When I learned about the Women’s March in New York City, an echo of the one in Washington and, as it turns out, others around the world, I knew I had to be a part of it. It was a visceral response, not an intellectual one. I simply had to march.
I’ve never participated in any overt political activism before — as a Kentucky girl I was too naive about Vietnam to get involved (except for tagging along on a protest march to the American Embassy in Rome in 1969); I didn’t connect with the feminist movement since I have always moved on an entrepreneurial plane, never saw myself as oppressed and have always thought of myself first not as a woman but as a person; even the Civil Rights Movement, from the refracted lens of Louisville, Kentucky, was hazy, although I do recall climbing up a light pole to get a better glimpse of Martin Luther King at a rally there.
The Women’s March was different. When there are 400,000 people — that’s the estimate for the number of marchers in New York City — it’s not as if I were there to beef up the ranks of protestors or have my individual voice heard.
I went because I feel my nation is on the brink of its darkest period since the Civil War, and I am terrified for it, for everyone with a darker skin or a sketchy hold on residency, for issues of social justice and climate change, but particularly for the fate of women and their right to have dominion over their bodies in an era of a serial sexual predator as President. Doing something, anything eased my profound unease at the direction this country has taken.
The march was to start at the United Nations and proceed to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. We never got anywhere close to the U.N. Every avenue was clogged with marchers. Indeed, crammed onto Second Avenue, it took us 1 hr and 45 min to proceed 2/3rd of a city block. No one, not the organizers nor the City nor the marchers themselves, anticipated the turnout. Eventually we, like thousands of others, spilled over the barricades and made rivulets of spontaneous marchers headed toward Fifth Avenue coursing up every available crosstown street, stopping traffic dead on Madison. No angry horns blew and I heard not a single siren the entire afternoon. Instead, everyone sensed history in the making. And it was. Because never before in America has the election of a president sparked such an immediate public upwelling of discontent. The Women March in Washington outstripped the inauguration for attendance. That is a statement. That is hope.
Everyone came — the elderly with canes and walking sticks and the very young perched on the shoulders of their fathers; the well-to-do, starving artists, students, homemakers, parents, people of all colors and creeds; the disabled struggled in that throng in wheelchairs; groups like the ACLU, Jews for Humanitarian Action and LGBTQ activists and myriad others that were not immediately identifiable to me were there. And with them came a sea of signs — most were handmade and too small to be seen or read by anybody not standing in closest proximity. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to say what was on your mind. As my friend Bob astutely pointed out, the signs seemed to reflect each marchers individual tipping point as they confronted a Trump presidency. Because it was the Women’s March there was much said about the reproduction rights of women, many with a message and also a sense of humor, including this ‘Biblical’ one from the Book of Fallopians 19:73:
Indeed humor in the form of mockery (Trump does lend himself so handily to that) was employed to get similar feelings across:
Some penned their raw rage on any available piece of cardboard, desperate to speak out:
While others expressed what they saw as the clear and present danger of our new Washington:
But in this astonishing sea of signs very very few were crude, pussy hats not withstanding.
As we marched, chants and songs rang out — men, who made up about 20% of the crowd would echo women chanting Our Bodies Our Choice by chanting back, Her Body Her Choice. Some men hoisted their young daughters high off their shoulders while shouting HER Body, HER choice! with an urgency they had probably not known before fatherhood.
While vintage hippy protest folksongs popped up off and on throughout the afternoon, sung by pockets of older women who vocally complained that they couldn’t believe they were still marching for the same things they had as students 40/50 years ago now.
Many chanted This is What Democracy Looks Like, meaning the scope and urgency of hundreds of thousands of Americans converging in camaraderie to protest what is and to stand ready to effect change. Chuck Shumer, U.S Senator from New York, popped in from the sidelines, leaning into the crowds and encouraging the marchers to “Keep Going” and the crowd called back to him “Don’t Give Up.” And we can’t give up. Won’t give up. This little girl, standing on a bus stop bench, held the sign that says exactly why:
I am honored, heartened and ready to go work as part of that robust WE that fueled my heart and hope last Saturday. And rebooted my pride in America.