I was nervous, I’ll even say scared, that something might happen at the march to make things turn violent. The day before in D.C., we had all watched protesters during the inauguration throwing bricks and bashing windows with police tear-gassing and creating human shields to protect the parade path for the newly inaugurated president. Multiple reports floated around of violent acts in various places throughout the city. I worried that people like this might show up at the Women’s March to cause problems and then the news would confuse their actions and intent for ours. Already, on television, some reporters and headlines stated that, “Marchers who arrived a day early in D.C. had come out to hold violent protests and demonstrations.”
As I watched it, I was enraged. These were clearly young men with no specific agenda other than to vent their anger, in anyway possible, with no regard for others. They were dressed in black from head to toe with their faces covered, but it was still very easy to tell they were not part of the peaceful women’s movement. They were filmed throwing bricks aimlessly into the crowd of people who were there to peacefully protest, and bashing the storefront windows of businesses in. I couldn’t believe that anyone could mistakenly think the Women’s March participants would support such behaviors, let alone engage in them.
But my concern, which was already strong enough that I had decided not to bring my two daughters and their new baby boys, grew to a whole new level. As the violent scenes played over and over in my head, I became silent, completely focused, and began coaching myself through the fear and formulating a strategic plan. Brenda, my psychologist travel-mate, became very frightened at the news videos as well. I learned that when she becomes anxious, she simultaneously begins to pace, and speed-talk, while she files her fingernails down to nubs. This was interesting to see from my normally calm, quiet, contemplative friend. As we nervously busied ourselves making protest signs and preparing for the march inside our little D.C. Airbnb, it was obvious that we were both quite worried.
As it turned out, some dear friends whom I had met at a writer’s salon in Greece two summers before, were staying nearby and also marching. They were concerned too, and we all wanted a chance to catch up, so we decided that we would feel more comfortable going together. This made us five strong. As we walked to the start of the march we discussed our anxiety. We talked about staying together, keeping to the edge of the crowds for an easy exit if needed, maintaining an acute awareness of things happening and the overall feeling of the crowd. We decided that if any one of us were to detect dodgy happenings or weird energy, we would all leave together or if we got split up, we would meet at a designated spot we selected on the way in.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for, was the chain-link fence blocking off the entire rally area of six full downtown blocks. Which meant that once we entered, we were locked inside, with exits along the sides at certain points, but with so many people packed in, it would be impossible to get out quickly if anything were to happen. I decided to ask a volunteer standing at the entrance gate if they would be scanning our tickets upon entry, and she said they would not. My mind just began to swirl, thinking that we would be locked in with everyone and there would be no control over the people who were admitted. I then started looking around at the bags people were carrying and noticed that many were not small clear bags as had been mandated, and there was no security check point going in. No one searching bags. I think everyone in my group ran through the same exact line of thinking and we all, at the same, time took a deep and rather loud breath as if to say, “One deep breath through fear. We just can’t allow you to be here.” And with that, we all walked through the entrance and instantly I felt a powerful, collective energy of strength and solidarity between us.
Once we were through the gate and near others, I noticed that there were smiles abound and a feeling of positive energy and strength in solidarity emanated from each new person we encountered. It felt like I was living out one of those molecule binding simulation videos. You could actually feel the process of the binding. We instantly bonded to each person we encountered and then a link between us solidified, making us stronger, and stronger, and stronger yet. By the time the rally started and America Ferrara began her speech, we were unstoppable, and any fear that had been present before was completely forgotten.
When the crowd in our area had assembled, we found ourselves in a sea of diversity. Women, men (loads of men!) and children, of all races, religions, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds had come together to raise their voices in unison against the things happening in our country. The signs they held were all different, but behind them, the same sentiments rang true. We need more love, support, and acceptance in our country, not less.
This was my first time participating as an activist. I’ll never be able to describe the feeling of overwhelming peace brought by seeing so many like minded people willing to band together to protect our country, our rights in it, and those who cannot stand up for themselves. The validation in seeing so many others, who have also become frightened yet so motivated at recent events that they are willing to take a stand, was better than any amount of therapy. To know that I am not the only one, that I am not losing my mind, that my fears, concerns, and anger are not unjustified and to see all the men and young people present offered validation, but more importantly, it provided promise. When I first saw the map floating around the internet that depicted the votes of millennials by state, I remember that my first thought was, “We just need the old folks to die” and as I looked around me, I could see how bright the future of our country is and I know that, we literally, just need the old folks (who primarily live in rural areas) to die. My generation is included in this, and I know it’s an awful morbid thought, but at the same time, it gave me the greatest feeling of hope for the future of our nation.
By the time the speakers began, the positive energy of the crowd felt more powerful than any force that could ever rise against us. We felt invincible. As the speakers came on one by one, people continued to arrive by the bus load and pour into the rally area. Still several blocks from the main stage, in no time at all we were packed in like sardines. There was no way to avoid touching the people beside you, there was no room for personal space, but no one cared. You could hear people apologizing for bumping into each other, you could see crowd members helping each other to be mindful of curbs and taking turns to sit along a cement wall for rests. The speakers were on stage for four full hours with a little music mixed in, and everyone just stood in place taking it all in. The celebrity guests were absolutely on fire as they spoke. Ashley Judd, America Ferrara, Alicia Keys, Scarlett Johansen, Madonna, and Jolene Monet, delivered eloquent, purposeful messages, and many others who were present, but didn’t speak were shown on the numerous Jumbotrons placed out in the crowd.
After four and a half hours, the crowd began to get restless as rumors of the march being called off due to the unexpected and “unmanageable” crowd size began to circulate. Many people who knew the route started to organize people and lead them out toward the White House. Within moments everyone followed suit and we began a very slow shuffle, which was all that space would allow for. It was amazing to experience that many people moving in unison and to see how mindful people were of children, the elderly, and the disabled participants. What I realized is that if anyone had dared to do anything harmful to another human, they would have had thousands of people step in and immediately stop them without hesitation.
In that moment I felt so ashamed for being scared earlier, for not trusting in my fellow people, for almost letting fear keep me from taking a stand. I think Donald Trump counts on that fear. He and his supporting politicians want to sit in big offices, behind closed doors, and sign things into law without people knowing of the shameful things they are doing, and they are counting on the fears and their perceived ignorance of the public to keep them safe. If we stay at home in a place of fear, we cannot hold them accountable for their actions and that is just not acceptable. We must push past it and trust in the humanity of our fellow Americans, no matter which side of politics they stand on. We cannot let fear rule us, for if we do, we cease to have any power, we cease to be productive, we cease to live. Once we shut ourselves down to fear, they have won.
As we made our way to the White House ever so slowly, I began to take pictures of the children in the crowd. There were so many. Newborns in Tulas, toddlers in strollers or riding on shoulders, and young ones marching with signs they had made themselves. The feeling of hope that had rooted itself inside me earlier in the day welled up into one single thought just as the White House came into view: Somewhere in this massive crowd is at least one of our future presidents.