with arrows pointing in every direction, and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” the sentiment was focused more on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. The “anything goes” atmosphere did have one boundary—check your judgement at the door.
The rally started at 10:00 a.m. on Independence Avenue just one street from the National Mall. Crowds converged early, the masses condensing by the time we arrived at 9:30 a.m. We staked our spot on a raised sidewalk, above the crowd, in view of a Jumbotron. The speakers presented their passion, frustration, hope and calls to action through a combination of speeches, spoken word, musical performances, poetry, and battle cries. They spoke the minds of everyone present with courage. This was a bold move in the face of a regime that, to attendees, feels like fascism. With talk of registries and “stop and frisk” campaign promises, many ask when the slippery slope will lead our government to curtail our freedom to speak our minds and our dissent.
“Close your browsers. Open your eyes.”
When Americans woke on November 9th, many were shaken to the core–a sentiment that the winning side could not comprehend. Nevertheless I, along with at least 2.9 million other Americans were moved in a way we never had been before. In Donald Trump, many Americans did not see themselves. They asked the question, “How can my leader be so unlike me? How can the President of the United States of America represent all that I am not?”
We were scared.
We opened our browsers and tried to understand. We searched through our feeds and our news media and each other to try to understand. Media had stolen the minds of America, and back in we went. Responses ranged from fear, hate, anger, denial and grief to rebellion expressed through memes, shares and rants. In today’s digital age, media rules. A pandemic of internet addiction plagues the world, robbing American citizens of their memories of interaction, community engagement, and neighborly love. Quips and cutting retorts are easy when you reply on Facebook or speak before you think on Twitter.
I am certain that Trump supporters felt the same way about Hillary Clinton as those on the losing side of the election felt about Trump. Clinton represented everything that they were against. Unfortunately, this reality left both parties without a unifying candidate–so goes the political upset of November 9, 2016, when the popular vote was hung by the electoral college.
“Not My President”
The Women’s March on Washington was exactly what we needed. People chose to love their neighbors as themselves. They showed that they weren’t afraid to speak up for their fellow-man–that they weren’t afraid to speak their minds out loud to each other in the real world. There were mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, boyfriends, sisters, wives, daughters, sons, lesbians, Muslims, whites, Jews, blacks, gays, lovers, friends – but above all – humans who showed up. People smiled at one another. People laughed. People expressed their passion. We the People set our boundary for basic human rights.
When I decided to go to the March on Washington, I expected a crowd of 100,000 people. I’ve seen large crowds before, but had never been to a political rally or march. I didn’t know what was going to happen exactly, but I knew that I needed to be a part of it. I was blown away by the outpouring of support that I saw across the world on Saturday, January 21, 2016.
“This is what Democracy looks like.”
When we decided to leave our cozy wall at the rally for a restroom break, we had no idea what we were walking into. The crowd surpassed the chaos of a hundred Bourbon St. Mardi Gras celebrations combined. If the people behind me had pushed, my feet would have lifted from the ground. After navigating through a sea of marchers and reconnecting with our group, we hit the National Mall. The steps of the National Gallery were packed with people and the streets lining the interior of the Mall were full. We headed north towards the downtown D.C. district, and as we neared the corner our hearts fluttered with a new level of astonishment. For as far as we could see, marchers were headed south towards the Mall.
The outpouring and show of support at the Women’s March on Washington helped the losing half of America(and the world) recognize that we were not alone in our fears. We were not alone in our craving for validation that “love, not hate, that’s what makes America great.” In the skewed digital reality that the voting public has grown accustomed to, it is easy to forget that you are not alone. It is easy to believe that all hope is lost. It is easy to feel surrounded by people who believe that racism and sexism are normal and “okay”.
The spirit of the march as an entity was organic. The crowd moved as one with everyone working together. People who had a higher vantage point helped the masses navigate. When the meeting point became overcrowded, the masses split. As cell phone signals were jammed and social media experienced radio silence, the organizers used the crowd to communicate. Like a wave travelling across the sea of marchers, the message “Turn around. Down the mall.” told us where we needed to go. We worked together in unity, which was a feeling that many had forgotten–what it was like to work together with your neighbor or a stranger to create the desired outcome.
The line “No man is an island entire to itself” rings true in light of the March and relates to the Internet’s power to alienate and numb our senses. Mr. Trump would do well to read John Donne’s poem in full. The power of the March lies not in slogans or chants or sheer numbers, although they are stunning. The power of the Women’s March on Washington is that it reminded us that we are all in this together and we are all human beings on this Earth. With every sense on high alert, the March made me feel alive. I touched strangers in the crowd. I helped people twice my age climb up onto a wall so they could see and hear the rally speakers. I smelled burning sage as a Native American cleansed the streets of Washington D.C. I heard the low rumble of a chant become the roar of a message that resonated within my body through my voice. I felt moved by how much love accented our March with kindness, care, and mutual respect granted amongst nearly 1 million people.
I saw democracy and it humbled me.
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”
Intersectional Feminism, as put forth by the Women’s March leaders, authentically encompassed the spirit of that gathering. There were examples of first wave feminists with signs addressing equal pay, or playfully challenging the female stereotype: “A Woman’s Place is in the Rebellion”. Second wave feminists held symbols of uteri, breasts and vaginas. Their message was poetically chanted with calls and response such as “Her body, her choice” sung by men, with women answering “my body my choice”. Third wave feminists had signs stating “Down with the Patriarchy” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”. All of these historical movements were now joined by a fourth wave of feminism which aims to address issues of gender and racial equality, as well as other threats facing our world like human accelerated climate change. With this new brand of feminism, people of all colors carried “Black Lives Matter” signs. Messages were displayed in a variety of languages. Ralliers such as Linda Sarsour spoke vibrantly about being a proud immigrant American. No one asked your gender according to your birth certificate or based onwhom you slept next to. Pro-science activists marched in lab coats. The incidentals traditionally used as descriptors had no bearing on the greater message: “all of us are human, all of us are equal”. This new movement, formed in the hours after the November 2016 election and solidified on 1/21/17, supports and defends human rights, which like it or not continue to be under attack in our country and around the world – as they have been since the beginning of time.
So all of this begs the question: where do we go from here? As we rounded the corner onto Constitution Avenue en route to the White House, I saw the massive convergence of marchers that made history. The international outcry against prejudice, nationalism, and exclusion created a feeling of togetherness that I’ve never felt before.
However, I did not leave the march feeling warm and fuzzy. I have actually struggled for days now with an utter sense of hopelessness and depression. Why? Because 4 million people confirmed my worst fears–that the threat to our social progress,
environment, and the safety and security of not only our brothers and sisters of color and alternative creed, but to our own way of life was real. How do we combat this? How do we speak up and convince religious and financially driven senators, representatives, and other elected officials that they are undermining and misrepresenting their electorate? For those that agree with them, do my voice and the voices of 2.9 million others not matter? I feel deeply hurt by people I love and care about, who would so frivolously disregard my voice and the voices of their neighbors. I will lose health coverage, access to first time home buying programs, and potentially my job through the destruction of the NEA and NEH. Those weren’t even the main reasons for my marching in D.C. I wish this didn’t feel personal, but it does.
“Have courage. Be kind”
Approaching the White House lawn, the feeling in the air was one of positivity, victory, and completion. The logistics of getting to the march weren’t easy. As we walked, I noticed a topless woman ahead of me. Every passerby in the opposite direction commented, “She must be cold!”. However, she walked on with her head up and her shoulders back–strong. I thanked her for her bravery. To show your vulnerability as a form of protest to those who might shame or scare you –here was the lesson to be learned. That we must be strong and courageous in the face of uncertainty. That it is a requirement as an American citizen to look around at the vulnerability of others and have compassion. We will not achieve a true understanding of each other if we cannot fathom what those in the opposite circumstances might face. The tables have turned. Where much of Trump-voting America felt they had no voice, now the other half of America feel that their way of life is under attack. Trump’s America could not comprehend the policies put in place to benefit people hundreds of miles away in “big, liberal, elite” cities. What works for one of us, may not work for us all. But we must aim to find common ground, or the divide we see today will grow. With the vast majority of our interactions being digital, we communicate through a filter. Quick, witty, angry responses are par for the course. In the real world we aren’t so quick to shame others or respond angrily. The decisive battles will not be fought online, via emails and Facebook posts, but in the human world where people make phone calls and show up.
Close your browsers and open your eyes.