This is what democracy looks like

Two weeks into Trump’s term, millions around the world feel there is simply too much at stake to stay home.

I paused for a final check before walking out the door — keys, phone, tissues, water, granola bars, gloves, pussy hats, markers, signs — all set. My feet fluttered as I descended the three flights of stairs connecting my apartment to the subway. The platform at 96th Street was busier than usual for a mild Saturday morning. Some people seemed to be going about their regular weekend business, but most donned pink hats, colorful and bold signs and were dressed for the elements. The downtown 6 train screeched into the station and together we squeezed through the train car doors. More people piled in with every stop as we made our way down the east side. We bumped elbows, avoided crushing the signs and offered seats to those who needed them. One woman seated in front of me with soft brown hair and caramel skin lifted her almond shaped eyes to meet mine and smiled, eyeing my sign that read, “Love not hate makes America great.” I smiled back and then awkwardly leaned forward, too closely, to let someone pass behind me. At the next stop, she stood up to exit and as I moved out of her way she said quietly but firmly, “Thank you so much for marching. We need it.” I nodded in firm agreement as she passed, fighting back tears that have lodged themselves much closer to the surface since November 8. As she stepped onto the platform, two older women boarded and were holding the pole next to me. I motioned towards the empty seat but they smiled and declined, saying, “We are going to be standing a LOT today — may as well get used to it!” They each had colorful glasses and silver pixie cut hair, down jackets and giddy smiles. They came from breakfast with their high school friends where they joked that they, “Thought this protesting BS was long gone, but guess not. At least we know what to do. Let’s go, ladies!” they declared as we approached the 51st street station where 90% of the train’s passengers poured onto the already buzzing platform.

They reminded me of my Nana, who would be 97 if she were alive today. She marched in Washington, D.C. in 1963 with Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of other civil rights advocates. My mom was only 9 at the time, but remembers it being a very important event and one that was closely tied to my Nana’s fervent beliefs of equal rights for absolutely everyone. Having faced her share of discrimination as a first generation female Jewish-American growing up on the Lower East side of NYC back when it was an impoverished ghetto, she was a committed and vocal activist. I have no doubt she would have been the first to encourage me to march today.

Elizabeth Buck joined the march in San Francisco, referencing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote as her motivation, “’Now is the time to discard that carefulness that too closely resembles a lack of conviction.’ I am not showing up late for this round of resistance.
Grace Palos is a Washington D.C. transplant living in Sydney, Australia. “For me, marching is a way to have a voice in the direction of my country, and be part of the wider discussion with society and the nation.”

I emerged from the subway and fell in line with waves of people flowing towards Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in midtown. Realizing quickly that it would be impossible to reach our pre-planned meeting spot, I planted myself at a relatively quiet corner a few blocks north of the crowd’s border, and emailed and texted ten friends to get the word out of our group’s new assembly point. Subway trains were delayed or canceled, bus routes were interrupted and streets were blocked off all over the city. It felt like Marathon Sunday, just with a different finish line, a much slower pace, and an immensely longer course ahead of us.

2nd Avenue, New York City, January 21st

By the time everyone in our group arrived, the crowd had surged up the street, growing by the minute, along with the audible excitement. A fleet of police officers on bikes wearing neon reflective jackets and whistles glided down the street in two lines side by side, penetrating the crowd. The sea of people parted to let them pass, while cheering and offering high-fives. There were shouts of, “Thank you for your service,” and the officers hooted back in appreciation with fists in the air.

Amber Shapiro marched in New York City for the first time, despite reservations of the crowd, because, “My dislike for Trump and everything he stands far overpowered any doubts I had. This event was an opportunity to show that he’s accountable to all of us. Being there among so many people who aren’t planning to normalize the new order made me regain a little bit of faith in humanity and my country.”
Dana Hall marched in San Francisco pointing out that, “This march was about more than just women’s rights it was about freedom, sanity, and human rights.”

Every 20 minutes or so a random wave of cheering and sign waving would wash over the crowd, voices bubbling up between the rows of skyscrapers. Sometimes it was sparked by a news helicopter nearby, a drone overhead, or a high-rise tenant leaning out the window, unveiling a sign or gesture of support. We stood in the middle of the crowd chatting and reacting to how many people there were — we couldn’t see where the marchers started or ended, had no idea what we were waiting for or when we would start to move, but we were the happiest and most inspired we’d felt since Election Day. Today was the complete opposite of how New Yorkers typically behave when stuck together in crowded places: people would greet strangers and smile, pro-actively make room for parents with strollers to pass, take pictures of and celebrate each other’s signs, let you cut ahead when your group got separated, and sing and chant together. Some people had guitars, another group had a drum line, and some apartments blasted pop music to add even more of a pep in our step as we marched through midtown Manhattan, towards Trump Tower. “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” echoed with every passing block.

Carrie Stefansky, an American living in the Netherlands, marched in Amsterdam because, “We need to build strong alliances to organize and resist, while reminding us that we’re not alone. That sense of solidarity across all of the many physical, social, and geopolitical borders that would normally divide us gave me goosebumps as I saw the photos come in from sister marches around the globe.”
Andy Lantz marched in Austin, Texas, fervently stating that he sees, “No reason NOT to march. I give a damn about the women in my life and I have no excuse to stand on the sidelines when I have the chance to support those who will be harmed more than myself. My favorite sign was simple and to the point. Held by a 5 year-old boy, it read: ‘My sister is my equal.’

250,000+ people gathered in my backyard of NYC and 2.9 million mobilized across the country and around the world that day. Many felt they could finally voice their concerns, fears and discontent with Trump’s platform and administration. Some had so many things on their mind they couldn’t pick just one to address. Some felt like the rest of us finally woke up to how they’ve been feeling for a long time. Others were skeptical of the march’s “kitchen sink” purpose and if it was better to join in or not. But, after a full day of steps, chants, signs, hats, speeches, tweets, posts, hugs, and tears, the question on my mind remained: ”Will this make a difference?”

Nancy Feldman Kirsch from Philadelphia recalled that, “I protested several times against the war in Vietnam. I have never forgotten the impact of being with hundreds of thousands of people who were voicing similar concerns to our government. The direction [Trump] and his cabinet want for our country are unacceptable and I felt I must raise my voice in this way.”
Karen Farrell marched in San Francisco with her son: “As a parent, I’d say the most important reason we marched was to teach my son that all people should be treated equally and to show him that he’s not helpless because the people united are powerful and can affect change.”
Julia Davis from Los Angeles shared that, “We are ready to stand up for our freedom and what we believe in. I have had such sadness, anger and an extreme loss of hope that I desperately wanted to be surrounded by people who have chosen to believe in hope and the good of humanity.”

From my little corner, it’s hard to know, or really feel like I’m making an impact on the people we’re trying to reach. Throughout the two weeks following the march, numerous orders were signed as part of Trump’s 100 day plan: He reversed Obama’s mortgage fee cuts, reinstated the Reagan gag order, nominated the worst cabinet in history, prepared to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), reinstated development of the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines, instituted an immigration ban targeting Muslims and Refugees, prepared to direct federal funds towards building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, froze all grant and contracts at the Environmental Protection Agency, Bannon is given security role usually held for Generals, and so, so much more. The news is all consuming and tough to digest (or accept), like watching a car crash on repeat… but I cannot look away.

Shirley Ma from Chicago marched in Washington, DC because, “I’m scared of ignorance and hatred rearing its ugly head and need to know I’m not alone in my values of inclusion and respect.” Her highlight of the day was, “The inclusiveness. From babies to the elderly. Small town to big city folk. Signs in so many languages. The performances of native Indians chanting and a Muslim black rapper. Folks in wheelchairs. Passionate sign language translators. Star Wars references. History buffs. Gender benders. It was beautiful.”
Eliza Kinsolving marched in San Francisco sharing that, “I can’t remember the last time I spoke to so many people on the street and about so many causes we care deeply about. I wish every day in every local community, Americans could feel that energy.”

As impatient, horrified and terrified as I am of how Trump’s presidency is unfolding, I know that we will not see swift change from one day to the next. We have to slow down this steamroller in order to shift course. I cling to the hope, solidarity and motivation I felt on January 21st and every day since then that we must pursue and embrace every opportunity to bring people together instead of entertaining the notion that division, blame and hatred will make us better off — it’s not pie! I’m inspired by every new “Action of the day” post on Facebook or email thread entitled “MUST DO NOW” appearing on my screen with every passing minute — easy actions to do my part to hold them accountable that require just a quick email, postcard or phone call. #resisttrumptuesdays and #solidaritysundays are now common phrases woven into comparing social plans on and offline. We cannot let it subside. If you agree, here are a few recent favorites that I recommend checking out:

Dan Bell and Anna Rose Barker are Brits who marched in London: “If we could contribute to the numbers on the streets on the 21st, it could show those who feel marginalised that there is a fierce progressive populist voice that cares for them, and it could show politicians that might want to ride the alt-right populist wave that there is an opposition to them that is more and more emboldened to shout them down.”
Lucy Symons is an Aussie living in London and, “Felt re-energised after attending the march. I had read about the legitimate political divisions between different groups organising the march and this made me determined to attend. I knew, as a woman, I didn’t need an invitation. I have always been an activist but rarely a protester. I think this is what has changed, it’s important to stand up for what we believe in. This march showed me a way forward.”

The Women’s March was my second time participating in a large demonstration, but the first where I felt like there is simply too much at stake to stay home. I am not willing to let my neighbors suffer without a fight, or live in a society that breeds the values Trump is advocating. I recognize that many before us and many alongside us have faced a struggle for equal rights and recognition in this country, have protested for decades on end without feeling heard or seeing sufficient progress. I’m hopeful that by adding more voices to theirs, and by taking their lead on how to mobilize for what matters, we will continue to erode this infectious bigotry. I can only hope that this will also usher in reflection of what got us here, and a more deliberative approach to democracy, which we could use now more than ever.

Share your favorite (and effective!) ways to get involved in the comments section below.