Women’s March on Washington, January Twenty First, 2017, Washington DC —
We made an unlikely trio: an artist, a banker and an architect. I knew them better by their Twitter handles than by name, having met long ago in the faceless context of Internet fandom. Bound together by a deep love for tennis and the irresistible appeal of Rafael Nadal, it wasn’t the US Open that had brought us together on this chilly morning, but the results of the US Inauguration.
Gathering in the 4 AM darkness of a January morning, we proudly clutched homemade signs and posters like precious homework assignments. Sleepily joining a long bus line in our pink hats and slogan-driven T-shirts, groups of drunken youths occasionally stumbled past us, curious and confused. While I thought the whole country was marching today, they were thinking only of their bedrooms and sleep.
By the time a headcount was performed, emergency numbers were Sharpie’d on arms, and every seat was taken, we were informed by our leaders that there was a “mechanical problem” with the bus. Watching the sunrise from a Greenwich Village sidewalk, we yawned and moaned, feeling helplessly detained. As our architect friend observed the ongoing repairs, explaining that she grew up helping her grandfather fix cars, we collectively wandered off to get bagels and coffee at dawn.
On the road at last, a thick fog covered the roads and bridges, hovering like cover over rivers and hiding the smokestacks of countless New Jersey factories. Held to the bus driver’s intercom, a cellphone streamed the voice of Gloria Steinem from the rally grounds that lay ahead, crackling and distant through the speakers. We listened in anticipation, like captivated children as she spoke of the upside to the downside.
“We are linked, we are not ranked, and this is a day that will change us forever…when we elect a possible president we too often go home. We’ve elected an impossible president, and we’re never going home.”
Parking at RFK Stadium, we disembarked with strict instructions on when to return. Taking a mental picture of our bus location we set off toward Independence Avenue with eager apprehension, wondering just what the day would hold. I remembered protests against the Iraq War, violent counter protesters and the presence of riot police, and in 2017 it’s hard to believe that law and order is on our side. I thought of my aunt, a faraway organizer, promising to post my bail.
From the very beginning, however, it was clear that this march was welcome. Perhaps because it was a “women’s protest,” families and couples were greeted by an almost non-existent law enforcement presence, and those we came across were all smiles. Though we didn’t know it then, the day would almost be celebratory, washing clean some of the anger and hurt the election had produced. I’ll never be able to explain, capture, or forget, how disenfranchised I’d felt on November 9th, nor how inexplicably high the glass ceiling suddenly became.
Spanning generations, there were women who’d protested the Vietnam War in the ’60s and abortion rights in the ’70s, Gen Z children who ran around with rainbow flags draped over their shoulders chanting anti-Trump rhymes, and white college freshman in red “Make America Great Again” caps shouting to no one in particular, “we won!” Like those people who make you uncomfortable on the subway platform, there were religious fanatics proselytizing death and damnation for gays, and those clueless anti-abortion men with their loudspeakers and repressive opinions.
Thousands more than expected poured into the National Mall like party crashers, and without room to march we fanned out onto the adjacent streets and avenues, united in our frustration and optimism. As dusk began to darken an overcast sky, my little trio marched determinedly toward the White House, knowing we’d be boarding a bus home soon. Like previous generations of marchers who threw their protest pins on the White House lawn, we left our signs against the White House fence, where hand-drawn vaginas, countless mentions of pussy and bright pink poster board resonated loud and clear.
As darkness closed around us the day turned to chaos for the first time, and restless protesters jumped barricades, pushed over fences, and stormed the field surrounding the Washington Monument. Making a mad dash for a distant parking lot, that moment of panic as we searched for our bus in a sea of thousands, gave way to relief as we discovered we weren’t the last ones onboard. Immediately falling into a deep sleep, it was well after midnight when I awoke to see the familiar skyline of New York City.
In the following days it was almost surreal to see pictures of the crowds worldwide, and to realize that everyone we knew had marched. The feeling of camaraderie lingered, and history felt like it was happening in real-time. We wondered, however, if it was enough. At best, it feels like just the beginning.