This is a personal essay detailing one reporter’s experience in the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, Jan 21.
By MJ Tidwell
BU News Service
Washington — As the Hoffheimer Buchanan family walked single file along the side of a highway bridge with traffic at a standstill, a charter bus swung wide and parked at an angle, opening its doors.
A sea of pink erupted as more than fifty women offloaded, carrying homemade signs and wearing pink hats with two small ears.
Luanne Buchanan, a 62-year-old Spanish teacher from Oxford, Mississippi, stopped one of the women for a photo of her hand-painted sign depicting a man surrounded by blue birds and wearing a small dark mustache.
“Heil Twitler” the sign read above the man, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
Luanne joined the stream of pink heading towards the city, calling back to her 25-year-old-daughter Jean, a teacher in San Antonio, Texas, her sister and her brother-in-law. Their home in Fall Church, Virginia, was currently hosting four additional people who had come from all over the country.
Jean had flown from Texas to Nashville to meet her mother driving up from Mississippi and they completed the ten hour drive together, listening to Trump’s inauguration on the radio.
They came, Luanne said, because it was important to share with her daughter this “exercise in mainstream American values.”
The stream of people from the bridge met with similar groups from other entrances to the city. Men, children, and many, many women passed the police blockade and moved up L’Enfant Plaza, eerily empty of cars.
Already at 10:30 a.m., a dozen people stood in lines for the port-a-potties stationed in the street. At the intersection of Independence Avenue, the new arrivals surged forward and then stopped still. There was nowhere to go. Thousands of people stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions.
A bright pink swath of humanity smeared the grey January streets from the Capitol building all the way up to the Lincoln Memorial, not just along one route but exploding wherever there was a path, clotting the streets of of Washington, D.C.
“I am a naaaaaasty woman,” an electronically magnified voiced echoed from a monitor that rose above the crowd. Actress Ashley Judd was reading a poem written by 19-year-old Nina Donovan from Middle, Tennessee. “But I am not as nasty as racism, fraud, conflict of interest, homophobia, sexual assault, transphobia, white supremacy, misogyny, ignorance and white privilege.”
Cheers rose and fell from different parts of the city and a seemingly endless lineup of speakers answered the question: “Why do you march?”
Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Tamika Mallory, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Moore, Carmen Perez, Cecile Richards, Miriam Ali, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae and Madonna all spoke to the crowd.
A six-year-old girl named Sophie Cruz took the stage with her family, speaking about welcoming immigrants to America. Then she spoke her message in Spanish and members of the audience began to cry and chant: “Si se puede” (“Yes we can”).
For five hours, people stood listening. For five hours, they stood in a slight drizzle, stomping feet when they lost feeling, taking turns to crouch down on the dirty city streets to stretch aching backs, passing granola bars and water bottles.
Cell service oscillated, so they gave up on meeting their groups and made friends with neighbors instead. At the port-a-potties, the lines stretched whole city blocks.
Waiting in one such line for over 45 minutes, Michael Gillotti said he came to Washington from Sebastopol, California, to protest Trump’s inauguration. He said he was a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War and that the demonstrations against the war made a difference in the end.
He said he had never seen anything like the Women’s March before. “I did march in San Francisco in 1970 when the war was still going on and Market Street was packed, but I think this is even bigger. It’s hard to ignore it.”
During the march, protestors asked one another how many people they thought were here and what was Trump thinking of all this. Someone gleefully passed the news that Trump had retreated to CIA headquarters, calling it “hunkering down in his military compound.” Another claimed the march had certainly reached a million people. “Just look around.”
After the speakers finished, the march became what Wendy Cartwright, president and co-founder of the women’s advocacy group We Are Women, called organized and disorganized chaos. Protestors marched along Constitution, Pennsylvania and Independence Avenues. Cartwright came from Florida to spend the rally talking with attendees and signing people up for a feminist alert system.
Focused on legislative action, the alert system is an answer to the question: “So you protested. What now?”
“Say you live in Boston and something is happening there in two weeks,” Cartwright said, “We’ll send you an e-mail that will contain information about what’s happening, who is organizing it, whether there is an action you can do like going somewhere or signing a petition.”
She said it was critical that people find local groups and organizations in their homes to get involved in, building change from the local level up.
“Work with your party,” she said. “If it’s a mess, get involved and help fix it.”
She too said that she had never seen anything like the march. She had met two women who flew in to attend the march from Dubai and two more from Missouri who left their protest signs at the White House fence as a message for the new president.
“There were people there who had never done anything, never been an activist before. That’s why we’re trying to mobilize, so we don’t lose them now that the march is over.”
At 5:00 p.m., the streets surrounding the White House were still packed with exhausted protestors making the trek back to Virginia, swarming the metro and stuffing buses with mile weary legs.
The Hoffheimer-Buchanan family calculated that they had walked 7.6 miles.
Down by the Lincoln Memorial, workers clung to the bare metal bones of Trump’s inauguration stage as deconstruction continued. Five police cars with lights flashing passed silently by a stand selling “Make America Great Again” merchandise. In equal silence, pink-hatted protestors passed by small groups of people in red caps, disappearing into the evening and back to their homes across the nation.
Crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the fog hung above the river and people paused to hug their friends goodbye and look back at the capital of the United States.
They didn’t have cell service, so they hadn’t seen the pictures of Seattle, of San Francisco, of Chicago, of Fifth Avenue in New York City. They hadn’t seen thousands in Paris or Berlin or London, or the boat in Antarctica or the people marching in snow in Idaho.
It wouldn’t be until they went home that they would see a global protest, a world united, a massive showing of women and their allies, standing together in a sea of pink.