[Emily’s Note: This essay is being republished as a retrospective on the anniversary of the first Women’s March — and there is still much work to be done. To learn how to take action now, near you, visit WomensMarch.com.]
We meet in a New Haven parking lot at 3:45 a.m. Six women and one man, all acquaintances through one. We hug. We shiver with cold, with anticipation. Compare signs. Get in the van.
We’re making a five-hour trek to join in what will be the largest global protest of any inauguration, but right now we don’t know that. Right now, we just feel like we need to be there. And so, we drive.
It’s dark. Mist collects on the windshield. We joke, wondering if the sun has stopped rising. If today is the first day of total darkness. We joke.
It’s a long ride, and so I think.
I think of the night last week, before this trip was a reality. I sat with my husband at dinner and said, “I wish I was going to D.C. I feel like I should be going.” I think of how the next morning, my friend messaged me. She had a van. She had seven seats. She felt the same pull. Let’s go.
I think of my six-year-old daughter, who came out of school crying on January 20. They had watched the inauguration. The President was scary. A boy in her class had told her the president was going to make all women leave the country. She didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want ME to leave. So, she cried.
We went home and made a sign together. “LOVE TRUMPS HATE.” She colored it with rainbows. My younger daughter added pink hearts.
We pull into a rest stop at the tip of New Jersey. It’s crowded with busses, streams of women walking in huddled lines. Most wearing pink hats. Nasty women. My women.
We reach Arlington, Virginia by 9:30 a.m. Meet my friend’s parents and sister at an Airbnb apartment. Her mother gives us handmade pink hats and Metro cards. The hats go on, the cards stay in our pockets. The metro is backed up. We need to walk.
4.5 miles to the Washington Monument. We hold our signs. Cars beep. People flash us thumbs up. One man yells out “He’s our President now, get over it!” The march before the march.
As we get closer, we pass busses. People chanting. The air is electric. We walk up a hill, around the Monument, and see the crowds. Tears swell. We are here. We are part of this.
The crowds are reserved, straining to hear the speeches pumped through the column of speakers somewhere ahead. We are told the Mall is full, to continue onward to Independence Avenue. We funnel into the road, walk forward, and stop.
We’ve reached our spot. A group of now 10, amongst hundreds of thousands. It’s hard to understand the scope, so we focus on the people around us, the jumbotron ahead of us.
There are people everywhere. Clever signs. Costumes. Babies with pink hats. Pre-teen girls starting chants. “Our bodies, our choice.” A 100-year-old woman from Ohio who arrived by plane last night. She felt she needed to be here, too.
The crowd is thick yet calm. We feel the press of the buildings that surround us on both sides of the street, try not to think about worst-case scenarios. Try instead to focus on the positive energy around us. People are more passionate than angry, more hopeful than distraught. This is a beginning. This is a start.
A young man and young woman in business attire stand near us, wearing red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. Someone asks them why. The man says, “We have the freedom to be here too.” Yes, you do. People shrug. They are left alone. After a little while, they wander away.
We stand for nearly two hours. Listen to the speeches, stuttering on the screen. Strain to hear the music, the poems. And then someone yells, “We march!”
We turn around to face 14th Street. A drum beat begins. More chants. We walk slowly, slowly. There are lots of people to move.
We finally pour out onto 14th Street NW. Stop holding our breath. March with the masses. A drum corp starts up, startling us. We laugh nervously, continue to move. There is no pushing. No over-crowding. No one is in a rush. This is what we’re here to do.
More signs. Balloons. Chants. “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like.” “We are the popular vote!” We need to be heard. We need to make noise. We need a release.
We march. We march. We march. And then, we turn a corner. The crowd begins to seep onto the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. Our legs are heavy. It is after 3 p.m. How did those hours pass?
Our march is over. Others continue. We decide to walk back to Arlington. 4.5 miles. Our hips hurt. Our backs hurt. But we don’t want to stop walking.
We reach the van at 5 p.m. and huddle back inside. It will be a long drive home. We are proud, yet anxious. What can we do next? What can we do NOW? We feel the itch, the urge. We need to keep this going. We were walking toward something, and we are ready to find it.
I get home at 2:15 a.m., nearly 24 hours after I got up the day before (was it just the day before?). I kiss my girls, asleep in their beds. I answer my husband, who is groggy with sleep, “Yes. I’m so, so thankful I was there.”
And then, I try to sleep. But something in me is still woke.
She adores being mom to her two little ladies and drinking obscene amounts of coffee from mugs with pithy sayings. Find her on Instagram, and learn more about ways you can collaborate with MotherHustle.
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