Impressions of the Women's March on Washington

by Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, DA NORWAY

As soon as I read that a Women's March on Washington was being planned for the day after Trump's inauguration, I knew I had to go. I live in Norway, and I bought my ticket before the sister march in Oslo was announced. Fortunately, I have a cousin in Maryland, so what better time than to visit his family and combine it with the march?

My cousin's wife Treva wanted to march with me, and she thought it would be a nice idea for us to join the Democrats Abroad, rather than the Maryland group. The morning of the march we were up early, in order to catch the Red Line to DC in time to meet the DA group at the Eastern Market. We were lucky that our metro station was one of the first stops, so we got a seat. At the Eastern Market we looked all around for the DA folks, who were supposed to be wearing blue hats or other blue gear. An identifier was supposed to be 70 members of the Canadian DA in blue ponchos.  We saw numerous groups, but no one that answered to that description. Accessing the DA website with Treva's phone, we found instructions to go to L'Enfant Plaza station, so we got back on the Metro. We never did find anyone from the DA, but in such masses of people, it would have been a major feat if we had.

When we reached the Plaza, many had gathered, and it took a while to exit the station. But it was fun to be in the crowd moving very slowly towards the exit. Everyone was kind and considerate, and we could take the time to study the first of the many posters and signs that we would see during the march. We had a good laugh when we saw the first "Urine trouble" sign, in the form of a urinating male organ and Trump's picture.

From L'Enfant Plaza we made our way towards the meeting point at Independence and 3rd Street. But by the time we got as far as 4th Street, we realized that there would not be room for even the two of us at the appointed intersection. We were standing in a sea of people, but an organizer from the A.C.L.U. advised us to go back towards L'Enfant Plaza, where we could probably wedge ourselves into a spot in front of one of the screens that had been set up, and then we could watch what was happening on the stage.

Moving through such a crowd is a slow process, but it was no problem to wade through those who had already found a spot, and soon we had a good view of a screen. It made a great impression on me that the demonstrators were so pleasant, peaceful and accommodating to those around them. Several people were in wheelchairs, but that was no problem. Someone would yell, "Wheelchair coming through!", and people would somehow press together to vacate a wide passage so the wheelchair could pass. It did occur to me that a good many of us might get trampled to death if panic broke out, or some disrupters had mixed with the crowd. Guidelines instructed marchers to bring a very small purse and anything else in a transparent bag. We never saw any inspections, but clearly, there were many eyes scanning the crowd for anything suspicious. Nor did I see anyone or anything to threaten us. There had been a riot or two during the inauguration, but this massive crowd seemed almost unbelievably benign.

The rally featured a long list of profiled speakers and performers, and the crowd was enthusiastic. As far as we could see, there were people packed together, many wearing pink pussyhats. Treva and I were kind of an anomaly in the sea of pink. If I had been younger, I am sure I would have plunged into knitting pink pussyhats. But I found the video of Donald Trump bragging about just grabbing women by the pussy so despicable, that I jumped at the idea of a blue hat. So I crocheted a blue hat and matching neckpiece, and pinned my "cracked ceiling" brooch to the band. But the many humorous "pussy" slogans and the march itself dulled my wrath regarding the background for the pussyhats, so a few weeks later, I am busily knitting pink pussyhats. I am sure my granddaughters and I will need some when I go to the States in the months and years to come!

After a few hours, Treva and I realized we needed to visit a port-a-powder-room before the actual march started at 1:15. We started threading our way through the sea of demonstrators. Since I am tall, I could look over much of the crowd, and we knew roughly where the toilets were supposed to be. But with so many people it was impossible to find any. Eventually, we reached the Smithsonian Metro Station, so I suggested we might take the Metro a stop or two away from the march and find a restroom. That turned out to be a very good idea. The next day, we read that the crowd had overwhelmed the toilets, and organizers had to pass out cups and let people pee behind a curtain.

Back on Independence Avenue, the march had just started, so we joined it and moved slowly along the route. At intervals everyone let out huge roars, and I am sure this was heard at the White House, even though Trump himself had gone to the CIA to brag about the size of his inauguration crowd. The sound must have reached all the way to Virginia and elsewhere. Since the march was global, it may go down in history as the "pussy roar heard round the world!"

When we reached a point near the WashingtonMonument and the new AfricanAmericanMuseum, the march came to a complete standstill for a long time. Everyone cheerfully socialized, admired signs and slogans, and took lots of pictures. We learned later that there were so many people that the entire march route was full of people and too clogged to move! The organizers must have started channeling portions of the march off onto side streets, in order for us to march towards the Ellipse, where the march was to end. By the time we reached the edge of the Ellipse, there seemed to be parades everywhere, moving in every direction.

After the march, it was a problem to leave the center of DC, but again, everyone moved in an orderly and friendly fashion. We finally abandoned the idea of taking the Metro back home, and ended up catching a series of buses that were not very crowded. The bus stops had been moved, but my cousin's daughter deftly accessed their stops with her phone app.

Demonstrators had left their signs in front of Metro stations and other places, like Trump International Hotel (how fun!), so we had an opportunity to study them and again be impressed by the enormous creativity – and bloody seriousness – of the slogans.

The peacefulness of the march, the friendly atmosphere, feeling of solidarity and togetherness, and the humor in spite of a sense of urgency and dread of where Trumplandia will lead us, were all things that impressed me. It was wonderful to see groups that obviously consisted of 3-4 generations, there were many men of all ages, and there was much diversity evident in the crowd. However, Treva and I were struck by the fact that the large majority were evidently people from the upper middle class, and the percentage of African American, Native American and Hispanic women was fairly small. Washington has a black population of almost 50%, so the small number of blacks was particularly striking. In the weeks before the march, I read some articles and letters to the effect that many white women felt intimidated and had cancelled their plans to come, as a number of black women had given voice to how the march had tried (inadvertently) to usurp the title "Million Women's March" from the protest held in Philadelphia in 1997, and in general, that it was women of color who had the most reason to protest, that white women could never know the pain and suffering of black women. My instinct is that this conflict must have resolved itself to some extent, and I hope that non-white women felt they were most welcome.

A recent article in the New York Times, "How a Fractious Women's Movement Came to Lead the Left", points out that the march for women surprisingly "managed to crowd a broad opposition force onto its platform", and that the energy has only spread. "It seems unlikely that any other kind of march would have turned out quite this way. In this moment, it happened that 'women' was the one tent large enough to contain almost every major strain of protest against Trump." It is too early to tell whether the Women's Marches will be the pivotal moment in the realization of a society marked by equality and respect that we all hope for. Let us hope that they will.

Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, NORWAY

 

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