Women's March on Washington
Going to the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, the day after the presidential inauguration, was one of the best experiences of my life. I had been to marches and huge events before, but none like this. It was so full of warm, thoughtful people. At some point halfway through, I realized that my cheeks were sore from my ear-to-ear smiling. Just taking in all of the chants and reading the signs and looking at other people kept me brimming with happiness. It was so joyous! I wish I could relive it again and again.
I had been a little nervous about going because I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be rowdy Trump supporters? Would it get violent? Were the police going to be aggressive? The march’s website said there would be security to prevent violence and that they really wanted everyone to be peaceful protesters, but I still had no idea what would happen. And no one was really sure how big the crowd would be.
What we saw when we first arrived (by the National Gallery), before the march had started, was that tons of people had gathered—so many that you could barely move. As a crowd-hater, I was apprehensive. But people were not pushing or shoving. Instead, they were extremely polite. I think this is perhaps because, unlike most marches, this one was women-centric and women-dominated, so there was less testosterone.* That said, there is no way one could say that this was just a women’s march. The crowd was a beautiful mix of people. There were men of all ages, fathers and mothers with their kids, veterans, octogenarians, people of all ages in wheelchairs, babies, children holding signs (who were probably too young to read them), and teenagers holding signs (who knew what they said and held them proudly). Many people were wearing “pussy hats,” a.k.a. pink hats with little cat ears—so named as a symbol of defiance because Trump said he could grab any pussy that he wanted.
The first thing that we tried to do (as did many others) was get to the highest point possible to take photos of the crowd, because it was absolutely impossible to see the crowd from where you were standing. People were climbing light poles, trees, power generators, and fences—any high point that one could get to. My friend asked me to climb on his shoulders to take a picture, which I did despite being scared of heights because I wanted the shot. Unfortunately, I was so nervous that I couldn’t let my hands go up high, so we had to go find a higher vantage point after that.
Once the march started, the crowd started moving down the middle of the Mall more easily, which freed us up to climb up on a fence so we could take photos. It was amazing. There were people everywhere. The entire Mall seemed to be filled. We next passed through the crowd being funnelled down a walkway in front of the Air and Space Museum and climbed the museum’s wall to watch the protesters go by. It was a great spot to be in. People cheered and chanted as they walked by, and we’d join in. (Favorite: “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”) Again, I don’t think that I can express how happy the marchers were and how united people were. The message was defensive (“Don’t fuck with us, Trump”), yet we were saying this together and it made us feel strong. And we have a lot of reasons to say “Don’t fuck with us.” We were not just talking about women and reproductive rights; there were signs and chants about climate change and DAPL, LGBTQIA rights, education, health care, Trump’s taxes and ties to Putin, and more.
After awhile, we decided to walk away from the masses toward the Capitol Building. It was then that we started realizing just how well organized the march was. There was a woman who handed us water bottles (lucky for us because ours had fallen on the floor of the Porta-Potty!), and plenty of line-free Porta-Potties. There were also recycling cans next to all of the garbage cans. We saw almost no litter. This was a crowd that was cleaning up after itself—even with trash cans overflowing, you could see people really trying to get their litter in there. Later we noted that there were huge TV screens on every block down the “real” march path along the south of the Mall, each of them displaying in large letters “March On.” My friend also noticed that cell towers had been put up so people would have service on the edges of the Mall. So many people trying to text and send photos meant little service in the middle of the Mall, but we didn’t mind. We wanted to be in the moment anyway.
Walking back from the Capitol Building, we were able to get near the stage, which wouldn’t have been possible when we’d first arrived. I could hear Madonna’s song “Express Yourself” and thought, “Huh, people are really getting into it.” Then I realized that it actually was Madonna singing it on the stage! Eight-year-old Amanda would have died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t believe that I had unknowingly come upon this concert. It was insane. I could see her on the stage just fine, but a jumbo screen nearby meant I could see her up close. I had seen only a handful of Trump supporters so far—all young people who wanted to heckle or engage the crowd in discourse—and then I noticed that some young Trumpians were also enjoying the Madonna concert. So I guess this really was a unifying march!
After the Madonna performance, we continued along the Independence Avenue march route. Here we saw a handful of counter-protestors that I can only describe as “hateful Christians.” They had set up anti-gay, anti-Muslim, pro-Jesus, pro-AIDS-being-an-eradicator-of-sins, etc., signs. But the marchers peacefully surrounded them and chanted at them, blocking their voices of hate with positive messages.
Along this part of the route, we also passed by a drum circle (which I always get excited about), a medical tent (mostly attending to elderly people who had gotten hurt from a fall), and then a police car. The police officer was standing outside of the car, chatting with the protesters (we’d previously seen protesters wishing another officer a happy birthday!). He had allowed protesters to put their signs on the hood of his car and take photos. A passerby asked him if he was cool with it. He said, “Yeah. I mean, I didn’t place them there, but if you guys want to, go ahead.” My before-the-march worries about aggressive police? Completely unnecessary. It really felt like the police were with us, not against us.
After passing the Washington Monument, we were at the Ellipse, the lawn directly across the street from the White House. The Ellipse had multiple fences set up around and through it, and protesters had placed their signs along the fences. There were thousands of signs lining every fence. They were like a calling card from us to Trump. We were saying, “Hey, we’ve shown up. We’re here. These are our messages.” And it was also a message board to the other protesters, letting them know that “We’ve come here before you and we’re with you. Look at our numbers!” My friend and I worried that that the threatening rain would finally come and ruin the signs, but the rain didn’t come—that day or that evening. And there was another drum circle there. :) It was a joyful, happy occasion.
My friend, who is from Switzerland, compared this march to some he’s attended back home. He described this one as much more peaceful. In Switzerland, they often have “professional” protesters and protests can turn destructive quickly. He said that if protesters had put signs on the police cars, the police would never have stood for it. But he also noted that the march was different from Swiss ones because here people carried signs to begin with. And the signs were great: thoughtful, heartfelt, and so damn clever!
Another cool thing about the cops was that they let us walk to the front of the Ellipse directly across the street from the White House. They’d had it blocked off, but as it neared 5 p.m., the scheduled end of the march, they let people get closer. So I was able to get my photo taken in front of the White House. In the three months I lived in DC, I’d never managed to do that!
When we left, we walked north, past the east side of the White House and saw more protesters set up. We walked north on Vermont Avenue, toward Thomas Circle, and again saw many more protesters who were placing signs around the statue in the center of the square. And again we saw this at Logan Circle. At one of the cross streets, protesters were blocking traffic by dancing! No, I don’t condone blocking traffic, but it was pretty cool to see people reveling in a positive manner in their protest.
The march renewed my hope and faith in humanity, which all the negativity before and after the election had made me question. But being around so many positive people—1.2 million people!—I thought, “Oh wait! People are good! There are good people out there. They’re picking up their trash. They want gays to be okay. They want immigrants to be okay. They want women to be okay. They want children to be okay. They want the environment to be okay. Not everyone is tolerant of hate and greed at the expense of their fellow man.”
Before we went to the march, we’d talked about whether it was a good idea to call it the “Women’s March.” Was it being inclusive enough? I’d thought, yes, it should be called the Women’s March because A: women had organized it, and B: being a women’s march didn’t exclude men or anybody else. Women are half the population. And when we got there, my friend agreed that it was the right decision to call it the “Women’s March” as it aptly described the unique feeling of the day. The Women’s March in DC was a really magical and loving experience. I kept saying, over and over, that it felt like being in a hug—one massively large hug.
*In fact, I spoke to two different men who told me how different the voices chanting en masse sounded from what they normally hear at protests. The voices were an octave higher than that of a more mixed crowd.