This is a long, boring account of an exciting, historic weekend in Washington DC.
The Women’s March on Washington (or really on the world) took place on January 21, 2017. While the numbers were never conclusive, several estimates have come to between 3-4 million people taking part in marches on all 7 continents. Yet, between President Trump’s executive orders and the debates occurring in Congress over health care and abortion funding, there seems to be little acknowledgment of the sheer number of people that showed up to express views that are in turn being overtly disregarded in the policy decisions of the week.
I never expected a magical transformation of opinion, but perhaps, some form of recognition (maybe a speech, thanks Aziz) of an opposing point of view felt deserved. However, in the squabbles over crowd sizes and popularity, the fact that a huge constituency rose up in all 50 states and around the world was lost. Then again, alternative facts are more favorable these days. I can’t say who is right or who is wrong, but I can say what I saw and experienced when I was there.
(Any expression of opinion will be in italics).
Friday: Inauguration Day
I was there in the morning on the Amtrak train with my mom and my teenage sister. Some women were there with signs. They were big signs that looked like they were professionally made. There was one woman making a big pink hat. The train was sold out. My sister and I studied and worked and read the text of Trump’s inauguration speech.
I was there in Union Station. It seemed way more crowded than any other time I had been to DC on numerous trips. We waited in line to buy our metro passes for 15 minutes on a long line. There was a mixture of Trump supporters coming down the escalator—wearing hats, scarves, and sweatshirts—and people arriving for the march. I felt a nervous energy and my sister was shocked to see so many people outright supporting our new President. I told her to get used to it and that we were “crashing their party.” I reminded her that not all Trump supporters are racists and it’s important that just as we want people to understand our views, we need to make an effort to understand theirs.
I was there on the metro. It arrived quickly and was pretty spacious. After a one stop, we took empty seats. There were many Trump supporters with their hats. Many were making observations about the metro. At one stop I changed seats and sat next to a teenage boy whose parents were talking about being at the inauguration. He was very blonde and very pale. He giggled when a man barely got off the metro before the doors closed. Maybe this was his sense of humor or I considered that maybe it was one of his first times on a metro. My sister turned around from the seat in front of us and said she wanted to make her sign for tomorrow to say, “Make America Gay Again.” The boy seemed uncomfortable but looked straight ahead. My mom whispered to my sister to stop it.
I was there at the Woodley Park stop and got off the metro. People did not seem to know the way it works on the escalator where you stand on the right and walk on the left. I walked to my friend’s apartment and grinned at Mama Ayesha’s where the mural of presidents is. It felt welcoming yet unsettling that it was so peaceful on these outer streets when there was a huge, altering event occurring only a few miles away.
I was there at my friend’s apartment for a sign making “party.” The mood was anxious. People alternated between chatting and checking the news on their phones. I talked with my friend’s coworker who is on the communications team for a government agency. It was sad that their strategy was to downplay some great things that they do so that they can continue doing them for as long as possible. I watched my friends make signs and did some work. My friend’s friend came back from the inauguration where she had been taking photos to try to sell to news agencies. She said she had wanted to make a diptych of the events of today and those tomorrow, but it was not as crowded as she expected with Trump supporters to photograph.
I was there walking back to the metro. A group of Trump hat wearing guys jumped out of an Uber. They looked like frat bros. On the metro back to the center it was calm. As I walked to our hotel some women got out of a pedicab and were livid that he had tried to rip them off. I went in the elevator upstairs with them. I found myself wondering what side they were on.
I was there at a restaurant with my family. We brainstormed signs on the paper covering our table. The inauguration parade was playing on the TV screens, but we did not pay too much attention. Our waiter was very friendly.
I was there at Walgreens. We bought one big black sign and one box to tear apart and make two signs. We bought paint and a makeup brush (fitting for a women’s march). I grabbed some patriotic things near the checkout. For me, this march and everything it stood for was patriotic for what makes America great to me.
I was there in our hotel where we watched Tina Fey in “Baby Mama” and made our signs. It was fun to do an art project and it made me excited for the next day. I needed blue for my sign and realized we left the Sharpies we paid for at Walgreens. I went back and some other girls were ahead of me at the checkout. They were also buying sign supplies and the cashier said he wished he could join them. I told him what the Sharpies were for and he smiled and said he wanted to see all these signs. I returned and finished my flag and we went to sleep.
Saturday: The Women’s March on Washington
I was there in our hotel room, getting ready and trying to coordinate meeting people via text.
I was there in the breakfast room where we sat with our signs and were eating. A man with a “Make America Great Again” hat + button came and sat at the table next to us. We exchanged greetings, but it felt tense. He commented on our signs and said he had heard that some sort of march was happening today. I don’t think he had any idea of the scale or the urgency we felt. Then he proceeded to start a conversation with us. It was 8:30 am. Somehow, in 15 minutes we managed to cover healthcare, the economy, immigration, the environment, and he told us that he had met Trump personally several times and believed he was a good guy. It was hard to get a word in. He asked us what had Obama done in 8 years? It felt too early for statistics. He told us if Trump didn’t follow through he himself would not vote for him again. Another table on the other side of his joined in with our perspective. A table of other Trump supporters gave him a thumbs-up from across the room. We excused ourselves and felt exhausted.
I was there on the metro where people were converging from all directions to go down the escalator or wait for people to meet. The platform was not so crowded but the train came and it was packed. We threw ourselves into the fray and it was not possible to stand up straight. I was leaning on a woman with my butt against the door and had to step out and in at several stops. My sister complained of a bad smell. A group tried to start a chant, but it died out. A neighbor from our town called out to us. At Judiciary Square the platform was too crowded for the train to stop and let people off. At the next stop every remaining person got out except for a homeless man and us and the car in front of us was empty. We got out at the next stop to meet our family.
I was there on the streets of NoMa walking with my family back towards the mall along with others with signs and pink hats. My sister and cousin bought pink hats and paid a steep price compared to another woman we met along the way. Near Union Station, the crowd got thicker. We stopped to take some photos and for my cousins to buy their train ticket home. We walked toward the Capitol building in a stream of people of all ages from grannies in wheelchairs to toddlers. We picked a meeting point in case we got lost.
I was there on the Mall. We stopped to see a huge globe ball and a huge scroll of the Constitution and signed our names. We the People…We wandered further until we stopped in a place that was a good mix of crowded, yet not claustrophobic. We were still too far from the stage that we could not hear anything. We chanted and cheered along with the crowd. My sister took over leading some cheers because her voice is pretty loud.
- Hey, ho, Donald Trump has got to go. While not realistic, this is pretty catchy.
- Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.
- Tell me what America looks like, this is what America looks like. I think this one was the most bittersweet.
- Her body her choice, My body my choice. Perhaps, the most directly relevant to the “Women’s March.”
We giggled and commented on many of the signs:
- We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.
- Girls just want to have fundamental human rights.
- Melania: Blink twice if you need help.
- I’m with her (with arrows pointing all around).
- Keep your tiny hands off my uterus.
- No human is illegal.
I was there on the Mall and I looked back to see my best friend and her sign. I went over to say hello and we took some pictures. Now, I realize it is truly crazy that we actually happened to meet up amongst 500,000 people. There was no cell service for hours. My uncle took my cousin out of the crowd to go back to the hotel. He followed my cousin’s sign to find us again. He told us the crowd parted from him when he said he needed to get back to the sign that said “P***y grabs back.”
I was there standing and my back started to hurt. We played Beyoncé on our iPhones and danced a little. We made a speaker out of a toilet paper role. A little girl passed by on her dad’s shoulders. We smiled and asked her how many people she could see. We really had no idea how big the mass of people was. She started to count “1,2,3…” we laughed together.
I was there at 1 pm when we were supposed to start to march. We were impatient to move after several hours. My mom got some service and checked the news. We learned that it was impossible to march because the entire route was full of people. The crowd started to move and we started to walk. We followed the big globe that had glided toward us. It felt scary to be in front of the globe, being carried by a mass of people. We were in the moment but trying to stay safe. My sister linked arms with some strangers and walked in a different direction. We grabbed her, but she resented us for it.
We were there in a sea of people spilling in all directions. We walked down the Mall to the beat of a drum. Then we split off to walk toward the streets. We walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. We saw an old neighbor. There were 6 of us and we kept checking around to stay together. We stopped with everyone in front of the Trump International Hotel. The crowd booed and chanted “Shame, shame.” I felt sad for the people inside. Did they see us? Were they afraid?
We were there walking toward the White House, but we heard whispers that it was blocked from people. We turned up a side street and were a little bit up a hill. We looked down and it hit us just how massive we were. For as far as we could see in all directions there were people, with signs, and pink hats. It was amazing and empowering.
We were there on a street corner where we hugged our family and split. We started to walk back towards our hotel and stopped to use a toilet at a pizzeria. We kept walking to find a restaurant to eat, but everywhere had a line. Our legs were tired. We stopped in a hotel restaurant a block from our hotel. It was about 4:30 pm. We were the first ones in the restaurant.
I was there at the table and our waiter came over. He asked us about the march and commented that he was happy we were not Trump supported. He reported he had been serving them all weekend and they weren’t the easiest customers. My sister went to the bathroom. When she came back she said a woman in the lobby had asked the manager if there were any liberals eating in the restaurant. The manager reported that there was a group from the march who had just walked in (this was us). Maybe they sat her in a separate section of the restaurant, or maybe she left. Sorry not sorry. We ate and the food was amazing.
I was there in our hotel room and got into bed at 6 pm. We put on CNN but then changed to Fox News. On the show, there was a group discussing the events of the weekend at a roundtable. The conservatives were urging to give Trump a chance; the one liberal couldn’t get a word in. My sister and I watched the interruption for the Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s briefing. I laughed and cried. Is this how it will be from now, I wondered? We were dumbfounded and it made me sad that many people probably believed what he said. It ended and the camera went back to the group, the tone had totally shifted and they were all as shocked as we were. One of the conservatives said, “Wow.”
I was there in my bed and we watched 3 movies. We went to sleep.
I was there in DC on Sunday. The city felt so quiet. I walked to the metro and went to Alexandria area to meet my friend and support her bagel pop-up. On the metro, a group of students with their chaperones was leaving town. I got off just as a man started a political discussion with them. I was glad not to get involved. I learned how to make bagels and I went with my friend to get Mexican food. We discussed politics and the table behind us stopped to tell us they agreed with everything we were saying on their way out. I remembered the last time I was in Alexandria, I had accidentally stumbled on a Hillary Clinton rally.
I was there in downtown at Starbucks. A group of college girls was discussing the march. Two college boys with Trump hats were in line for coffee. I wanted to know why they supported him. I met my family. It was pouring rain outside and very gloomy. We decided to walk to the White House. A man asked us if we wanted to buy any signs he had taken from near the march. He told us he supported Trump and was not a good guy, but just trying to make money. We didn’t need to buy signs because we were there.
We were there at the White House. We stood there with a group of about 40 people and saw all the signs that people had left beyond the barrier. We walked close to the fence and took pictures. It was somber. A man tried to bring a sign and put in on the fence and the secret service yelled at him.
I was there on the corner with my family where we met an Uber car to take us to our hotel. We collected our things and met my friend for dinner at a tapas restaurant. We had a nice time.
I was there at Union Station and boarded another sold out train to go home.
It’s been one week and the causes that we stood and we marched for look pretty bleak:
- Organizations that provide women’s health services abroad, even if they don’t provide abortions but mention it, were defunded in an Executive Order signed in a room of men.
- Government agencies that deal with the environment were silenced and several agencies created alternate Twitter accounts to continue sharing their scientific research.
- The Civil Rights, LGBTQ, and Climate Changes pages on the White House website was removed and there is no longer a Spanish translation.
- On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the President signed an Executive order barring immigration, refugees, and visitors from 7 countries, determined by their majority religion. The following day, many faced detention as airport employees scrambled to interpret and uphold the order.
- Discussions of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border advanced, despite outcries from both sides of the fence that already exists on the border and from around the world.
It feels hard not to feel invisible, as if the march did not even happen or if it was some sort of alternate reality. Sometimes I feel outraged and confused at how the leadership of our country is ignoring the outcries of an entire group (essentially representing a tolerant, respectful, socially-conscious worldview) that turned out around the world. We are being told to wait, see, and give the benefit of the doubt. On November 9th, 2016, in Trump’s acceptance speech he stated, “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans.” We were there at the Women’s March on Washington to say, “We are Americans,” and we agree– he needs to be a president for all. We were there at the march to show that we will be there if he does not keep his word.
We were there and now we are here.