I Went to the Women’s March on Washington
The latest text on the group chain comes in around 12:15 a.m. “Go to bed!” someone writes, because we all have to wake up less than three hours from now to grab our signs and get in cars and load onto buses that will head to Washington D.C. So I go to bed. Sort of. Only I fall asleep in fits and starts, thinking I’ve slept minutes or hours and never guessing the right one. By the time my alarm goes off at 2:45, I have put in a collective 73 minutes of sleep at best. I eat cereal in the dark.
The thing I think when I close the door behind me — the thing I’ve been thinking for the last two weeks — is if this is what it feels like right before something terrible happens. It doesn’t feel prophetic or sage. It feels ordinary. It feels like walking out of my door for anything. For groceries, for laundry, for dinner. But today I am marching, and we live in a world of plum targets, of destruction in large quantities. There are people who don’t like us. Because we are American. Because we are women. Because we are pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-minority, pro-environment. I thought about backing out on account of the fear. I considered sleeping in past my alarm, half on accident, so that if disaster came I would not be there. But I go. I am still afraid.
Buses, white and black like Stormtroopers, sit under the red glare of a Target sign. Women wait in lines before them. “Who is traveling as one?” an organizer yells. “We have a single seat on this bus.” And a single woman, who did not need a group of friends to rally with her, steps forward to board. The next bus is for us. Myself and three women, all Danish and citizens of the United States through various means and measures, crawl into our seats. Signs reading things like “Women’s rights are human rights” and “Keep your hands off my ovaries” are rolled up and put underfoot, tucked into overhead bins along with see-thru backpacks and small totes, per the instructions. No backpacks are allowed. Because bad, unknown things get carried in backpacks. Ours are filled with chapstick, granola bars, baby wipes, phone chargers. The supply kits of nasty women, of dangerous women.
Tired bodies begin to fall asleep as we head under the Manhattan Bridge, through the Lincoln Tunnel, onto the 95 towards New Jersey. I am wide awake. I hate-listen compulsively to NPR podcasts recapping the previous day, Donald Trump’s inauguration, which I had watched from a salon chair with my good friend, gay and an immigrant and the brother of a sister with disabilities, standing behind me. We are the people they try to legislate against, because we are the people they refuse to know. There is too much talk of bubbles lately, much of it is wrong.
The 95 corridor is full of us. Every time I look out my window, I see a passing charter bus. The blue glow of a few phones shine through tinted glass like planets in a galaxy. We are an envoy, headed to D.C. under the cover of night, armed with well-deserved anger and fear, plenty of fear. This is something I signed up so quickly for — two days after the election — without any hesitation. Bus tickets were reserved, flights were booked. I knew that I wanted to scream into the air surrounding old buildings, but I didn’t know that it would feel as special as it does, this being a part of something that matters.
It is a feeling that swells when we finally arrive, pulling into a parking lot next to the brutalist form of the RFK Stadium, where men throw footballs and where men swing bats and where, sometimes, women kick soccer balls. Two buses come into view, then twenty, then fifty, then two hundred. Women in pink hats and sensible shoes cluster together, avoiding puddles gathered from the rain the previous day. “I don’t care, frankly, if it’s going to be beautiful or if it’s going to rain like crazy,” Trump said at his inauguration concert, a nearly all-white, all-male parade of never-weres and has-beens. “It makes no difference to me.” It did rain, and it did make a difference to him, I am sure.
While we wait in line to use one of the Porta Potties crammed into the corner of the parking lot, we write the number of our bus and the number of our bus captain on each of our forearms with permanent marker. We forget, as instructed, to also write our names, which is what you’re supposed to do so that someone knows who you are if you are unable to tell them, if you become a body to move. Yesterday, anarchists broke windows and smashed cars. They punched Richard Spencer in the face. Twice. “Do not escalate the conversation if you are antagonized,” our captain warned us. I would, however, happily punch Richard Spencer in the face.
Thousand of women stream through the streets of Hill East. There are lawn signs with MLK quotes plunged into the grass: “Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend,” “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These quotes should not feel as necessary as they do today, as old as they are. Still, there is laughter amongst us as we move towards the Capitol. Spirits are high, unimpacted by the lack of sleep and the very long journeys. Passing cars honk in support. People cheer us on from their porches. Children who will understand the significance of this time much later wave. Ninety percent of D.C. voted for Clinton. The four percent who voted for Trump apparently do not live on this route.
Any fear of violence I had this morning has evaporated by the time we get in the remote vicinity of the stage, though the giant trucks filled with sand that block the many entrances are a reminder of grimmer realities and sorrily imaginable nightmares. The mood amongst us, however, is jubilant, resolute in the face of so much awful news. That morning, Trump announced he wanted to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The following day, he will reinstate the global gag rule, surrounded by white men in suits and ties, white men with daughters that do not matter as much to them as their constituents. The day after that, Trump will start up discussions for the Keystone Pipeline and DAPL. Right now, at this moment, we are ignorant of the headlines that will come, though we know they are coming.
This march is the beginning of a long war. There will be many soldiers. Over two million people will have marched today, in cities and towns all over this country, all fueled by the sound of a cheer as it makes its way through a corridor of thousands, steeled by the evidence that there are more people out there ready to stand up for rights than there are people rooting for them to be snatched away. But there is work, so much work to be done. When we pour back onto our buses nine hours later, legs are swollen from standing, heads throbbing from screaming. Tired, energized, worse for the wear. News begins to flood into people’s phones. Photos from Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Boston, Denver, Chicago. Small marches. Big marches. Someone gets on the bus and tells us D.C. hit the half-million mark. We fill the expanse with a roar.
If yesterday was a funeral, today is a resurrection.