Commentary: Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
In midday of Jan. 20, 2017, a plane from Oklahoma touched down on the damp hills of Baltimore, Md. On the same day, just 50 miles away from where we landed, Donald Trump was in the middle of being sworn in at the nation’s capital, where the world watched history being made.
I, in my humble brown backpack and worn sneakers, waited with my fellow Oklahomans at the baggage claim, where there were rows of TV screens broadcasting the inauguration live. Many in the airport, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived citizens of our beautiful and diverse America, stood with their eyes glued to the screens, looking with either expressions of horror or pride.
An elderly man wearing a USA hat cried tears of joy, his lower lip trembling as he grasped his heart and nodded at what was being said on-screen. On the opposite side of the foyer was a young man in military uniform. Like a statue, he stood still, his arms resting behind his back as tears silently slid down his solemn face. A woman next to us, a fellow marcher whom we’d talked to on the plane, looked away in disgust. This small airport, a little dewdrop in the U.S., seemed to be a perfect example of our current America; mushed together, kind of cold, and, for the most part, divided into two separate groups.
The conveyer belt started dispensing our baggage as the people on TV congratulated their new President. Into the airport under the Obama administration, out of it under Trump. I shivered, grabbed my luggage and headed out into the foggy land of Baltimore.
The Road to the March
In late November, I was invited to join a group of women attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. As the website for the event read: “This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.”
I’m a 13-year-old girl living in Kingfisher, OK - a sleepy farming town with a population that never rises above 5,000. You can imagine how ecstatic I was at the prospect of not only being in a place that doesn’t perpetually smell like cows (no offense cows) but also having the opportunity to be a part of history.
Come January, not even the tales of frigid cold in D.C. could sway me and more than 500,000+ women from flocking to the nation’s capital. In line at the Oklahoma City airport, we encountered a theme that would weave through and connect together our entire trip: friendliness and respect. Just standing in line we met four other women attending the march who were just as enthusiastic about the trip and happy to meet others of the same mindset.
After a night in Baltimore spent in “Little Italy,” the Italian district of the city, and a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m., we boarded a bus filled with pink hats (the sort of symbol of the marchers) and set off towards D.C. before there was a ray of sunlight in the sky. The bus -stuffed full with picket signs and heavy coats in preparation for what we anticipated to be a freezing, long day, was the perfect warm-up for what we would experience at the march. Stranger met stranger as we inched out of the Baltimore fog and onto the road heading for D.C. If there was anger in these marchers, it did not show. If there was fear in their minds, it was overpowered by the will for change. If these people, the gentle, kind, respectful American citizens I met on the way to D.C. had a cell of hatred in them, it was hidden beneath layers of a deep wanting to help others and a powerful drive to create a better world.
The bus dropped our crew of marchers off at Union Station, a ginormous and confusingly large white building in D.C. where tourists like to stop and take pictures. (Which we did.) Walking outside of the large archways and into the fresh city air, I got my first taste of how large this event was going to be.
Pink hats speckled every crosswalk and stairway. Little groups congregated and took pictures with their signs or bought merchandise from the many march-themed vendors parked along the sidewalks. I pitied the poor taxis and average citizens attempting to navigate D.C. pre-march, as no road or bathroom line was free from the sheer masses of pink-hat-wearing people washing over their city.
The backdrop to the march was a haunting sight: The desolate Capitol building, still decorated for President Trump’s inauguration. While the rest of the Mall was swamped with a sea of people, the Capitol was a ghost town. The whole area was fenced off from the marchers and littered with leftover trash from the inauguration crowd. Leading up to the podium where our new president had stood just the day before, were rows of abandoned metal chairs. Large American flags from different time periods were turned sideways and hung by the podium. The whole of it made for an eerie, uncomfortable sight.
Grandmothers and granddaughters alike set up their signs as a silent protest and snapped pictures of the deserted Capitol building. It seemed like every person at the march, no matter the age, race or gender, had something to say about the new president: Not all of them positive. It did appear that if this was to be labeled as an anti-Trump or anti-president protest, it would be the biggest, most emotional one in history.
The original purpose of the pink hat phenomenon was to create a “Sea of Pink” throughout Washington. D.C., to make the streets so vibrant and loud that no matter where you were, the voices and sights of the march would reach you. The city was filled by the type of adrenaline that can only come from fighting for a cause you believe in. The crowd was swept up in its own energy, and it seemed like no cameraman or tour bus was a match for the wave of passionate marchers flooding the streets of Washington.
Unbeknownst to those of us in D.C., sister marches in all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica) were taking place. Minds all across the world were united in one cause as people took to the streets with their signs and their voices to cry out a single message: “We are here, we are powerful and we are going to change the world!”
Change the world we did. The Women’s’ March was the largest mass protest in the history of the U.S. yet, with marches stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
Those of us in D.C. were just starting to sense the energy of our movement, and we were loving it. It may have taken a while for every one of the picketers in D.C. to get wind of the mass of people we had marching by our side across the globe, but in the crowd of strong, empowered men and women, it certainly felt like our numbers were infinite. I’ve never felt so big and so small at the same time.
Why We March
I remember in fifth grade, when recess was still given out generously and Lunchables were the food of gods, I was not yet aware of the world of politics. It was early spring, when grass had not yet turned green and the world still felt at rest. I sat outside huddled up with a book in my hands and enjoyed the feeling of new life emerging into the world.
Behind me, I heard a group of boys scuffling around and laughing. Rocks flew past as one of them slammed their shoe against a nearby wall and sent bits of it scattering. Crickets had just begun to be born all around our little farming town. Tiny, helpless little bugs the size of my fingertips were everywhere, just learning how to sing and hop. These boys were torturing the poor creatures. They pulled their legs off one by one and smashed them onto the floor, then chased around the other children with the mutilated corpses. Horrified, I tried shoving them away and begging them to stop. When they ignored me, I went to a teacher and told them about what was happening.
“Boys will be boys.” She shrugged, looking back down at her phone.
This is what I remembered as we finished our last route of the Women’s March. The stream of people had slowly thinned out to a few marchers along the road behind the Lincoln Memorial. It was more peaceful, and definitely quieter than the city streets where one struggled to breathe. Cars and tour buses filled the path next to us, and one at a time, they all began to honk. Soon the air was filled with nothing but the sounds of cheers and car horns showing their support. I realized the reason why I remembered that moment in fifth grade is because it was the first time I had ever really taken notice of unfair treatment. It was an excuse, really. ”Boys will be boys.” Something to shake of the violent ways we raise our young boys and then assume it to be natural.
Some people have said this was just a pro-choice march. It was not. We marched for the basic principles of our democracy, for freedom of speech, equal rights for all people, equal pay for equal work, freedom of religious belief for all religions and access for everyone to education and health care.
Marching made me realize the power of humans and what we can do with the power of our hearts, our minds and our voices. Humans are so very intelligent, kind and overall good. The world is not concrete, and neither are people. The only thing standing in the way of changing the world is the doubt that we cannot.
The Women’s March on Washington started with a single idea on Facebook between friends. It was not a grand organization or a rich business owner. People are the ones who start things. They cause change. People are the only ones who are going to cause the change we all need, and it starts with us.
If we care about our democracy, we speak up. It is no longer the choice of the American citizen to stand complacent and watch the world turn without them. We no longer have the luxury of turning and looking the other way from problems that haunt us or others around us. It does not matter what your political party is, it does not even matter who you voted for. It is your responsibility as an American citizen, as a human being, to care for others no matter how different. It is your duty to protect those without protection, provide a welcoming home for the homeless, and to relentlessly pursue a better understanding of everything and everyone around you. It is our job to always push the boundaries of what we can do. It is our obligation to commit ourselves to an endless pursuit of knowledge and to act with boundless amounts of kindness.
Americans come from all places. We are all shapes, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities and religions. We are a nation with people from all places, founded on the idea of freedom for all. Everyone can contribute to making our world safer and more accepting, whether by attending a protest or running for office. Even simply mailing your state senator a postcard about your worries makes all the difference. The same people who organized the Women’s March have made “Ten Actions for the first 100 Days” to keep ordinary citizens active and fighting for the cause of equality.
Whether you were born here or moved to the United States, the minute you call yourself an American you have signed a contract that says, “I will stand for freedom. I will stand for liberty. I will stand with those who have had their basic human rights taken from them. As it is written on our Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Every person has a voice, and every person’s voice matters.
Our country has major flaws, but those flaws do not keep it from being great. We are a country of mistakes. We are a country built on mistakes, but we don’t give in to knee-jerk temptations and one-dimensional ideas. We learn, we plan, and we move forward with the sole purpose of doing better than before.
If you were to ask me to describe my experience at the Women’s March in one phrase, this is what I would say: It has only just begun. March on!