“Tell me what Democracy looks like!” “THIS is what Democracy looks like!” Cooperation, Compassion and common courtesy. These might not be the things you expect when 1/2 a million marchers, protestors, assemble in the nation’s capitol the day after a new President’s inauguration.
The night before, a swarm of women and men, with clear totes, bags and backpacks slung over their shoulders, and neon pink lettering splashed across cardboard signs they will carry in the march, boarded busses in Columbus, OH. They were headed to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March. They may have suspected that marchers all over the country were doing the same, but they could not have imagined the massive support, in the form of solidarity marches, that would happen all over the world the next day.
There’s excitement in the air, and a bit of anxiety brewing; there is only 1 bus in sight, and it’s close to Midnight. There are easily 7x the number of marchers as could possibly fit on the bus. A 2nd bus arrives, and groups of women line up, in groups, ready to roll. A lot of planning has gone into this trip, and they so desperately want to be present.
As the third bus pulls up I see a friend I did not know was attending the march step out of her car. Her young daughter is watching from the passenger seat window, anxious to see her mother go. Mom has never left town like this before, and it’s clear to this 8-year-old that something very important is happening. Imagine the lessons she is learning, about women having their voices heard, and supported. Her mother boards a bus with likeminded citizens, concerned with women’s rights, and equality in general.
This young woman is just old enough. . . she will remember this night. She will remember this time. She will remember this political climate. She will remember this Presidency, for better or for worse. She will remember that her father was there in the driver’s seat, supportive of the statement her mother was off to make.
Prior to the march, the group I was traveling with had talked of connecting with other Ohio friends who we knew would be there. Social media had been used to communicate about a common meet-up spot. All we’d have to do is look for the “O-H-I-O” banner, and gather around it, on the National Mall. The plan was to move together as a group, to the start of the official March.
We learned quickly that any attempt at this would simply be impossible. There were just so many people in D.C., women, men and children. There were just too many marchers, protesters, to ever meet up! The march would spill over onto streets that ran parallel to the original route. Side streets were a sea of signs and posters, demanding equality, fair treatment, and respect.
Marching Chants Filled the Air:
“Tell me what America looks like! This is what America looks like!”
“Welcome to your first day; we will NOT go away!”
“Education, not Deportation!”
“We need a Leader, not a Tweeter!”
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Discrimination has got to go!”
It was surprising that this massive volume of people could be mobilized peacefully, all moving in the same direction, through the streets and toward the White House. Midway through the march, just ahead, the chanting was cut off, marchers began signaling to each other to fall silent, and a tense hush fell over the crowd. “There’s a missing child!” was called out. Everyone paused, and in just moments the child was reunited with parents. Applause, and the march continued.
The city was not prepared for the enormous turnout for the march, so there were long lines at the portable bathrooms that were stationed all over the Mall. There were so many more people in the city than could have been anticipated. One after another, they came out of the stalls declaring “there’s no toilet paper.” Prepared marchers reached into their purses and pockets, saying “I have this tissue” and “This napkin will work”. Hand sanitizer was produced just as easily.
In the moments before the march was scheduled to start it was a challenge, to say the least, for the number of women present to get through the bathroom line inside the Smithsonian art museum. With the Women’s restroom unable to handle the capacity, an attempt was made to open up the Men’s room to the crowd, taking turns to allow the men who were present to have continued access. A uniformed security guard blocked the entrance, not allowing access.
This didn’t stop a group of strong-minded women who were intent on participating in the march outside. In a very organized manner they made repeated requests to speak to supervisors, or whoever it was that had the ability to make these special accommodations. Such people were tied up elsewhere in the building. After being told “no” and “it’s out of my hands – I’m not the one who can make a decision” several times, my friends flagged down the guard who was on his way to give the first guard his break, explaining the situation.
“They’re not letting you use both facilities?” he asked. “Well, that’s just unnecessary.” The line was opened, and shrank rapidly as women moved quickly through. Again, the male supporters who were there to march alongside these women were not pushed aside, but had equal access to the facilities. There were cheers from the back of the line, and someone asked my friend: “Are you a lawyer?” She replied, “No, I’m from New York!” The kind museum security guard was the “relief” in every sense of the word.
I traveled with an amazing group of women, who each brought their own perspective, their own strengths, and their own passion. My teacher friend. . . well, she was the one who took charge of the bathroom situation, not backing down when told “no”, finding a solution for all of us.
The environmentalist in the group had to think twice about what to do when she learned that only clear plastic water bottles would be allowed on site. It hadn’t occurred to her to purchase one of those environmentally polluting single-use, “disposable” bottled waters. It was important to stay hydrated all day, so bottles were used and reused, then recycled whenever possible. A mother and her teen daughter worked diligently to make signs before the rally, carrying them proudly the entire duration of the march.
The force behind pulling the group together, who is an impassioned lawyer, and the one who printed maps for all of us to carry, in case our phones had no service, also made sure we had enough snacks, extra ponchos in case it rained, and hand warmers to battle any unexpected drop in temperature. On the way home she gave in to her tiredness, like the rest of us, leaning against her seat-mate to doze on the shuttle bus. Her husband gathered us up at 3 am, when we finally arrived back in Columbus.
On the ride home there was still a buzz of hushed conversation around us, as those who were too wound up to sleep shared stories of the day, and reacted to the media coverage of the event. They were seeing it for the first time, at the end of the day, after having very little cell phone service throughout the march.
What about myself, the photographer, philosophy major ad journalist of the group? I was busy taking it all in, capturing these moments with my camera, and hurriedly taking notes on the notepad on my SmartPhone. I thought of all the journalists across the world, working late into the night, to meet deadlines, and get the stories of the day out there.
The world noticed the efforts of those in attendance. Even better, they joined in all over the country and the world! A friend from Florida made the trip to D.C. with friends, and shared these photos, saying:
“Today I marched in our nation’s capital. I marched with women of all ages and colors and with many men who were clearly here to support the women they love. I came here because I wanted to stand with these amazing people to express my opposition to the man [whose views] challenge the many disciplines of science that are paramount to environmental issues and health care and the economy. I marched because black lives matter. I marched for the LGBT community. . . Hug your loved ones tonight.” (Gabriela Wisniewski)
Another friend shared information about a Solidarity Hike in Prague, Czech Republic. She sent me images her brother, Constantin Barbu, took at this sister event.
I believe this selfie, by my dear friend Jen Burke, captures the spirit of the day, for me! (I’m the redhead in the background.)
Join me on my next adventure,
Women’s March on Washington: https://www.womensmarch.com/