My First Guest Post: A First-Hand Account of the Women’s March on Washington

I will always regret not going to the march on Washington last weekend. I let anxiety and fear stand in my way, which is surprisingly rare for me. Today, my aunt, Lynda Sadler, posted her recap of the event and I found it really interesting. It’s not a lit essay or an essay meant to be a story with a powerful message. It is, instead, her Facebook review of a day with many powerful moments. I’ve never had a guest post before but I really wanted to share this story of the logistics and play-by-play of how the trip from North Carolina to DC and back again went for my aunts.

2017 Women’s March on Washington

It all really started for me on the morning of December the 5th, when I received an email from my friend Joanne that said, “Women’s March to Washington Rally in Washington, DC. Interested? I’m going!!!!” The idea had been floating around in my mind since the march was announced, but I had conflicts, so I kept putting the idea aside. But Joanne’s email included a link to book a seat on a bus, and the next thing I know, I’m planning a trip to Washington with Joanne, Sue (my sister), and a bunch of other friends.

I sold my basketball tickets for that Saturday(!), and I told my son that I had other plans for his birthday.

As the month progressed, our reservations were modified, buses were changed, people dropped out, and new ones came on board. For various reasons that have nothing to do with any of that, Sue and I ended up on a bus leaving from Durham, Joanne booked herself a seat on the train to DC, some people drove up, and several friends decided to participate in marches closer to home. This story isn’t about them. This story is about me.

Our five buses out of Durham boarded at 3 am on the morning the rally. We arrived at the massive DC/Armory bus parking lot in Washington about 8:45 am, and we were a pretty excited (and anxious) group of diverse people, of whom about 85% were women.

Because of tight security rules, Sue and I each had tiny ‘fashionable’ (not fashionable) fanny packs, which were crammed with our cellphones, power banks, plenty of cash, ID, and energy bars, and we were traveling light, as was everyone around us.

We had a plan in case of emergency, and we were as ready as we’d ever be.

We exited the bus parking lot to join the array of other marchers heading to the metro station, and as we entered the metro turnstiles, we started to have an inkling that the rally was really shaping up to be big. I mean, I saw the reports, and I heard the predictions, but you never really know what’s for sure until people actually show up – and people were showing up. There were people coming from every different direction and making their way down the escalator to the metro platform in huge numbers. As trains approached, we could see that they were already full from previous stops, but the crowds of people on the platform cheered and waved and whistled for the people on the train, and the people on the train cheered and waved back.

I’ve visited Washington a lot; I’ve never really cheered a full metro train before.

The atmosphere was incredible. Thousands of people were trying to get from one place to another, and nobody was pushing and shoving. Instead, they were applauding themselves and each other and making space. The metro security people were encouraging us to be patient, that extra trains were coming, and that they were going to make sure everybody got on a train to get where we were going. People on the platform cheered again when those in front of them were able to get on the next train, and they waved at their new friends as the loaded trains wooshed away down the track.

Sue and I made it onto probably the third or fourth train, with the help of the people already on the train who squeezed in tighter, and we were on our way. The riders who had a pole to cling to helped brace the people who didn’t, and we swayed on the metro to our eventual stop at Federal Center Station. As we were exiting the train, the metro operator came on the sound system and thanked us for being “great passengers,” and told us to go out there and have a great time.

We stepped on the escalator for the trip up to street level, and huge cheers broke out again as we poured out onto the sidewalks.

protest

 

From there, we were still several blocks from the rally area which was between the US Capitol and the Museum of the American Indian on Independence Avenue. There were people moving with purpose toward Independence Avenue, but even then, I don’t think any of us knew the scope of what we were experiencing. District of Columbia law enforcement saw it, however. They were along the streets and at every corner encouraging us to “Just walk on the street, there’s not enough room for all of you on the sidewalks. We’ve got you covered.”

Honestly, I don’t know how far we got before we were in a mass of people. People with the best signs and the biggest smiles, people who were singing in groups, other groups who were performing cheers for us, kids who were dancing and carrying their own signs. There were drum circles.

These were the most ridiculously happy people on the planet, and we were happy with them.

I took pictures, and they took pictures, and we were in the moment. When we reached Independence Avenue, I believe that Sue and I joined the rally somewhere in the vicinity of the Air & Space Museum and the Federal Building across the street before it became too crowded to really navigate. After a half hour or so, we slowly worked our way out of the densest population and skirted around the edges because it was just too hard to see what was going on with the masses of people around us. Strangely, even though this is an area that I’m familiar with and have visited many times, it was very hard to orient myself with so many people around me.

The sound system for the speakers and performers wasn’t at all adequate, and we couldn’t hear more than random words coming from some stage somewhere near the Museum of the American Indian, and I should have suspected at that point that there might be something happening here that was even bigger than predicted. But I really didn’t. We DID realize that we were never going to meet up with any of our friends.

After we made it across the street and found a temporary place to sit (on a low retaining wall around a tree), we ate energy bars and discussed the possible locations of porta potties on the surrounding blocks, and then wandered back into the crowd (which was still growing) and finally found a location where we could mostly hear the people on stage through the speakers.

We never actually saw the stage, but I assume it was there… somewhere.

Joanne says she saw it, but then we never saw Joanne either so she’s probably right – or she wasn’t there either, and the whole thing was beamed from an island in the Caribbean. Or China. We had no cellphone or data service, and I gave up on trying to communicate with anybody. I did eventually get a text message out to our family that we were okay.

There were many speakers that we didn’t get to hear. I really, really wish we had known when Angela Davis was speaking so that we could have found a place to hear that. But we heard Maryum Ali (Youth Advocate and the daughter of Muhammad Ali). She spoke about getting people registered to vote and getting young women and men to go to the polls. We heard several civil rights and equal rights activists, including Gloria Steinem – which was thrilling – and we heard Janelle Monae. And Alicia Keys and Ashley Judd and Madonna made surprise appearances. Alicia Keys was powerful, Janelle Monae was powerful, and we could see how they inspired the younger generation around us. Ashley Judd made me uncomfortable, and that’s okay.

It’s good to be uncomfortable sometimes.

protest

When the march portion of the event started at around 2 pm, everybody was still energetic and pumped up in a way that’s hard to describe. Even the National Guard, local cops and security people along Independence Avenue were in the moment. They directed cheers, took pictures, chanted, waved, whistled and just totally seemed to be having a great time with us.

And I have to tell the truth here too. I knew the rally was a success, but Sue and I were guessing numbers of maybe 100,000 or maybe even 200,000 people.

We never dreamed that what we were seeing was over half a million people all rallying and getting ready to march for human rights and kindness.

The underlying theme throughout the day all came back to those two ideas. Some marched for immigration rights; some marched for women’s rights; some marched for racial equality and the especially the rights of black women; some marched for common sense gun regulations; some marched for affordable healthcare for all people; some marched for rights of the disabled; some marched for LGBTQ equality; and, yes, some marched to protest President Trump.

There’s no question but that many of the women and men at the rally were outraged by President Trump’s statements about sexually assaulting women, and many of them wore their pussy hats as they marched. We even saw one woman knitting hats in the crowd and then handing them out to strangers. Whatever one thinks about the normalization of sexual assault and the issue of marching in protest, wearing cute pink knitted hats with pussycat ears, some of those signs and chants were pretty creative.

But by and large, the women, men, and children at the Women’s March were there to march FOR a better world, and it was definitely more Rally than Protest.

protest

I am still blown away by the fact that half a million people managed to spend the day together rallying and marching for varying causes without even a hint of violence, and I never heard a complaint or an angry word throughout the entire day. We talked to people from Wisconsin, from New Jersey (so many people from New Jersey), from Texas and Kentucky, and we were told that there were women from nearly every state, including Hawaii.

People were nice to one another. There were quite a few elderly marchers, and there were disabled people in wheelchairs or with canes. People made way for them. Shoulder to shoulder people created pathways for wheelchairs to get through. We helped each other get over and around curbs and walls and stairs. People stooped down in the crowd to pick up toys dropped by children in carriers on their parent’s back. There were no arrests, and there was no interaction from opposing groups that I’m aware of.

Food was scarce. Food trucks along the street ran out of all hot drinks by noon, and food choices were much more limited than expected.

We were told that porta potty wait time was hours, not minutes (we don’t know because we were too dehydrated to notice and never had a bathroom stop until we were headed back to the metro). Sue and I were super disappointed by not finding hot chocolate or coffee, but we had enough food with us to keep us going, and the lines were way too long for the food vendors anyway, so we were okay.

The march route had to be modified slightly because of the massive number of people, and we finished at the Washington Monument, which is not only easy to see, but is a landmark that is pointed out to tourists approximately 5 times during each and every general tour around Washington. This is quite the joke among the people I’ve been in Washington with over the years (“And if you look to your left, you will see the Washington Monument. As we leave this stop, the Washington Monument will be behind you.”), so Sue and I appreciated the irony of finishing up the march with the Washington Monument straight ahead.

protest march

Marchers chanted and waved signs along the route. Somebody in the group would yell, “What does democracy look like?” And everybody within hearing would respond, “This is what democracy looks like!” Or “When they go low, what do we do?” And we say, “We go high!” And the big chant of “Make America Kind Again.”

We were due back at the bus by 6 pm. By 4 pm, we were leaving the crowd to work our way to L’Enfant Plaza Metro, where we could also find restrooms and hot drinks at the nearby food court. We were not the only people who thought that. Many many people thought that.

But Washington is a great town, and some nice person at L’Enfant Plaza thought it was fine for us to use the men’s room. The men thought it was fine for them to go find the single toilet ‘family’ restrooms, and with no conflict, everybody found a place to pee.

When we got down to the platform for the metro, we once again found lots and lots of people, although maybe not as many as in the morning when everybody was traveling at the same time. Once we were able to board, we actually found seats, and we had a chance to meet a group of women who had come in by bus from Michigan. All of them were teachers, and they had traveled overnight by bus to come to Washington and were getting ready to travel overnight to get back home. They were tired and happy to have been a part of the event.

As we got back to the DC Armory Metro Station, our metro operator again came on the speaker and this time finished the “Thank you for riding with us” and said, “And thank you so much for marching for me today. I hope you have a safe trip home.”

Then we went up the escalator and outside to make our way to the bus parking lot, where we found our bus because we had been smart enough to take pictures of our bus and the parking lot sign. You would not believe how many people were milling around the lots trying to find their buses among the other 1200 buses spread over multiple parking lots. Of course, because the day had gone much too smoothly, we found out that our driver was delayed getting to his rest area for the day, and he couldn’t drive for another hour, so we found a curb to sit on to wait, along with the rest of our fellow passengers.

Then Sue did something wonderful. She pulled out a navel orange and peeled it, and after eating energy bars all day, those were the best orange sections ever in the history of oranges.

It was kind of fun to hang out with our friends and talk about the day. It was also pretty cool to pull up the news on our phones and discover that, not only had the Washington March set attendance records, so had marches all over the world. We were really excited about what that might mean in the future.

It was fun to be able to sit down on the bus. It was also fun to rehydrate with mini bottles of wine -don’t judge – and string cheese and Oreos while someone else did the driving.

It has taken me several days to decompress from this trip. I will remember it forever. We didn’t do the trip perfectly, and there are things we would probably manage differently, but we’ll never get the chance to take this journey again – and that’s alright. It was a good day.

Maybe I’ll buy the t-shirt.

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