A Pajiban's First Person Account of the Women's March in Washington D.C.
By Alexis Dubief | PaEHba Day | January 23, 2017 |
By Alexis Dubief | PaEHba Day | January 23, 2017 |
Like all of you, the election left me feeling locked in an airless block of ice, an odd combination of panicked and powerless. Months and months of this.
Then the Women’s March showed up. March on Washington? Seriously? Crap. Should we do this? I’m not a marcher, I’m more of a book reader and cupcake eater. Who marches? Will people even go? Is it safe?
My friend Alana and I decided we had to go. It was terrifying and financially punishing. We had long debates about it, “What’s the point? What will we accomplish? Maybe we should pool our travel funds and simply donate this heap of cash to Planned Parenthood?”
But the idea of physically taking a stand felt right. We were committed. And homeless - there was nowhere to stay in Washington that wasn’t $1,500. Thankfully Patty (fellow Pajiban) had posted that people could crash at her house. So I pinged her, “Hi total stranger, were you serious about the offer to stay with you?”
Having never stayed with a total stranger before, we secretly prayed she wouldn’t kill us in our sleep. As the day crept closer, the Facebook chatter about the march increased. Most of it focused on the possibility of violence and what to do if you’re exposed to tear gas or arrested. We were supposed to write the ACLU hotline phone number in sharpie on our bodies. Holy fuck. The Friday before we boarded the train in Vermont. It was empty save for one other woman who was quietly knitting pussy hats. We introduced ourselves, asking her why she was going.
“I’ve been going to every march since the 60s, I wasn’t going to miss this one.”
I shared my anxiety about the possibility of Trump nutz and violence at the march. She just shrugged and went back to knitting.
As we headed south the train slowly filled with women. There were no obvious indications they were marchers, but it was clear we had a common destination. Much to the disappointment of my friend Alana, however, there was no group singing or solidarity chants. Thank you Jesus. We arrived in D.C. around midnight and headed to the Metro which was an odd mix of older women in pink hats and wealthy Texans in tuxedoes on their way home from inaugural balls. I donned my own hat, a small gesture of defiance, as women in sparkling gowns gave us the side-eye.
Arriving in Reston, Patty greeted us with hugs and a bunny hat. It was instantly clear she was good people. We agreed to leave early the next morning, to beat the crowds. We discussed our action plan if shit happened. We committed to sticking together no matter what. The first sign that the march was going to be massive was the crowd flowing into the Metro. The place was mobbed with pink while slightly frazzled Metro employees tried to sort us into a rough approximation of lines. We came from everywhere: LA, Arizona, Bangkok, Minnesota. We made friends with strangers, sharing stories with a common theme, “This is not OK.” We packed in like sardines, passing station after station filled with pink. The doors never opened, there was no room for more to enter. One employee at the Metro told me, “In 18 years I’ve never seen anything like this!”
We arrived in D.C. with a plan to meet a crew of Pajibans. As soon as we hit the streets, however, it became clear that “meeting up” was never going to happen. The number of people was staggering. We were 6 city blocks from where the march was supposed to begin and there were people everywhere.
It became clear that the discord and potential violence we had feared wasn’t going to happen. People were treating each other with warmth and generosity. There were a handful of police present but they weren’t checking bags or frisking protesters but merely looking bemused while people thanked them for their service. The White House lawn was desolate, walled off, and covered in garbage from the inauguration. There was a small army of port-o-potties that were sadly inaccessible. Because there were not enough bathrooms by a long shot. We drank just enough water to sustain life because there was nowhere to go.
When hundreds of thousands of older women spend hours at an event with no bathroom facilities you know they aren’t fucking around. We tried to get to the rally where the march was slated to begin but it was impossible. There were people mobbed into every available cranny for blocks in all directions. Crowd experts estimate the D.C. march at 500,000 based on photos taken of the mall. But that barely captured the sprawling masses who filled the streets all around.
We tried to march but it was like being a gumball in the machine. As each gumball left there was just enough room for the remaining gumballs to jostle slightly but it hardly counted as movement. The term march is powerful, but the reality was more of a shuffling meander.
Being packed in with strangers should have been anxiety inducing, and yet it wasn’t. There was a lightness and humor in the air. Accidentally elbow somebody and they simply smiled at you. People offered each other granola bars and tissues. Waves of cheers would move along the crowds periodically, interspersed by periods of relative quiet. People with wheelchairs were lifted out of ruts. Elderly women soldiered on.
This wasn’t a festival, nobody was drinking or dancing. We shared a serious determination. The signage was as varied as it was beautiful. The range of issues represented were vast yet all equally worthy. The common thread however, was clearly anti-Trump. We shuffled along for hours in the grey damp, occasionally pausing to snap a picture. This probably sounds like a miserable time, but it wasn’t. It was jubilant.
All in we spent 9 hours at the march. Finally Patty’s husband came to rescue us from the city after it became clear that taking the Metro home was simply impossible. We were starving and dehydrated and full of emotion too jumbled to unpack. I’m still exhausted and processing the whole experience.
For months I felt powerless and alone. I would share an article on Facebook or send an email to an elected official. But it all felt so pointless. We were doomed and sitting in my basement retweeting Elisabeth Warren wasn’t going to change that. I’m just a Mom in Vermont. A nobody. None of that feels true anymore. The march took all the nobodies and made us a team. None of us are alone, because every person who stood up across the world said, “I stand with you. And we will not accept the unacceptable.”
The march gave millions of people their power back. And hope. And a sense of purpose. The train home was no longer quiet, it was full of people sharing news stories and talking about what happens now. Discussing strategies for forming groups, for collaboration, motivation, and solidarity. For signing up and joining in. Michael Moore’s speech spelled out an essential strategy. He answered the question, “What do you hope to accomplish with this demonstration? Look around you, you’ve already accomplished it.”
In a day of great moments, his to-do list and Ashley Judd’s spoken words are both a must watch.
I feel changed somehow, and suspect millions share that feeling. It did not end Saturday, it began. We are not alone. We will stand up and speak out together. The election did not end the fight, it’s barely started. I don’t know where this road leads, but we will not walk in silence. Thank you to everyone who supported the marches across the world, either in person or from home. You did something essential this past week. And I for one, will be forever grateful.
PS. Thank you Patty, for everything.
(Header Source - National Park Service EarthCam)
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