One woman’s account of marching on the U.S. capitol
Like many women in the US, Canada, and around the world, I was looking forward to the election of the first female US President. While many nations have had women leaders, having a woman as the leader of a superpower felt like a particularly symbolic breakthrough, as well as an essential bulwark against the erosion of hard-fought rights. I was looking forward to celebrating the repudiation of Trump’s sexism with my American sisters, and was already planning a trip to Western New York to pay my respects to Susan B. Anthony, and the number of other suffragists and abolitionists buried in the area. I watched with dismay as election night unfolded. It was extremely disheartening to realize the misogyny and racism that characterized Trump’s campaign had won the day, if not the popular vote.
As a Canadian, Trump’s threats against NAFTA, NATO, the UN, and his close ties to Russia made me feel unmoored and fearful for the post-WWII consensus that has kept the world relatively stable for the last 70 years, but mostly I grieved for the women, people of colour, and LGBTQ community whose fundamental rights were now at risk. When the Women’s March on Washington was announced in the days immediately following the election, and a friend suggested we go, I knew that this was something I had to do; to bear witness, be present, and stand in solidarity with my American women friends, and all Americans who are under threat from Trump’s agenda.
I drove down with four other women the day before the march. Our first inkling that the march was going to be bigger than expected was hearing reports of rest stops in Pennsylvania full of women, and all the flights coming into Washington full of women. We stayed in Rockville Maryland and were invited to a party in the home of a friend of one of my traveling companions. It was a wonderful evening of laughter and camaraderie, especially for those who had come from red states and counties. They were grateful to us for coming and letting them know they aren’t alone.
The next hint of the enormity of what was unfolding was the line up to get into the Metro station the next morning. We barely managed to squeeze on the train even though we were one of the first stops on the line. The mood on the train set the tone for the day, with everyone chatting with strangers and breaking out in song as we sang a call and response Women’s March song lead by an older woman.
We moved with the crowd from Union Station toward the Mall. We filed onto the Capitol grounds through a narrow opening in the fencing, manned by a single police officer, and single security guard. It would be one of the few times we saw any police presence throughout the day. As we headed across the Mall toward the rallying point at Independence and 3rd, it quickly became obvious we were not going to get anywhere near the speakers because of the size of the crowd. The Mall was full at this point, as were the streets on either side. The crowd was far too large for the planned march. Even though no one could hear the speakers, and no one knew what was going on, there was no sense of chaos. By unspoken consensus, the crowds gradually started moving up the Mall toward the Elllipse in front of the Whitehouse.
The spirit was overwhelmingly positive and uplifting. We took great joy in the signs that were by turns funny, creative, moving, and pointed. Anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia, access to healthcare, especially reproductive healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and climate change were the primary themes. It’s hard to pick out a favourite from the many gems, but I’ll never forget the group of teenage boys with signs reading “My mom could kick Trump’s ass!”, “My mom is my hero!”, and “Have you called your mom?” Men and boys of all ages made up about a third of the crowd.
The enormity of the day really hit at the intersections of the streets running perpendicular to the mall. As we turned to look, we saw even side streets were jammed solid as far as the eye could see. One thing that will stick with me for a long time is the sound of the cheering. You could here it beginning in the distance and rolling over the crowds like a locomotive; the sound of hundreds of thousands of voices raised as one, reverberating off the walls of the venerable buildings lining the Mall. It sent chills down my spine.
When we finally made it back to our Airbnb that night and turned on the news, we learned that crowd experts were calling it the largest protest in US history, and yet there had been no arrests. None. I’m still trying to process what it meant to me to be part of something so unprecedented. I’m already quite active in my community, and have stepped up to campaign for politicians who share my values and beliefs. I keep going back to my original impulse for joining the march in the first place; I wanted to be present, to show the people who have real reason to fear Trump’s agenda that they are not alone.
The camaraderie of the party we attended the night before the march, and the uplifting, unified spirit of the march itself make me see the value of reaching out, and strengthening each other by building social ties. While I’m an active and engaged citizen, I don’t always give of myself in a way that strengthens other people and builds and sustains relationships. I don’t know where the momentum of the march will take us, but I have resolved as an individual, to try to be more open, more welcoming and hospitable to those around me. As a straight, white, cis-gendered, Canadian woman, I don’t face the same existential threat from the populist, white nationalist wave rising in many Western nations, but I can use my voice and presence can push back against it, and be a source of strength for the more vulnerable members of our societies. As a woman of faith, I believe small acts repeated and magnified, can make change. If no more comes of my journey to Washington, that will be enough.