My Experience at the Women’s March on Washington January 21, 2017

I first heard about the Women’s March around Thanksgiving and decided I was going to go, whatever it took.   I wasn’t going to allow fear or shyness keep me away.  I signed up for a bus to the march on Dec 12.  I spent the next weeks following the Massachusetts Chapter organizing Facebook, monitoring the National page and Twitter feeds.

I’d framed my Facebook image, I thought about and posted the reasons #WhyIMarch.

The one reason that summarized them all…
The litany of reasons I was compelled to join the march…

I attended the kick-off meeting in Arlington the Saturday before the march.  I met some wonderful

Here’s the other side
I created a sign with two messages, one on each side so when I held it up, folks behind and in front had a message

women at a sign-making event at Bay Path College on the Sunday before the march.

 

 

 

I had my spare batteries, my clear backpack, my snacks, my marching shoes, and I was pumped, and ready to go!

The bus got a late start from Springfield and with the traffic arrived about 2 hours later than planned in DC.  Since I was traveling alone, I was on the lookout for someone to buddy up with for the day.   With a brush of fate, two young women came up to me as we were getting off the bus and introduced themselves as Victoria and Constance and asked to exchange phone numbers.  We then realized we didn’t have the number of the bus captain and she’d already headed off.  Luckily,  we caught another woman from our bus who we knew had gotten her number, and

Fired up and ready to go!

were able to get both the bus captain’s name and number and hers.   I asked Victoria if I could tag along with them to the march and they readily agreed.  Since Constance had forgotten her metro pass, and we were running late and there seemed to be a pretty big crowd, we decided we’d walk rather than deal with the lines and expected delays of trying to ride the Metro at this point.  As we walked we shared our backgrounds, I was amazed to find out that Victoria is PhD candidate in Film studies and German while Constance is from Berlin.  Even more Victoria also studied abroad in Freiburg where I’d spend a semester my junior year.  We even both took the same Linguistics class while we were there!  Several years between us but that was a pretty amazing coincidence.

 

Still miles away from the rally point, we realized this was going to be big when we could see the crowd through the trees.

As we walked along, there were many people out on their porches cheering us on, thanking us for being there.  It was already surreal. We turn a corner and have our first glimpse of how big this is.  Far in the distance we can see the crowd.

Finally we get near the rally site.  Seeing hundreds of thousands of women, men, grandmothers, and children.  We hit a wall of bodies although we are still many blocks from the rally site.  Against all odds, Victoria and Constance manage to connect with two of their friends who were also at the march.  Thanks to some text messages, amidst hundreds of thousands of people, we somehow managed to find them in this massive crowd just outside the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.  We tried to work our way together closer to Independence Ave where the march would be and the stage and rally were set up.

We couldn’t see the stage or hear the speeches, though we could hear the cheers.  Occasionally some of the music would filter through.  But still, we were enjoying seeing the many different signs and messages and talking with our fellow marchers.  There was a group of Native Americans burning sage with message that “Water is life”.  There were bras hanging symbolically from a nearby tree.   There were signs with clever puns that made us laugh, there were signs that were angry and even some that were just a little bit offensive, throwing back the offensive comments we’d heard Donald Trump say.

There were messages that made me laugh in spite of myself.  Just a sampling of some of the my favorites: “We are better than this”, “Bridges Not Walls”, “Civil Courage”, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”, “Don’t Tell Me How to Dress, Teach them Not to RAPE”,

One of the many clever signs that made me smile. I just wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get pictures of them all.

“Make America KIND Again”, “Make America THINK Again”, “Our Bodies, Our Decision”, “No More Apathy”, “Hate is Un-American”, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”, “Build Kindness”, “Love Trumps Hate”, “Liberty and Justice for All”, “I’m a Real Person, Where are Your Taxes?”, “I Pay Taxes, Do YOU?”, “Stronger Together”, “Women Fight Back”, “I Can’t BELIEVE I still have to Protest This Shit”, “LGBTQIA Equality”, “Unify and Conquer”, “Welcome to the Trumpocalypse”, “The Future is Women”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Trust Women”, “If you cut off my reproductive health, can I cut off yours?”, “Watch out Trump, my generation votes next”, “There is no Planet B”, “Trump Sandwich:  1) White bread 2) Full of baloney 3) Little pickle”.  There were the props and the costumes.  There was the biggest knitted ovary I’ve ever seen.

 

Just when I thought, hey that’s ok let’s follow it on Facebook Live, the service on our cells became non-existent.  Twitter couldn’t load new Tweets, Facebook Live streams wouldn’t load. Even text messages failed to send 5 times out of ten.  So had nothing that could tell us what was going on in real time.  What we could see and experience was an incredible sense of solidarity, inclusivity and togetherness with every group around us. We were in community. We talked politics, we expressed our frustration and talked about what needed to happen next. It was now 1:15, the time for the march to begin but there was no movement.   Chants of “let us march” began. Finally we managed to connect to see a tweet from the organizers that we could not do a formal march due to there being too many people.  Someone in the crowd said that we could not follow the planned route but we should march to the white house any way we could get there. We were uncertain.  Was this going to get ugly?  We’d be on streets not covered by the permit.  Were we risking arrest?  Did we care?  Were these people actually planted to instigate problems?

We looked around at the sheer numbers and the calm and peaceful spirit. We realized we needed to do this. We really were numbers too big to ignore and we decided to stick with the crowd.  We took an alternate route.  At one point several SUV’s full if police passed through the crowd with sirens blaring.   We took a beat, was this the beginning of trouble?  But no, they were just trying to get in front of this branch of the crowd so that they could clear a path us, blocking off more streets to keep us safe. The marchers would take a moment to thank the police and other folks in uniform along the route (national guard, maybe). all were smiling, shaking hands and I heard a few female soldiers thanking the marchers.

It was so crowded. You couldn’t help but bump into people.  Occasionally threads of people needed to make their way across your path.  But everyone would make way, apologize and smile. So many smiles even amidst the angry chants.  There was no animosity between and among us, even though it was clear from the diversity of the messages on the signs, there was a broad range of the particular passion that brought us to the march.   Since we were separated from the Massachusetts contingent, I was with a diverse group.  Where I was, we alternated our chants. The chants ran the gamut from “Hey, ho! Donald Trump has got to go”,  “Show me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like”,  “Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!”, “Black lives matter”, “Water is life”, “We won the popular vote!”, quickly morphed into “We ARE the popular vote!”.

At one point we passed by two male and one female police officers standing by their car, keeping an eye on things. One of the male officers asked us to make sure we tell the female officer happy birthday since it was her birthday.  We all started joyfully singing “Happy Birthday” to her as we marched past.  It was just that kind of a day.

Later on that afternoon,  I heard a tiny voice behind me trying to lead a chant, shouting “Show me what democracy looks like!”. I turned around to see a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 marching with her mother carrying her sign and totally committed to leading this chant.  Of course, we all joined in with the response “this is what democracy looks like!”  She kept that going for quite a while!  Gave me hope for the future.

Finally reached the White house about 3:30. By then crowd was beginning to disperse but still coming from behind and still crazy numbers. At this point we were starving.  We found our way to a Five Guys.  The line wrapped around the restaurant which was full of marchers.  Never had a burger and fries tasted so good!   Plus, actually SITTING DOWN was heaven.  After lingering as long as we could we decided to find a coffee shop for coffee and dessert.

All this time, I was still carrying my sign.  Victoria and Constance were too, but they had been able to roll theirs up since they were smaller and on poster board.  Mine was big and on foam board, so not exactly unobtrusive.  We’d been seeing some signs had been discarded here and there.  I was saying, I was sick of carrying it, but wanted to keep it to bring home to remember the march by.   As we walked farther away from the center of the march area, we saw fewer marchers.   With that sign, I felt pretty exposed but was proud to continue to carry it and wasn’t going to apologize for it. At one point we were waiting to cross a street.  Looking across at the opposite sidewalk, we saw a group of about 8 people dressed in finery.  Tuxedos and evening gowns.  We all kind of figured they must be involved in something tied to the Inauguration.  I said “I really wish I could get a picture of these two sidewalks facing each other”.    Seemed so symbolic, our two groups passed each other without incident.  We continued our search and found a nice place for crepes and coffee. We shared space at a table with another women who was clearly not a marcher but was just hanging out reading her book.

Me and my new friends Victoria and Constance talk of the march segued to talk of our time in Germany, then to television, films and books we enjoyed and were embarrassed to admit we liked.  We found we had a lot in common far beyond our politics.   At some point, the other woman joined our conversation about books.  She was from Virginia Beach, in DC on business all week. Our conversation then segued back to politics.  Turned out she was a true independent. She didn’t like either candidate particularly and said she honestly didn’t know which lever she’d pull until she got into the booth. We never asked which way she voted, because it really didn’t matter.  We all agreed that politics is broken.  She shared her frustration with Obamacare,  acknowledging that ACA was great for her parents as her father had lost his job and had some serious medical issues which he was able to get covered which he likely wouldn’t have without ACA. But that it for her and her husband it was another story.  They have employer sponsored health care and their plan deductibles and their cost had sky rocketed.  I acknowledged ACA is flawed but reminded her that also what actually got implemented was not the designed plan. There were key aspects that were unfunded or delayed or turned over by supreme court.   I shared my opinion that it’s not an easy thing to solve due to it’s complications.  That we’d be better of continuing to amend and fix what’s not working rather than throwing it all away to start from scratch.  I didn’t get the sense that she completely agreed with that idea, we had a civil discussion.  I learned some new and meaningful nuances of the “anti Obamacare” argument and I think possibly she took away some new perspectives on that issue as well.

At the end of a long day, we found our way to a bar on U street for one celebratory drink before we headed home. What happened here will stay with me and inspire me to keep fighting for the greater good in all of us.

Around 10pm, that cafe was closing so we needed a new place to “perch” until our bus would be leaving at 1am.  We found our way down to U street – we thought the perfect end to the day would be a glass of wine (beer for me) so we could celebrate and maybe have a better chance of getting some sleep on the bus.  We found our way there on the metro and went into the nearest bar that looked quiet.  Took seats at the bar and order our drinks.  I was still dragging my poster around, and we piled our stuff on the bench near s and settled in.  After sitting there decompressing for about 10 minutes, an African American man came up to us and asked if we’d been at the march and we said yes.  He then said he had to share something with us. (paraphrased to the best of my memory)

 

Him: ”I’m 48 years old and I have a 19 year old son.”

Me: “I also have a 19 year old son”.

Him: “If anything ever happened to him like Trevon Martin, I’d kill the guy.  I’m serious.  I’m wouldn’t hesitate, I’m not kidding you.  I’m a vet.  I fought in two tours in the first Iraq war.  But I look at this country and I see the stuff going on.  I’ve got problems with it.  Yesterday, I went down there to see what was going on.  And I’ve got to tell you, what I saw down there…I wouldn’t fight for that country.  I couldn’t do it.  But then I went back again today…to be there with you all,  to see what you’ve all done here.  I would fight for that country.   So…for what you’re doing, thank you. It gives me hope “.

Us: “No, thank you”

He left us and returned to his seat at down the bar.  We were speechless.  It was only then I looked around and realized the bar had predominately African American patrons.  How unexpected was that? An African American Gulf war veteran just walked across a bar to single out three white women to effectively “thank us for our service”.  I was moved to tears. I wish I’d asked his name and maybe ask to take his picture with us, but his anonymity does not diminish the power of his words.  In spite of the lack of physical documentation of the encounter, I’m sure I will never forget it.

We finished our drinks, checked the time, and realized we needed to head back.  We hit the metro to get across town to meet our bus.  I still had that damned sign.  There were three African American men waiting on the platform near us.  One gentleman with dreadlocks came up to me and asked if he could take a picture with me and my sign.  I said “of course”  We posed for the picture.  He then thanked us and shook all of our hands.

The announcements informed us we were about to catch the last train.  We looked at each other and realized how lucky we were that we didn’t linger any longer at the bar!

Got to RFK stadium by 12:15AM, but we were running late, since we should be at the bus by 12:40AM.  We couldn’t find the right parking lot.  I called the bus captain (thank God we’d gotten her number!) to let her know we were in the vicinity but just trying to find the lot and not to leave without us.   She tried to give us some landmarks to help us find the bus but then had to take another call. We figured at least we knew she knows were in the vicinity so they wouldn’t leave without us. We see a gentleman riding a bike (again an African American) we ask him lf he knows where lot 6 is.  He stops, but he tells us he isn’t that familiar with the area either so he doesn’t know.  But he stays with us and tries his best to help us figure out our way there.  Finally Constance is able to find the Parking Lot 6 through Google maps (though neither Victoria and I had been having any luck on our phones).  We realized we’re on the completely wrong side of the stadium!  This kind gentleman walks his bike along with us telling us  “I’m not a pervert or anything, I just want to make sure you ladies get where you need to go and that you stay safe.”

He continues to walk with us, telling us his story of growing up in DC, but having been gone a long time and now reacquainting himself with the city and amazed at how much it’s changed since he last lived there.  He finds out we were at that march and talks about being willing to give Trump a chance, but that if he doesn’t do right, then he’ll be first in line to fight back.  He asks us where we’re from.  We tell him Massachusetts. He tells us his sister went to college there at American International College.  We tell him that AIC is in Springfield and that is exactly where were heading now.  He’s astounded by the coincidence and what a small world it is as are we.

We find the lot, we can see the buses.  My phone rings.  It’s Sarah, the bus captain asking where we are.  We tell her we’ve got the bus in sight and we’ll be there shortly.  So happy to arrive.  Turns out there are still 3 others missing.  It takes some time, but they do connect with them and they also were lost, and they got directions and eventually also find there way there.  We finally leave around 2 in the morning.  I never heard a single speech at the rally.  I know that I will have to catch up via archive the next day, but in spite of that, the day was even more inspiring and moving than I could have expected.

Hope still survives. We can bridge the divides in our country.  But it will require work, and patience. Listening and action.

This day, my day, my experience.  This is what America looks like.  This is what Democracy looks like.

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