Three of my friends and I from school decided that it was important to us to attend the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. So we figured out a way to get ourselves to Washington D.C. and it turned into a fun adventure if a long car ride. I’m really happy I went. The people I went with all live on my floor at Wooster, and I count them among my closest friends at school. Their names are Mary, Chelsea, and Ingrid.
On the Thursday before the march, we took a bus to to Columbus, Ohio. We decided that the march was important enough to us that it was worth missing one to two days of school for. (Incidentally, my professors seemed more interested in telling me to report back on how the march went than telling me that my absence would be excused. My clarinet professor even thanked me for fulfilling my civic duty.)
The bus was a charter bus that took us to Columbus by going via the windiest route it possibly could. We went through tiny towns, picked up a few Mennonite couples along the way, and saw picturesque scenes of rolling hills and farmland. We also met some rather entertaining characters on the way (one guy admonished us because we didn’t know the county that Columbus is in; “You’re white college girls and you don’t know the county of the town you’re going to?” Um.) It was rather fun if a little bit (or a lot) nausea inducing, but we finally made it to our stop at the Columbus airport. At the airport, we were picked up by Ingrid’s father, Geoff, where we drove about an hour or so to Athens, Ohio, which is Ingrid’s hometown.
Ingrid’s house is on the top of a hill, and the only thing you have to do to get to town is climb down about a hundred or more steps of stairs and you end up an an adorable down town area. Athens is the home of Ohio University and her house is also about a ten minute walk away from the campus. We received a lovely tour (thanks, Ingrid!) and watched James Bond and had pizza for dinner and played with the cats and spent the night at Ingrid’s house.
On Friday morning, we packed the car up and took a six hour drive to the house of a friend of Ingrid’s dad who lives in Friendship Heights on the Maryland/D.C. border. Geoff drove, since he also wanted to go to the march. Ingrid’s mom and little brothers stayed in Athens. We drove from Ohio to West Virginia and then to Maryland and we passed the time by eating a ton of snacks, listening to music, sleeping, and doing homework. We avoided listening to the news and really anything to do with the inauguration. I think everyone was in deep denial that President Obama is no longer in office.
When we finally made it to the D.C. area, we dropped Mary at a family friend of hers, and then made our way to our hosts: Ali and Mark. We could not have asked for better hosts. Both of them work at Georgetown University and have had such interesting lives. We heard a lot of stories, as well as amazing food and beyond generous hospitality overall.
It was hard to sleep that night we were so excited for what was to come the next day. We were so giddy. The next morning was no different, with us going out of our minds. After eating breakfast, Ingrid’s cousin Claire (surprise, surprise) came over as she was going to march with us, and then Ali, Geoff, Claire, Ingrid, Chelsea, and myself walked over to the nearest metro stop to make our way to the Washington Mall.
And that’s where the crowds really started. The stairs and escalators were already full of people with pink hats and signs to get on the Metro. We squeezed onto a train, and with each stop that we came to, more and more people with pussy hats and signs and bright lipstick squeezed on. The mood was already euphoric. Renditions of This Little Light of Mine and This Land is Your Land broke out. Everyone was smiling and laughing and singing and taking pictures. The energy was so enthusiastic and just fun. We all exited the train en masse, quickly crowding the metro station, along with people from other trains who all were going to the march too. The metro attendants looked so happy as well, and I overheard one of them remark that the crowds were already so much larger then they had been the day before, for Donald Trump’s inauguration. “This is awesome,” she said.
We started making our way to 13th Street and Independence Ave. where the march was said to start. However, a rally was supposed to start at around 10am, with the official march happening at 1:15pm. At about 9:30am we found ourselves in front of the capital surrounded by more people than I’ve ever seen at one place in one time. We decided to try to make our way to a jumbotron to watch the rally, and that is when we really got caught up in the crowd. We were forced to form a kind of conga line with us grabbing onto each other’s hoods and coats so we wouldn’t be separated. We quickly realized that getting to a jumbotron would be near impossible, and our new goal was just to try to get near the periphery of the crowds so we could do some people watching. It probably took us an hour and a half to achieve that goal, and we were nowhere near the center of the masses or even in the center of the Mall.
While we were incrementally inching ourselves towards the periphery, the energy was contagious. There were thousands of people there, with even more still coming in, there were waves of noise and screaming and chants would come from one direction and go to the other, with people clapping and screaming. I have never felt the kind of exhilaration before as I did when thousands upon thousands of people started screaming, “YES WE CAN!” at the same time. I find it hard to put into words how fantastic it was to experience something like that. Other chants swept through the crowd, with the most popular ones (that I heard) being, “Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!” and “Tell me what a feminist looks like, this is what a feminist looks like!” and “We are the popular vote!” and “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” and “Can’t build a wall, hands are too small!” More renditions of This Land is Your Land broke out.
Furthermore, I have never seen such a fundamentally nice crowd of people. You would think, with so many people in one place, that there would be at least a little bit of chaos, at least in terms of frustration and anger, but everyone was patient and nice. Friends were made within the span of one second, all you had to do was say hi, tell them where you were from, and there you were, friends. We were all united, all there for the same purpose, and everyone was so happy and kind.
When we finally made it to the periphery, we had lost Ali somewhere in the crowds. At this point, there were so many people there that cellphone service was not working. It was really amazing that we didn’t lose anymore people than we did, but we figured we would meet Ali back at her house later that day, as we could not get in touch with her by phone. We decided to stay where we were, which was slightly less claustrophobic and did a lot of people watching. We saw so many amazing signs, and spent many hours there, hours in which I honestly did not notice the time passing there were so many interesting people to watch and things happening.
About forty five minutes before the march was supposed to start, we realized that we were no where near where the march was supposed to start, or, more accurately, we would have to go through masses upon masses of people to get to the start of the march, which would take an unknown amount of time. So we decided to try to make our way to a point where we would meet the march as it passed by, instead of starting the march. While we were making our way to the meet up point, everyone around us seemed to have the same idea because a kind of “unofficial” march had formed, with everyone streaming down the street parallel of Independence Ave. by the Smithsonians: Madison Dr. So many people! Everybody going along the march was asking each other, “Is this the march route?” “No, I don’t think so, but now it is.” And then, after going down Madison for a while, we looked another block over to Constitution Ave. and saw a great throng of people there, too, with pussy hats and signs galore! It was so exciting to see! So we decided to go down to Constitution and join that mass of people. There were police lining the roads and yet, still, everyone seemed to still be in such good cheer and it didn’t seem like the police were doing anything beyond crowd control. It makes me so happy just to go through my photos and write about it a week later.
So we went down Constitution Ave. until we came to the Washington monument, and then to the White House lawn, and people were taking photos and waving signs and chanting all over again. We decided that we had had our fill of protesting, so we decided to make our way to the subway. In doing so, other impromptu parade routes were formed, with people just trying to leave the march to make their ways to their cars or homes or the subway. At one point the police even had to block out an entire half of a road to let marchers go through, and that was just to leave!
We walked a few blocks to go to the subway, but every train that went through was full of marchers, so we ended up walking about three and a half miles, getting food along the way and then finally making our way to a less crowded, but still quite full subway stop, where we squeezed onto a train full of satisfied if tired folks wearing pussy hats and carrying signs. We found Ali at her house, and then Mary showed up after having marched with her family, and the mood continued to be euphoric with everyone still so excited with how many people had showed up and how courteously everyone had been. And everyone’s good mood just increased as crowd counts started being released, along with pictures of the marches in sister cities, and people calling it perhaps the biggest mass organized protest in American history. We were all so happy to have gotten the opportunity to have participated.
We got in the car and drove six hours back to Athens, Ohio that same night. By the time we got back, we were all exhausted but everyone agreed that the march was worth going to. The next day, Ingrid’s mom drove us back to Wooster. We’ve estimated that over the course of the weekend, we were in the car for a total of about 23 hours. Worth it.
Like I said, the mood was nothing short of euphoric. And again, I still struggle finding a way to put this into words to explain how exciting it was and how big it was and what the atmosphere was like. I am just so happy I got the opportunity to go and that I had amazing friends to go with. It definitely was an experience that I will never forget.
All photo credit goes to Chelsea. 🙂