Our country ushered in a new president Friday, January 20.
The world watched in shock as Donald J. Trump gave a speech of horror and dismay, speaking of “carnage” and the apparent hellscape that is current America. He offered to save this country, save us, claimed that he was the only one who could do so and that he would undoubtedly “‘Make America Great Again.’”
I, along with many others, felt the heavy weight of fear creep up my back at his words, felt the dawning realization that this was real and not some publicity stunt, a joke gone too far.
The November days of anger and utter bewilderment had finally turned into a moment of intense and paralyzing grief.
While not everyone may have felt the way I did, I cannot ignore the growing number of sympathizers speaking about their fear of the days that followed.
Fortunately, I was able to find some hope and ease the following day as I joined at least half a million women (and men) to march in Washington, D.C. as part of the Women’s March on Washington.
Those of us in the District of Columbia were not the lone marchers, either; later I learned that an estimated 3-4 million people had marched worldwide. Many around the country were speaking out against what they felt in the wake of the inauguration.
As my friends and I arrived at one very crowded Metro station, we were greeted with amiable faces and waves of pink, cat-eared hats. Signs ranging from generic “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” to anti-Trump posters were abundant, and a sense of humor seemed to permeate the serious atmosphere. Groups talked among each other, sharing jokes and Trump-related puns.
After we rode the train and finally arrived above ground, we gradually assimilated into the already growing crowd. It was around 10:30 a.m., and the rally was already underway, speakers booming and large monitors positioned every 100 or so feet. We tried to push our way to the front, but ended up turning around so we could see the nearest screen.
As we made our way back, we passed a few anti-march protestors, but none of them were specifically promoting the new president. Most held religious signs, promoting Jesus and how he’d “save” us.
A woman with a microphone told us as we passed that we were simply “afraid to submit to a man” and that we “were all lesbians because we hadn’t found the right man.” She then proceeded to ask us why we weren’t at home doing laundry since “it’s a Saturday, and Saturday is laundry day.”
Ignoring this very obvious attempt to rile us up, we found our way to a screen and proceeded to listen as powerful women (and I repeat, men as well) gave empowering and uplifting speeches concerning issues like reproductive rights, immigration, racial inequality and the gender gap that pervades our society.
There was a mix of speakers varying in gender, orientation, race and religion. Some were angry, others hopeful and many simply hoped to inspire those in the crowd to stand up, speak out and take action.
The rally ended up running longer than intended, with large parts of the crowd beginning to grow restless and shout chants of “March! March!” in hopes of speeding things along.
It worked; the last few speakers seemed to fly through their speeches, and we were finally given the go ahead.
The moment after the announcement, it was like the whole crowd let out a sigh of relief. We swiftly turned toward the Washington Monument, our first destination, and began to march forward.
It was slow at first, the crowd so thick you couldn’t move more than a few steps before being halted by a wall of people. But as time went on, those few steps turned into a few strides, signs lifting eagerly above the crowd.
Chants broke out while we walked, ranging from, “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here” to the slightly more aggressive, “We will never go away, welcome to your first day.”
Some marchers began to sing popular songs ranging from Bill Withers “Lean on Me” to a beautiful, hushed rendition of “God Bless America.”
As we arrived at the Washington Monument, my friends and I decided to take a quick break before marching onto the White House.
We lined up with thousands of others as we waited to use the oh-so-popular Porta Potties.
It was there I had a strange bonding moment with some women around me as we realized many bathrooms were out of toilet paper.
Those with bags began quickly rummaging around until they produced napkins and wet wipes and handed them out with smiles and a few laughs concerning the absurdity of the situation. It may sound strange, but I felt a sense of camaraderie in that moment, realizing that something similar would unlikely happen elsewhere.
After the strange yet oddly endearing moment, we slowly made our way to the White House, where volunteers and D.C. police escorted us around barricades and onto the lawn.
While we could not get to the fence of the White House, it didn’t stop marchers from pushing forward.
Everyone crowded together, a drum circle breaking out as protestors danced and chanted. We enjoyed each other’s presence and felt more powerful by the minute.
A nearby woman commented on how the march had been “the nicest protest she’d ever been to” and as protestors around me apologized as they weaved through each other and shared jokes and snacks, I couldn’t have agreed with her more.
It was around 5:30 p.m. when my friends and I decided to end our day of protesting, legs weary and throats sore.
But we felt more alive than we had since November. We had shared with thousands of people a day of protecting equality among all people.
We passed protestors leaving signs on government buildings, which inspired us to do the same. Instead of government buildings, we opted to leave our sign outside of the new Trump International Hotel.
The multitude of signs lined along the fence blocking protestors from actually approaching the building was an image that really hit that last emotion home, a sense of power welling up inside me, a fire that had been smothered, I realized, for some time.
On the train ride back, the Metro was still crowded with weary marchers, but everyone was still smiling, laughing as we joked over what Trump might say about us tomorrow in one of his infamous tweets. There was an electricity in the air, malleable as we each took home with us something new and inspiring.
My biggest takeaway from the march was that sometimes it’s the small things that help the most.
So, in an effort to pass on the fire given to me, I encourage everyone to call their representatives, get involved with local or national government, vote in the midterm elections and ultimately make your voice heard.
One march does not solve the problem, but it does provide people with the passion and solidarity they need to move forward.
And for that, I am forever grateful.