She stood with her back to me; her shoulders rolled back and hip popped, a stance sure to inform those around her that she was powerful. She had her arms raised high above her head of long, unbrushed hair, and her hands clutched a sign drawn in colorful markers in her own handwriting: “Trump has bad ideas.” Beside the poignant statement, she had drawn a sad face with two different colored eyes and a deep purple frown.
She was no more than six years old. Her sign nested itself in a sea of pink hats and raised cardboard exclamations of feminism and resistance. Beside her sat two elderly women in wheelchairs, hunched diligently over their knitting. Their kneedles clicked silently in the roar of the surrounding crowd, weaving pink yarn together to create the same garments worn by the protesters gathered on the lawn of the National Mall.
I found myself in the center of a crowd that some estimated to be up to 600,000 protesters. The air buzzed with anticipation and energy; the comradery of the movement we represented almost tangible in the winter air. It was January 21st, 2017, the day after Donald Trump took the oath of office and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Trump’s rise to power and eventual triumph in the previous fall’s election was shocking to many across the country. Deeper than that, his win signified a disasterous turn of events for every oppressed minority in the United States, along with harmful promises for the effect his presidency would have on the oversea refugee and climate crises. The Women’s March on Washington was organized as a direct response to the sexist, racist, xenophobic, and hateful rhetoric Trump was notorious for spewing during his campaign. The march served to protest Trump’s rise to power and the problematic administration he promised to bring to the forefront of American government.
The crowd chanted on the National Mall, raising signs on the lawn where Trump had been inaugurated the day before.
“WE’RE STILL HERE, WE’RE STILL HERE.”
* * *
On a personal level, I engaged with Trump’s rise to power through occasional news updates, limited internet access, the memorization of different species of bog plants, and the naïve faith that America was decent enough to fulfill the predicted task of electing its first woman president. At the end of a tumultuous and contentious election season, I was immersed in the Patagonian wilderness in Chile on my semester abroad from studying at Middlebury College. The days prior to the November election were composed of long days backpacking, collecting data about vegetation, counting scat piles of an endangered deer species, and cold evenings cooking over camp stoves. The day’s tasks were methodical: walk, write, observe.
“What if Donald Trump actually wins?” my friend Alana asked me while we began hiking after writing down the commonality of different species of alpine plants along a mountain trail.
“Honestly, I would rather not think about it,” I began while tucking my rainproof notebook inside the hipbelt of my backpack, “There’s just no way it will happen. I can’t imagine it ever could. All of the polls are for Hillary.”
“You’re right,” Alana responded, keeping her eyes on trail as we scanned the vegetation for our next transect of data, “We’d probably all just cry.”
I laughed, but agreed. Conversations on the trail blend together, but I assume we continued our discussion by attempting to analyze the politics of Kanye West or the legitimacy of Ultimate Frisbee as a real sport, two of our favorite topics to discuss while secluded in the natural world. Logically.
Alana is a student at Carleton College, and after we returned from Chile, we went from spending every day together to not knowing the next time we’ll see each other. Regardless of the brevity of our relationship, her multitude of facial expressions she can ruin a picture with, our mutual love of hip hop, and her ability to make me laugh kept me sane throughout the three months we spent together. And it was with her, and the other students on my study abroad program, that I sat with in a bar in Cochrane, Chile on November 8th and watched as the United States elected Donald Trump to the highest seat in our nation’s government.
The night was planned as a celebration. Our instructors had reserved a downtown bar in the little town of 600 for us to buy drinks and watch the election on a big screen. We all orderd blue mojitos as a symbol of the continuation of the Democratic presidency. Logically. But the whole election started out uncomfortable, with swing states remaining “too close to call” for most of the night.
“I’m gonna go take a lap!” I would announce about every 20 minutes, before running down the stairs and into the dark night. I’d run to the town square, sprint around the empty concrete sidewalks, and then make my way back to the bar along the river. After my third removal from the election’s reality, someone finally yelled, “That isn’t going to help anything!”
To which I responded, “TRY TO STOP ME.” Logically.
The bar closed at 1:30 am, and by then, the election was already over. We huddled around the fire at our base camp. We fought over who got to cuddle with the camp cat, Gringo. At 2:47 a.m., I wrote a note on my phone, which read:
Donald Trump was just elected the ruler
Of the free world
The Republicans still hold the house
The world is over.
So nice to have known it.
My attempt at a poetic structure was admirable. There was really nothing poetic about what I had written or what had happened that night. Everything was painfully real; everything down to the fuss over how long each person got to crush Gringo against our chests in an attempt to access some sense of animal therapy. Even then, we knew Gringo only loved us for the cheese we sometimes left unguarded in our food stash. But we all fell asleep eventually, and awoke the next morning, and the world had not ended, regardless of the note on my phone.
It was a beautiful morning, with soft sunlight dispersing in a thin haze above the Cochrane River. I had assumed I would remember this specific morning when someone asked me years from now, “Where were you when America elected its first woman president?” Instead, I awoke sick and quiet, with a deep fear for the future of America under the power of Donald Trump. But it was a beautiful morning, truly. And later that day, after driving silently along the stunningly blue Baker River to the little town of Tortel, Chile, I stood on the muddy shores of the river with the eight other college students enrolled in the conservation studies program that brought me to Patagonia for a semester. We gazed in awe at an arching rainbow stretched in front of green mountains and over sapphire water. Even aching, the world reminded us there was beauty still.
A day later, I lay on the floor of my tent reading the six articles I had downloaded during the five minutes we had in town before we left for Bernardo O’Higgins National Park for three weeks. The articles were hopeless, clouded by fear and shock and the sobering reality of what a Trump presidency would look like. One article written for the New Yorker began by calling a Trump presidency “nothing less than a tragedy to the American republic.”
We spent three weeks in the field, with no access to internet and no information about what was happening in the United States as a response to Trump’s election. Eventually, discussions about Trump were silenced within our group. We focused our attention on our days hiking: the new species of plants and birds we encountered, river crossings that soaked our boots, sunsets over glaciers.
* * *
“This is always the point of the trip where I have to remind myself I willingly did this to myself. For fun.”
I was back in Vermont at Middlebury College after my semester abroad in Chile. I laughed at Abby’s comment, my breath curling upwards from my icy lips, the misty swirl illuminated by the lantern we hung from a hook in the ceiling of the Montclair Glen Lodge where we were spending the night. The lodge is located along the Long Trail in Vermont, tucked against the base of Camel’s Hump, one of Vermont’s tallest mountains. Although labeled a lodge, the shelter is a crude log cabin with a table in one corner and two levels of wooden platforms against the back wall that are used for sleeping. I lay on the top platform, clutching the top of my sleeping bag tight around my neck and kicking my feet at the bottom of the bag in an attempt to stay warm. To my left, three more squirming lumps represented my friends Matea, Caroline, and Abby. Below us, Krista and Lisa lay hidden in their sleeping bags.
“Maybe this time I’ll learn my lesson,” Abby yawned, continuing her earlier remark. We all murmured our agreement, tossing on our foam pads. Although Abby expressed her skepticism of winter camping, she had the most experience amongst our group spending time outside. She works as a guide in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during summers and solo hiked the Appalachian Trail two years ago, an expedition in which her feet swelled to a whole shoe size bigger and her caloric intake was supplied almost entirely from Pop-Tarts. While on the trail, her nickname became Dopey, likely a result of her loose and easy smile and tendency to speak in strange voices. She had arrived at the lodge later than the rest of our group due to a delay from a different hike she completed the same morning. As she sprang from the darkness at a breakneck pace and burst into the lodge, her newly pierced eyebrow stud shone in the light from our headlamps. She announced herself with a boisterous, “Hello, nuggets!”
Abby has served faithfully as my partner in outdoor activities during my time at Middlebury. She has also been a mentor and companion in the realm of activism. Most notably, Abby is an outspoken advocate for women’s reproductive rights and is adamant about the rage women should feel with society trying to oppress and control our bodies.
“I would kill him. He should never be able to speak to girls like that. Who let’s this happen?” she had shouted earlier over dinner when I recounted a story about a high school P.E. teacher who gave 8th grade girls a talk every year about practicing abstinence and maintaining their purity. Although the message perpetuated by his annual speech upset me, I had to applaud her for her immediate and intense reaction. We approach confrontation differently. Abby is more likely to distance herself from people she doesn’t see as positive or productive forces in her life, while I feel some form of moral obligation to give people more chances than they may deserve. She has no qualms calling people out, a trait I respect in her.
She would be the friend who accompanied me to Washington D.C. later in the month to attend the Women’s March on Washington. While in Chile, I had read occasional updates about the possibility of what seemed to be a small women’s march in D.C. By the time I had returned to Vermont, the Women’s March on Washington was the main anti-Trump protest planned for after the inauguration in January. The event seemed distant as I lay on the bunk in the freezing shelter.
I turned over, silently cursing the early wake-up time we had scheduled ourselves with the plan to do a sunrise hike to the summit of Camel’s Hump the following morning. I knew sunrise hikes were rarely regretted, but the thought of cold boots at 5:30 am seemed almost as unfriendly as the frozen cucumber I held inside my sleeping bag in an attempt to thaw the vegetable for consumption the next day. Even in the thick winter bag, I struggled to find warmth.
“Someone needs to turn out the lantern,” Lisa suggests from the bottom platform as we kicked our feet and hugged our sleeping bags closer. We all groaned, and Caroline reached towards to ceiling, clicking the lamp off as darkness settles. She crawled into her sleeping bag, we said goodnight, and I rolled over onto the frozen cucumber.
* * *
Our alarms blared in the early hours of darkness the next morning. If waking up at 5 a.m. is difficult in the comfort of a bed and heated building, the effort necessary to crawl out of a sleeping bag into below freezing temperatures and total darkness is truly momentous for me.
We made our way up the steep, icy trail as morning light settled around us. Matea glanced at the sky.
“I have never been on a sunrise hike that has actually resulted in a sunrise,” she informed us as we all realized the snow falling lightly from the clouds above us likely meant that this sunrise hike would be no different for Matea. Still, we continued upwards. Well, mostly upwards. I did slip and slide 20 feet down the trail after a failed attempt to clamber over an ice-covered rock formation. Moments before I had laughed as Abby attempted to natigate the ice sheet while also filming the entire process.
“Who has the camera now?” she triumphantly exclaimed as she filmed me sliding down the slope. I regretted handing her the camera before my failed climb.
“I’ll hold onto the camera from now on,” I yelled back. “That way, when I fall again I’ll crush the camera and erase all evidence this ever happened.”
It turns out the camera died shortly after. Matea was busy filming and pointing out passing clouds and birds while I retrieved my waterbottle from a thicket of trees after it had slipped out of my backpack during my second attempt at clearing the icy slope. During her brief escapade with videography, the camera’s battery had died from the cold.
The hike progressively grew windier as we neared the top of the mountain, which was consistently obscured by the gathering clouds throughout our hike. We huddled in the cover of the krummholz directly beneath the peak and bundled ourselves in extra layers. Clearing the tree line, we were hit by 40 mph winds that made enjoying the summit near impossible. We continued in a single-file line across the rocky peak until we again reached the shelter of trees on the other side of the mountain top.
“Great sunrise,” Lisa scoffed. Vermont mountains aren’t that big, but they can be mean. We hiked down, happy to be clear of the wind and icy crystals that greeted us at the peak.
“You know, never seeing a sunrise on a sunrise hike has made me think all the hikes are beautiful because I have nothing to compare them with,” Matea offered, ever the optimist. “I’m just happy to be outside with you women,” she added. Women in the outdoors has not always been a commonality.
The outdoors are a gendered and privileged space. The outdoor community has historically been dominated by white males. These adventurers have molded the image of the outdoors in the United States and who engages with these wild spaces. Mountain peaks across the country are branded with names of white men who have climbed them, while tranquil valleys and lakes are named for the women of the country. Native Americans have been almost entirely excluded from the land that was stolen from them. Black America and people of color are often barred from accessing the natural world due to long-lasting, historical context that marginalized them in wilderness settings.
On the trail to our night at Montclair Glen Lodge the night before, a man had stopped us.
“Where are you ladies headed?” he asked, looking at our packs skeptically. When we explained our plan to spend the night at the lodge, he squinted his eyes and asked, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
We assured him yes, he wished us good luck, and we continued on our way, hyper-aware of the undertones of the interaction. With Donald Trump as the President-elect and his inauguration looming in the near future, discussions about oppression and discrimination were more prevalent than ever on Middlebury’s campus and within my peers.
We walked by the man who had questioned us. We moved through the space as resisters to one cultural norm. On January 21st, Abby, Lisa, and I would attend the Women’s March on Washington in D.C. in solidarity with people who opposed Trump’s agenda as President. The act of movement, whether it is on mountain trails in Vermont or in the streets of the nation’s capital, is a powerful testament to the hearts and voices of the people moving.
* * *
I drummed my hands impatiently against the top of the steering wheel of Abby’s Subaru outback, glancing down at the speedometer on the dashboard.
“Five miles an hour on the New Jersey Turnpike. What a time to be alive,” I mumbled, almost to myself. Caitlin, Abby, and I had left Vermont at 9 a.m. that morning in order to accommodate the added time of driving through Boston to pick up Abby’s friend, also named Abby, on our way to Washington D.C. Having two Abby’s was the basis for confusion on the car ride down, and the added driving time put us in the midst of a massive traffic jam still three hours from our destination. Even before we passed New York City on our way to D.C. from Vermont, the traffic was unusually thick. We moved slowly, in occasional bursts of speed before slamming on the brakes as red lights flared on the cars ahead of us.
Abby was too busy pointing out the window at a small beige car full of women that sat unmoving in the lane beside us to notice my annoyed comment. From the backseat, Caitlin rolled down the window and flung her curly head of hair out of the car.
“WOMEN’S MARCH?” she yelled, waving her hands to grab the attention of the car beside us. Without rolling down the window, their heads turned and they emphatically smiled and waved. The driver flashed us two thumbs up before turning her head and pulling the car forward in our slow drudge to the nation’s capital. We cheered as the beige car sped ahead. I forgot my previous annoyance with the traffic and instead was filled with excitement and anticipation for our destination. It was difficult to be frustrated with the amount of people on the highway knowing that the masses were swarming to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington.
The idea of the march had a humble but controversial beginning. On November 8th, 2016, America watched in shock as the presidential election veered from most predictions that Hillary Clinton would be elected the first woman president of the United States. In the matter of an hour, all major predictions switched to instead favor Donald Trump. In the hours after the election, Teresa Shook, a grandmother of six living in Hawaii, posted on her Facebook wall and invited her friends to protest Trump’s inauguration by marching on Washington in January. Overnight, her post was shared in the pro-Hillary, feminist Facebook group Pantsuit Nation. By morning, she had 10,000 notifications signaling women planning on marching with her.
The organization of the march quickly gathered criticism. Pantsuit Nation, a predominantly white group of women, had gathered media attention before the inception of the march. The group was criticized for being exclusive and perpetuating the a white feminist agenda. White feminism is a form of feminism that fails to acknowledge the different struggles women of color experience and how these experiences differ from the struggles of white women. The original organizing committee for the Women’s March was composed entirely of white women. In response, women of color openly opposed the march. They critiqued it for being exclusive and urged the organizing committee to acknowledge the importance of intersectional feminism as part of the march’s mission. Intersectionality is a relatively new term for many people entering the sphere of social justice, but was critical to organizing an inclusive march. Intersectional feminism focuses on the different struggles and experiences of women that are affected by multiple forms of oppression and how these forms of discrimination comine and overlap. The term was coined in the field of black feminism. The overlap of racial and gender identities for black women creates an identity different than the separate component identities.
More controversy arose when the march was dubbed the “Million Women March” in a Facebook event: the same name as a march organized in 1997 by black women and other women of color. To make matters worse, the original Million Women March was organized specifically to shed light on the exclusion of women of color in the mainstream movement of white feminism. Because the original organizing committee for the March on Washington was composed of only white women, the use of a name historically associated with black feminism was seen by many as appropriation of the black feminist movement by white women. One critic stated, “I will not even consider supporting this until the organizers are intersectional, original and come up with a different name.”
As the march gained traction on social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter, the reality of the march became more possible. Eventually, more organizers were brought on board as critics continued to voice their concerns about the march supporting an agenda of white feminism. The goal was to create a more inclusive and intersectional movement, starting by diversifying the organizing commitee. The name of the march was changed to the “Women’s March on Washington” in order to create a distinction between itself and the historic Million Women March.
By the time we were driving to D.C. along the crowded New Jersey Turnpike, the march had 200 different social justice organizations associated with the movement, including racial, environmental, and Native American justice organizations and prison reform, sex worker rights, and LGBTQA+ rights advocacy groups. In the weeks prior to January 21st, the now diverse organizing committee issued a radical mission statement that explicitly focused on the intersectionality of different social justice campaigns as the march’s central mission. The last line of the mission statement proclaimed, “HEAR OUR VOICE,” followed by a quote by the black feminist poet, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
“They organized a march. They had no idea what the were doing,” stated Laurie Essig, a Middlebury professor at a panel about activism in the time of Trump. “They organized; they did it wrong. They learned; they did it right.”
The hope of the movement being built through the Women’s March hung in the air and situated itself between cars on the packed highway as we inching our way towards D.C. We reveled in the midst of other carloads of women and people flooding to the capital to oppose the new President and his history of harmful outbursts perpetuating racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and other oppressive forces. The success of the Women’s March and larger movement it was part of did not rest upon the ability for everyone to share experiences and identities. It rested on the ability to celebrate and recognize the difference battles we all fight, and to come together in those differences.
“It seems like feminism has a lot of ground to cover, especially if it’s intersectional,” said a voice from the NPR coverage we had tuned into on the radio. The statement was not false, and the march would surely generate much needed conversation surrounding the importance of creating an inclusive and intersectional movement that worked towards true equality and justice. Although the task seemed daunting, the energy and excitement on the road was enough to propel us forward.
* * *
We entertained ourselves in the slow traffic by exuberantly waving at any car we assumed was headed to D.C. Our audio choices were a mixture of political podcasts and music by female rappers. Eventually, we pulled over a rest stop to caffeinate and supplement the slow driving with snacks.
As I scanned the McDonald’s menu for the price of fries, Abby leaned over and whispered, “Everyone here is a woman.” I looked around at the crowded building. Women surrounded us, sporting “pussy hats,” an item that had become an emblem of the Women’s march. Women across the country started knitting the pink hats with cat ears as a protest to a tape released where Trump referred to a woman by saying he would, “grab her by the pussy.” The hats were an obvious indication to where the crowd was headed. Even those without the tell-tale hats buzzed with excitement as they noticed the dominant gender in the building. We were giddy heading back to the car.
After another podcast, we stopped at a gas station in Delaware. We pulled up to a fueling station, and after fiddling with the fuel cap on Abby’s car, managed to pull the small flap open. As Abby reached for the fuel nozzle, a man approached.
“I’m sorry, but we’re currently out of gas,” he said, motioning to the black screen on the station. We all stared in shock, and then looked around and saw cars lined up behind pumps while women stood at each fuel station waiting with empty tanks. We laughed and cheered as it dawned on us that so many people were headed to Washington that the gas station had run out of fuel to get us all there.
The man smiled, amused by our excitement, and informed us that a truck was refilling the station’s suply of gas.
“Thank you, thank you!” we said as he walked away. He waved and called back, “I appreciate what you all are doing.”
“WE APPRECIATE WHAT YOU’RE DOING,” we yelled back simultaneously, likely a result of being overwhelmed by our excitement of the movement building around us. We heard him laugh as he continued to the next pump to inform another customer of the situation. If any day was a day to inform people of travel delays due to a gas shortage, now was probably the best time. The very existence of the problem was a source of elation for most of the people passing through.
We drove for another five hours, a delay caused by the sluggish pace along jammed interstates. By the time we arrived at Lisa’s house where we’d be staying the night, it was nearly 1 a.m.
“Sorry for keeping you up,” Caitlin apologize as we shuffle through the door. The 14 hours of driving had exhausted us, regardless of the excitement of the journey.
“Don’t apologize! I’m so glad you’re all here,” Lisa responds, “Oh, and sorry about Zeus,” she finished as a large, panting golden retriever bowled into us. He was the only one who was able to maintain the anticipation for the next day at that late of an hour.
* * *
Abby and I awoke as our alarm blared at 5 a.m., a reoccurring instance, it seemed, when we spent time together. This time, it was easier to crawl out of our sleeping bags than the week before thanks to the heating system in Lisa’s suburban home. We made our way to the nearby metro station as the sun rose behind gray buildings. Still no sunrise the second time around.
“I need coffee,” I mumbled in my uncaffeinated state.
“You’re addicted,” Abby informed me.
“Tell me something I didn’t know.”
We miraculously navigated buying metro tickets, a skill I have rarely utilized in my life spent in Montana and Vermont. As a repeat of our first rest stop in New Jersey, Abby leaned over and whispered, “Everyone on this train is going to the march.”
We smiled and glanced around. Beside us, a group of middle aged women, who we learned were from Portland, Maine, sat wearing their pink pussy hats while fussing with their homemade signs for the march.
Samantha Bee, a comedy news anchor, claimed after the march that the idea of the pussy hats and crafting for social justice campaigns should have been thought of years ago.
“What a perfect way to get white women to show up for racial justice,” she exclaimed. “Next time, we’ll put up posters about scrapbooking for Black Lives Matter potests.”
On the other end of the train car, a group of younger women was gathered, folding and tearing posters to be carried during the march.
“Think about how safe public transportation would feel if it was always full of women,” Abby mentioned to me. I looked around and agreed, just as one of the women from Maine gestured at us and asked, “Are you here to march against that fucker?”
“Yes. Yes, we are,” Abby smiled back.
Immediately after deboarding the metro, I dragged Abby into a café and ordered coffee before we walked to our friend Natalie’s house house where we’d spend the next night. Natalie opened the door and embraced us both before we could even blurt out a hello.
“Ready to inaugurate the resistance?” she asked with a sly smile. She wore neon leggings covered in a zig-zagging lines and her shirt boldly stated “Suffrage,” the name of her Ultimate Frisbee team in D.C. Never missing a beat, she dragged us inside where we were greeted by a crowd of people kneeling over piles of paper and tape. We joined the huddle on the floor and quickly pasted together signs for the march before being rushed out the door by Natalie’s exuberant cries. We followed her and her backpack full of snacks out the door and into the streets where we’d spend the rest of the day.
Almost immediately, our group was enveloped in a long line of people headed to the march checkpoints. The march was planned to start twelve blocks from the White House on Independence Avenue, a primary street running parallel to the National Mall. There were multiple listed checkpoints that served as entrances to the march route. As it turns out, there were too many people to effectively maintain checkpoints, which would have involved expecting everyone trying to join the march.
The police force present at the march was surprisingly small for a demonstration of the magnitude the march was promising to be. There are different theories to explain the lack of security. Maybe the crowd was much larger than anticipated, or maybe there was an assumption that the march would be entirely peaceful despite volatile protest situations at the inauguration the day before. Likely, a deciding factor in the low security presence can be attributed to the march being fairly racially diverse compared to recent protests. That is, there were a lot of white people. Historically, primarily white demonstrations have had less security. This is tied to the fact that white people are not the victims of state-sanctioned violence. If the march had been a Black Lives Matter protest, a militarized police force lining the route wouldn’t have been surprising. Regardless, the security force was sparse, and the national guard and police officers present at the rally often joined in with the chants and took photos with protesters.
As we approached our checkpoint destination, we stopped at a cluster of port a potties for a bathroom break before joining the mob. As I approached the facilities, I was amazed by the length of the line and how slowly it was moving.
“Only one is unlocked,” someone ahead of me informed me.
“What? Why?” I asked, looking in confusion at the group of 50 outhouses. “They were for the inauguration. We don’t have access to them,” someone else shouted back, obviously annoyed by the sitation.
The inaccessibility of facilities meant for the inauguration was a reoccurring theme throughout the day. The National Mall, where many protesters congregated, was lined with locked toilets as well. We found some solace in the fact that the main supplier of port a potties was a company called “Don John’s,” which turned out to be a little too close to the name Donald John Trump for the comfort of the inauguration ceremony. Many of the labels on the restrooms had been altered to read “Bon John’s” or covered entirely. The attempt to mask the blatant connection between a place for human excrement and the new President almost made it better than if they hadn’t noticed at all.
Consumed in the massive crowd, Abby and I tried to make our way to somewhere we could hear or see the many speeches scheduled to happen over the course of the morning. The march wasn’t schedule to begin until 1:30. We forced our way through crowds, but eventually found ourself back on the National Mall after failing to get close to a speaker. Ironically, the Mall was also lined with speakers for the speeches that had happened at the inauguration the day before. Similarly to the bathroom facilities, the protest could not use the sound system already configured along the Mall. To be perfectly fair, the Women’s March didn’t even have a permit to use the National Mall. Trump’s party had gotten the permit for the Mall that Saturday in an attempt to counter the anti-Trump protest, but the volume of people that were in the city center for the Women’s March overtook the Mall anyway.
“We’ll listen to the speeches after we get back to Vermont,” I yelled at Abby over the noise of the chanting crowd. She nodded and we joined in with the chants, proclaiming, “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.”
Even without hearing the speakers, it was impossible to deny that what was taking place was historical. The crowd covered the National Mall and surrounding streets. Signs and faces represented various social justice campaigns. Messages on signs ranged from feminism and reproductive rights to demands for racial justice. One woman simply held a sign that stated, “Fuck your wall.” Two dogs sat and posed for pictures while flaunting matching signs that read, “Even we know better. Pussies fight back.” Black Lives Matter signs were held alongside posters of a woman wearing an American flag as a hijab. The mesh and array of demands for justice represented on signs across the crowd composed a hopeful vision for a movement merging multiple interests to obtain a common goal: in this case, defeating Trump. The crowd roared, hands raised.
“Every now and then a yell comes through,” a man beside me shouted through the noise of crowd, “Whatever it is, I’m for it!” he exclaimed while joining in with the chant.
His statement summed up the sentiment at the march well. We milled aimlessly for the most part, taking in the faces and art, moving when the crowd moved. Every person displayed some new form of creativity and exuberance. As 1:30 grew closer, Abby and I squeezed our way through the thick crowd in an attempt to make it to the designated route of the march. Eventually we made it to the side of the Air and Space Museum where we leaned against a glass wall. We peered around the side of the museum where we could catch glances of the rally and stage at the front of the march route. Through the large glass panes we observed protesters hurriedly consuming the food available in the museum’s café. Abby and I looked longingly at the food and then at each other. We hadn’t eaten all day.
Soon, our watches read 1:30. We strained to hear what instruction was being given from the speaker on the stage. An excited murmur began in the crowd around us as people started anticipating the start of the march. Finally, the crowd on Independence Avenue burst into a thunderous chant, yelling “March now!” We cheered also, ready to start moving. Eventually, the chant died down and we all looked around in confusion as the massive crowd remained unmoving.
“There are too many people.”
“We filled the whole route!”
“We can’t march, it’s just a rally now.”
“WE FILLED THE WHOLE ROUTE!”
The news dispersed into the crowd. The entire twelve blocks planned for the march were packed with people, not even considering the throngs on parallel streets and covering the National Mall. There were too many people to march. The crowd was already at the White House. And at the beginning of the route. And everywhere in between.
“Well, what do we do now?” Abby asked.
“I don’t know. Dance?” I suggested, laughing.
We decided to make our way back towards the Mall, but were blocked on our way by a huge crowd marching down the street directly parallel to the Mall. We looked at each other and shrugged before joining the movement. Eventually, we filtered out onto the lawn and marched with the crowd moving towards the Washinton Monument. I looked around and laughed, thinking about how the Women’s March didn’t even have a permit for the National Mall and now it was the primary marching route.
“This is our inauguration!” someone yelled, which was met by cheers and whoops as people proceeded away from the capitol building where Trump had stood the day before.
Eventually, Abby and I split off onto another street. We were exhausted and hungry, but pulling away from the crowd was difficult. It’s hard to leave something so hopeful. We walked along the street searching for food, along with hundreds of other hungry protesters, and eventually settled on a beer and burger garden, which appeared like an answer to our prayers.
“Think about all the other people who marched today,” Abby speculated in between bites of her burger. Indeed, there had been over 673 sister marches occurring simultaneously across the globe. It is estimated that well over 2.6 million people marched.
* * *
Later that night, I attended a potluck at a Middlebury graduate’s house and recounted stories with friends about their experiences during the day.
“What happened to your voice?” I asked my friend Nathan after he barged in and announced himself with his usual brightly colored t-shirt and flailing limbs. The one thing missing in his spectacular entrance was his bellowing voice.
“I’ve been protesting all week!” he coughed out hoarsely in an attempted yell. We high-fived and I went back to my seat on the floor. In fact, the entire party happened on the floor. Everyone was too exhausted from the day to maintain standing positions. The time spent sprawled on the floor, reminiscing about the events of the day, surrounded by friends was medicine for our aching legs and growing fears for our country’s future.
“Think about how many more posters had the word ‘love’ in them at this rally than at one of Trump’s,” my friend Dae mused.
“Now that’s something to be hopeful about,” Nathan whispered.