We will not go away!
I woke up knowing this was going to be an unforgettable day. It felt wonderful to share this adventure with my niece, Shauna, and her two friends from L.A. (all of them in their thirties.) It didn’t matter that I was double their age. We were all very determined about our decision to come to Washington D.C. and be a part of the historic Women’s March of 2017.
Up by six a.m., we quickly ate breakfast, put on our winter coats, shoved snacks into our pockets, grabbed water bottles and cameras, and piled into the rental car. We drove toward the Metro station, parked nearby, and walked toward the Court House station in Arlington.
As we crossed the street to the same station I had used the day before to get to a protest of Trump’s inauguration, I saw several women hurrying toward the descending staircase. Suddenly, there were a few others behind us as we stepped onto the moving stairs. Almost all were wearing the knitted, pink “pussy” hats that had become the resistance symbol for this event.
We rode down to the area where ticket machines sell Metro passes, then hurried toward the next set of stairs that would take us down to the platform by the train tracks. I had to pause at the top of the stairs and take in the scene below me. It took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Below were hundreds of women crammed into whatever space they could find, waiting for the next train. This was the exact opposite of the day before in this very same spot at the very same hour. The despair and loneliness I had felt as I waited to go to the depressing scene of Trump taking power was replaced by sheer joy and awe and an immediate sense of sisterhood and solidarity. I knew at that moment this day was going to be a completely different experience.
As we struggled to stay together moving through the crowd, Shauna and her friends looked at me, concerned and surprised at my tears. I assured them I was fine. It was so heartening to see so many young people showing up. All I could say was, “I’m just so happy!”
We were the last ones to squeeze through the door on the train before it closed. The car was packed so full, it seemed impossible for that many people to fit. Smiles were abundant.
In no time at all, we all poured off the train and up into the National Mall. There were groups of women all walking briskly toward the location of the stage several blocks away. We headed toward what was designated as the beginning of the march and stepped onto the strange, white, plastic flooring that covered the dead grass in the open area of the mall. These interlocking panels were what made the thinness of the crowds at the inauguration the day before look so starkly pathetic in the infamous photos of that sorry event. The organizers of the Women’s March were unable to get permission for the open areas of the mall from the National Park Service. But the security fencing had been removed, so hundreds of women were tromping along on the plastic panels. Soon hundreds would turn into thousands, then into hundreds of thousands.
We passed by a group along the way who were mostly young, but an older woman stood in the middle with a sign that read, “Now you’ve pissed off Grandma.” She saw me with my co-conspirators, and waved me over to take a picture with her. Aside from being a grandma-aged colleague, I wore a black, wool coat that I had covered with colorful photos of friends and family who couldn’t come to the march, but were there in spirit.
As we turned away from the mall on 4th Street to go one block toward Independence Avenue, masses of people filled the intersection where the stage was set up. We were surprisingly close to the stage, and if we had arrived minutes later, we would have been a whole block further away. It was only eight in the morning, and we were packed in among women and men, young and old, with standing room only.
It would be two hours before the speeches would begin, but this blended mass of humanity became an opportunity to meet others from all across America and hear their stories. I found myself mostly just asking people where they were from, realizing how special it was to be in D.C. for this protest where there was representation from probably every state. I stood next to a middle-aged man in a suit, tie, and overcoat with very short hair in a baseball cap. He said he had just retired from the military. He was there with his teenage daughter. She really wanted to come and had dyed her hair pink for the march. He wanted to be there with her. I asked him about the appointment of General Mattis as Secretary of Defense. He said he knew Mattis and assured me we were in good hands. He said General Mattis would never allow an unnecessary military intervention, and would be a good person to have as a counter balance to Trump.
It had been an effort for everyone to get to this place, but no one was complaining. Planes, trains, cars and busses brought women and men from every corner of the country. We were all ready to protest a definite wrong that needed to be made right. We all knew it would be a long haul. And we also knew it was beginning that day. We were all there to get it started.
The four of us stayed together in the crowd. We could see the stage, but I was too short to see anything on it over the heads of those around us. Fortunately, we were next to one of the many large screens that had been installed along Independence Avenue. Little did we know that people were filling in that street all the way back to the Washington Monument, and behind the stage up to the Capitol Building. We also didn’t know that the un-permitted part of the National Mall we had walked along was filling up with thousands of people. I stayed next to Shauna and was so glad to be there with her. We had hoped to be there together for the inauguration of the first woman president. We almost canceled our flights after Election Day. Then we heard about the Women’s March on Facebook a couple days later. The decision to join the march was an easy one.
The first sound from the stage came at 10 a.m. A powerful voice sang a prayer in a Native American language. On the screen, we could see the woman as she beat a drum and brought us all to attention. We were more than ready for things to begin. It had been a long wait.
The number of speakers seemed endless. The most memorable ones for me included feminist icon Gloria Steinem, a five-year-old Latina whose mother had been deported, then returned to her family, and Kamala Harris who had just been elected to the United States Senate from California. Even though it was basically her first day on the job, Senator Harris spoke with certainty and passion, yet with calmness and intelligence. She stood out among the others.
The message was clear from all of the speakers. It was time for women to take charge. So many speakers encouraged us to go back to our communities and run for office or help others to run. It was inspiring to have tasks ahead to focus on. So many of us felt so lost and helpless after the shocking results of the election.
The speeches and performances went on for four hours, which meant we had been standing for six. I didn’t know I had the capacity to stand in one place for six hours. Finally, the organizers realized that the march needed to begin, especially when the crowd started chanting, “March! March! March!” They announced that their plans for the beginning of the march had to be changed because there were so many people. Basically they just told us to “go that way” and gestured toward the mall. But there really wasn’t a beginning or an end because there were people already filling the space from where we stood all the way across town to the White House, which was where the march was supposed to finish.
As we migrated away from the stage area, chants began. One of my favorites was, “Welcome to your first day. We will not go away!” The dome of the Capitol Building began to appear as we made our way to the open expanse of the National Mall. That was when we could see there were many thousands of demonstrators. People were moving in every direction. The four of us always kept an eye out for each other to make sure we didn’t get separated.
As we crossed over the width of the mall lined with barren trees on either side to get to Pennsylvania Avenue, there was a sea of pink hats, including on the heads of men. As we merged onto the avenue that heads toward the White House, the crowd was so dense it was hard to move. Turning around to take pictures of the view behind me was challenging. There was always someone right there.
As we passed the Newseum, the feeling was electric. Many people were standing on the balcony a few floors up and cheering us on. We all cheered back. The roar of the crowd was thunderous and uplifting. Freedom of speech was literally in the air. Shauna and I looked at each other and told each other how glad we were that we were there. This was more than a march. This was momentum.
It was inspiring to see so many young, resolute faces. No one looked doubtful about being there. We got lucky with the weather. The sky was gray, the cloud ceiling low, but the temperature was comfortable, and there was no rain (unlike the day before.) We barely needed to wear our coats. We were getting our exercise as we headed across the city. It was great to be moving after all that standing. Walking, although slowly, felt good.
As we approached the Trump Hotel, a rumble of booing began to build into a loud chorus. I’m sure this reaction repeated itself with every new wave of marchers. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many like-minded people. Even though there was diversity of opinion within the crowd, as was reflected in the many signs and placards, there was no doubt about who was the bad guy in this story. The collective emotions of all were united in disgust and disdain for this man.
We passed by groups of people singing. A wonderful choir of marchers had stopped and were singing an African song, “Bambalela” which was translated on their signs to mean, “Never give up.” Their harmonies and their spirit were uplifting. Clusters of people stood on bleachers or steps that elevated them above the crowd. They were often the leaders of the chants. “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” and, “This is what democracy looks like” were common slogans.
When we passed by intersections of streets that led into the northern part of Washington, those streets were filled with people. It was in those moments that I realized this was a bigger crowd than had been anticipated. As we kept migrating with the crowd down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House, I had a moment of nostalgia for Woodstock, another peaceful gathering of hundreds of thousands. None of us knew how many were at this event, but later it was estimated, as with Woodstock, at half a million.
In front of City Hall, there was a banner with the image of Frederick Douglass and a quote by him. It read, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.” Although 1857 was right next to Douglass’ name, Trump would later make a comment about him as if he were still alive. I think Trump just saw an image of a black man passing by during the inaugural parade, and figured he was important.
When we got within a couple of blocks of the White House, the crowd had basically stopped moving. We all agreed that we were pretty tired by then and would head back to our place in Arlington. I knew I didn’t really want to see the White House knowing Trump was inside. But I needed one more photo.
I handed Shauna my iPad and posed with my coat so that all my friends could see themselves represented at the march. I had it in my head I wanted to replicate the photo of Portland’s mayor standing in front of a nude statue looking like he was naked under an overcoat. His photo’s caption was, “Expose yourself to art!”
When we got back to our rented condo in Arlington, I posted the photo on Facebook with my own slogan, “Expose yourself to activism!” Many of the friends whose photos were attached to my coat were thrilled to see themselves. I probably got more responses to that photo than any other that I have ever posted. Mission accomplished. I feel like I really did bring them with me.
We turned on the giant TV screen that hung on the wall as we flopped down onto the couches in the living room. But we were on our feet again and yelling when we saw the images of the march on the news. The entire National Mall was filled with pink-headed people. Then they started broadcasting marches from around the country and the world. It was incredible! It was so great to be there at the center of it all, surrounded by people from all over the country. I will never forget that day. And Shauna and I will always have that memory to share. And as two committed feminists, Donald Trump, we will not go away!