Organizers predicted approximately 200,000 people would take part in the march held in D.C., but according to an article in The New York Times, crowd experts estimate that “The women’s march in Washington was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration.” For many of the marchers, it felt like a million. Throughout the entire length of the National Mall, the streets surrounding it, and all the way up 13th, 14th, and 15th Streets, the crowds spread like a pink and multicolored ameba.
Despite a shortage of Metro trains, tightly packed cars, long wait times at the stations, and eliminated Metro stops, 500,000 determined people were present and accounted for on this momentous occasion. As early as 8:00 a.m., we knew something special was about to happen because there was a positively charged electric current that snapped and crackled in the air as people greeted each other, smiled, and shared a sense of common cause.
I could feel it on the street as I joined dozens of people at the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metro station. Just outside the entrance were couples, families with children, and groups of friends buzzing with excitement and conversation because, for some, this was their first march. Many carried signs, had on pink hats, and wore all sorts of headgear, colorful buttons, and t-shirts, including Vasuch Sen and his family.
When I asked Mr. Sen why he was joining the march, he said, “I am marching to demand full equality for women because it is about time that women have the same rights that men have enjoyed for a long time.” Visibly moved, he continued by saying, “And especially I am marching for the future for my beautiful nine-year-old daughter.”
Throughout the day, themes and sentiments of fealty, shared values, a rejection of intolerance, and a quiet determination to stop the forfeiture of hard-won rights for women were on everyone’s lips. People formed circles, joined hands, and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” hymns, and songs by Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. The atmosphere was congenial and filled with the sound of drums, flutes, spontaneous cheering, and chants. Every few minutes, a new one would erupt, and people would join and shout, “Women’s rights are human rights,” “This is what Democracy looks like,” “Hate and intolerance are not American values,” and “My body, my choice.”
Unlike the hate speech that characterized the Trump campaign and the dystopian view of America described in Trump’s inaugural speech, the speeches, conversations, and signs focused on unity, peaceful dissent, and a rejection of the ugly discourse that flooded the airwaves for so long. Hate wasn’t on the minds and lips of the people who marched, but it was the abhorrence of what many perceived was a morally bereft administration.
What was most striking about Saturday, other than the sheer numbers, were two things almost all of us will always treasure: the bonhomie of so many diverse people coming together to let the world know that Donald Trump and his ilk do not speak for all Americans – and the signs. Thousands of incredibly creative and articulate handmade signs conveyed people’s thoughts, fears, concerns, and values like no speech ever could.
Some signs were hilariously funny, others were glib, many were smart and politically astute, and some were beautiful works of art. Even when they were quickly put together with just a bit of cardboard and magic marker, each marcher carried his or her sign with pride.
There was a palpable sense that something magical was happening. That there was hope for our country if all Americans stood together to defend fundamental American values of tolerance, freedom, and respect for human rights.
Lia Montesano from Laurel, Maryland said she was marching because “I cannot stay silent anymore. And I cannot be polite anymore.”
Katherine Leek came from Baltimore, Maryland and marched “for women’s equality and creating a future for her future daughter.”
Bob Karpinski, from Philadelphia, was marching because “I think Trump is not a legitimate president and should be impeached and hopefully it will happen soon.”
Kathleen Hanson, from Minnesota, marched because she believes that “the voices of women and the disenfranchised and those who have been rising up and are now going to be suppressed, the voices need to rise up and remind this country that America is about all Americans, not just a few.”
The march organizers and women everywhere wanted to put Trump and the Republican-led House and Senate on notice that the values espoused by Trump’s supporters and many in the right wing are not mainstream American values.
If we learn from the lessons of history, it teaches us that certain causes are worth fighting for, especially in the face of incredible opposition. On March 3, 1913, D.C. hosted the National Woman Suffrage Parade, the largest national women’s suffrage event in the country. Organized by Alice Paul, the author of the Equal Rights Amendment, it was held the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
That day, 8,000 women marched for the right to vote, and just like Saturday’s event, women from around the country and the world joined their cause. It took another seven years to ratify the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, and the organizers of the event learned that power is not readily relinquished nor is it easily won.
On Saturday, the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington issued a statement on Facebook that said, “Today, millions of people gathered in cities and towns across the world, to stand together for human rights. This is more than just a single day of action – this is the beginning of a movement to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity.”
They know there are serious challenges ahead but are buoyed by the outpouring of love, support, and community shown around the world. And in response to questions about the next steps, they issued a call-to-action and introduced a new campaign called 10 Actions for the first 100 days. Grassroots changes led to a revolution in America in the 1960s, and John Lennon said it best when he wrote “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”