Not only can we connect instantly to people all over the world thanks to social media, we can also organize in mass with a common goal. January 21, 2017 witnessed this phenomenon first hand, as 5 million people marched in over 80 different countries across the globe in the Women’s March on Washington. In a statement released by the organization, they estimated “about 1.2 million people gathered in Washington, D.C. and another 3 million gathered in cities and towns across our nation, making the Women's March the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history.” They even postulated this event could have been the largest mass globally organized protest in human history.
At first I was hesitant to commit to the march out of fear it would be watered down by the media and labeled as an “anti-Trump” rally without addressing the real concerns of the people. I also had a legitimate fear of crowds. I like my space. Getting caught in mass pandemonium would be like a fish trying to swim out of a net full of hundreds of other fish. However, two days before the march, my heart won over and I knew I would regret sitting this one out.
Despite needing to arrange a place to stay last minute, I had no trouble finding something, thanks to the work of dedicated organizers behind the event who made sure the rally and march were accessible by all. Their website, Facebook page, and downloadable Ap all provided information about the location and time of the rally, the metro, places to stay, transport, and even locations of nursing stations, warming buses, and toilets on the march route. I used March BNB, a service on the Women’s March website that allowed locals in DC to offer their home to travelers coming to the march. I was touched when I heard back almost instantly from about 15 hosts, each offering me a warm place to stay at no cost.
The family I ended up staying with was Beth DuBoff and her husband Scott. Arriving Friday evening (the day before the march) after an 11 hour drive from Florida, I was greeted with hugs by an amiable couple in their 60s, who kept sweetly apologizing for not having the outside lights on for my arrival. I however was silly with excitement over landing myself in the best possible situation I could imagine. The house was buzzing and I found myself surrounded by fellow marchers and warm food. Beth’s 75 year old sister is a nun of Sisters of St Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island and traveled down to meet 175 of her sisters for the march. There were also two guys who were college students in Asheville, NC, a mom and daughter who traveled down from Brooklyn, New York, and a woman who came up by herself from Orlando, Florida. It was like a hostel for the politically weary. Or maybe more rightly so, the politically inspired. That night was filled with conversation about plans for the next day as well as an exchange of news, thoughts, and concerns about the election, human rights, and why we were marching. I was blown away by the hospitality of this family, who confided in me they had never let a bunch of strangers come stay in their home before. When I asked Beth why she decided to add her home to the March BNB listing, she replied “I wanted to help the best I could”.
I barely slept that night in anticipation of the next day’s events. In the morning, I was jumping out of my hiking boots ready for the day. I left the house armed with my water bottle, poster board sign, warm puffy jacket, emergency snacks, and cell phone. Just a little journalist nerd, stoked for what I knew would be a momentous day not only for our country, but also for myself. I needed to feel that energy around me and let it fill my heart and my camera lens, so I could prove I was not alone.
Beth’s husband Scott had a nasty cough at the time, so he didn’t go to the march but instead kindly drove us to the metro station. Since we had so many people, Beth also drove and left her car in the parking lot. In anticipation of the crowds, Beth had bought us each metro cards in advance the day before. Once on the Metro, at each preceding stop more and more people, mostly women, boarded the Metro decked out with banners, signs, hats, pins, and home-made shirts. Soon enough we were so packed tight that not only was my hair in someone’s mouth behind me, but when I dropped my hat on the ground, it was quite an event to snatch it back up.
Gazing out the window at the sea of pink whirring by at each platform, I overheard someone say they hadn’t seen the Metro this packed since Obama’s inauguration. In fact, the Metro later released numbers that showed a drastic difference in metro traffic compared to Trump’s inauguration. By 11am, 275,000 people had taken Metrorail on the day of the Women’s March on Washington, while on President Trump’s Inauguration Day, by 11 am only 193,000 trips had been taken. Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 tops them both, with a whopping 513,000 rides on Metrorail by 11am.
Packed in the Metro like sardines, it was hard not to stare at people because they were literally in your face anyway. The girl in front of me noticed me admiring her pins and told me to reach my hand into her pocket and take one for myself. She said whatever I pulled out was the one I must keep. I excitedly reached in, feeling a lot like I was reaching into Marry Poppins’ magical bag. I pulled out a pin that read “gay rights are human rights” with rainbow colors behind it. I smiled and stuck it to the strap on my camera.
Exiting the metro I suddenly found myself at the National Mall, with the Capitol looming majestically in the distance and crowds of people walking toward the rally location. I turned in circles trying to take it all in, snapping photos in all directions. There wasn’t a shortage of interesting signs to read or people to spot. We packed ourselves near one of the giant screens broadcasting the live footage of the rally, which was happening just a few blocks up. I was mesmerized by the energy and people I was surrounded by. Even when the group I came with had to fall back to get away from the crowds, I stayed where I was. I knew I would never find them again, but that didn’t matter, because I was not alone. A woman in a head scarf stood to my left, a child sitting on top of the shoulders of her dad was visible in front, and a sea of various skin colors, ages, and ethnicities surrounded me. I chatted with the climate scientists, teachers, and policy makers who stood nearest to me. We were all there for different reasons from different parts of the country, but united in the common goal of unity and equality.
The speakers and performers who rocked the stage held everyone’s breath and attention. Each guest speaker brought tears to our eyes and broke the silence as laughter and cheers erupted from the crowd. Actress America Ferrera spearheaded the opening performance with a powerful message of hope and resistance:
“We march today for our families, and our neighbors, and our future. For the causes we claim and the causes that claim us. We march today for the moral core of this nation….We reject the demonization of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortion. We will not ask our LGBTQ neighbors to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance.”
Some other guest speakers include singer songwriter Alicia Keys, actress Scarlett Johansson, a 5-year-old girl Sophie Cruz, Planned Parenthood Federation President Cecile Richards, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Washington, DC's mayor Muriel Bowser, the star of the most recent women powered film Hidden Figures, Janelle Monáe, and many more. To see footage of the entire rally, check out the full coverage by the Washington Post. Harry Potter actress and Ambassador for UN Women, Emma Watson, was even spotted among the crowd. Emma has delivered her own powerful speech on gender while campaigning for the HeforShe campaign.
The rally lasted nearly four hours, and people grew restless to march, eventually chanting “March!” as their legs begged to move. When the organizers finally announced the beginning of the march, movement and energy coursed through the streets as marchers headed towards the White House. There were chants echoing from different parts of the crowd. One began with one person shouting “Show me what a democracy looks like!” followed by a group response of “this is what a democracy looks like!” Another rendition of that was “Show me what a feminist looks like!” with the response “This is what a feminist looks like!” There was also the “we want a leader, not a freaky tweeter!”, which was sometimes replaced with a different sort of “F” word. Posters and signs from the march were left in front of the Whitehouse, in front of the Trump International Hotel, and in front of the Capitol.
With so many intersecting issues like Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, Muslim and immigration rights, health care equality, environmental accountability, and women’s rights, this movement culminates as a massive unified movement towards human rights and equality for all. The platform of the march was built on intersectionality, a term first coined back in 1989 by civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Intersectionality is the idea that one group cannot be truly freed from oppression without acknowledging the interconnectedness of multiple identity groups. For example, if you liberate the LGBTQ community while racism is still an endemic reality, many of these individuals will still be left behind. Same goes for women within this bracket. There is no end to the many layers that must be peeled back. Amongst these intersecting identities, you will find a common goal: freedom. It’s clear that the Women’s March on Washington might be one of the most diverse movements in history, and it’s not over. You can still be a part of the change by joining the 10 Actions in 100 Days Campaign launched by the march organizers, which helps you create real change in your own community.
After the crowds had dispersed, I lingered at the National Mall as the setting sun formed a pastel backdrop for the Capitol. I sat there marveling at the beauty of the buildings and lingering energy surrounding me, feeling a sense of peace and humbled respect for our country, not particularly because of its leaders in government, but because of the people holding it together. I had never been to a rally or march in my life, so for obvious reasons, I was both nervous and excited before I arrived. Those two emotions usually go hand in hand, right? That’s how you know you’re doing something big. When your butt can’t sit still in your seat and your mind keeps going like a never-ending film reel. Some things in life you don’t choose to do, they choose you. After standing in the streets of Washington DC, surrounded by a sea of pink “pussy hats”, I knew I was in the right place, and that this was the first day of a revolution I was destined to be a part of all along.