As soon as I saw the call going out across my social media for a Women's March on Washington in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, I knew I didn't want to go, and that I had to go. I've been going to marches and rallies for as long as I can remember—toted down to the Capitol Building in Boise, Idaho to rally for abortion rights, for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, against war with my always-protesting-something parents. Hundreds of thousands of people trying to get to D.C. on the same day, all riding the metro and needing to use the same port-a-potty? The stuff of nightmares. But I wanted to be counted, so I reluctantly talked myself into it.
And now here I am, the day after one of the biggest marches in U.S. history, trying to write about it. I'm a gender studies professor who teaches about this stuff a living, but it's too fresh, too soon for too many words. I don't know what happened yet, or what's coming next, but I do know what it felt like to be there and a have conviction that what it feels like when we're doing politics matters, so here goes.
I thought I was so smart, buying MARC tickets in advance for me, the ladyfriend, and our guests and heading to the station an hour before the first train. And then we got there, the line already snaking out of the station and around the block, growing by the second. I got a text from a friend who cleverly got on at the first stop on the line Martin State Airport stop—she was in a line, too. Yeah, we weren't getting on the first train, or the second. Hours went by as folks peeled off to catch rides to the Greenbelt Metro station or attend the march in Baltimore. We committed to the wait, and three and a half hours later we were packed like sardines on one of many extra trains MTA ran express to DC.
We came into a crushing crowd of people at Union Station who all had to pee. There's much to say about the politics and critiques of these events, but in the moment you are reminded that politics is embodied practice, and all our bodies had to pee. We have to get better at meeting this need if we're going to have that revolution. We were encouraged to head to the port-a-potties rather than the lines for the station bathrooms, so we did that, stopping to line up at the first one we saw. I did the math and calculated it would be about 42 minutes before any of us got to pee, so we headed to the banks of toilets closer to the Mall. Lines everywhere, but we kept looking for the shortest before finally committing to a line. It was a good one, and 15 minutes later we had peed, shared some granola bars, and were headed to the gates that pen you in so you know you're finally there—the cognitive dissonance of the permitted march.
And then we were at the Women's March on Washington. I think. There were a bazillion people carrying signs, the occasional drum beat and chant, people all moving in one direction even though no one seemed sure where we're going. I tried to figure out from the screenshotted map on my phone where the Jumbotron were so we could see Angela Davis, and we headed in that general direction, but we were quickly swallowed up by crowds. I used the skills in crowd navigation I picked up during my college years in New York City to snake us through, but I never really had any idea where we were going. My time honored tradition of just following other people with the idea they know where they are going led us to impasse after impasse, through crowd after crowd, nowhere. We kept asking each other if we were there yet, if we were marching yet, and I said yes, I think this is us at the Women's March on Washington. The thing looks impressive from the air, but when you are in it all you see is the smoosh of bodies around you until you get enough air to look around.
And when we managed that, we saw people, everywhere, streaming in from all sides, stretching up every set of museum steps, as far as I could see. I heard someone call my name and ran into a woman I'd last seen as a girl, the daughter of my dad's best friend back in Idaho. We hugged, marveled at the luck, and vanished back into different parts of the crowd. We got cold and snaked back into the crowd for warmth. We checked our watches, and at around 1:30 figured the surge of movement toward the Washington Monument was the "march," and we joined it.
It was a sea of people carrying a sea of different messages, the crowd letting out a collective woo every few minutes. Intrepid chant starters started chants that held for about eight rounds; note to self: needs more bullhorn. With hundreds of thousands of people spread over several miles, we were all at different events. There was no single message to this march, and no single experience, and I can only speak to mine.
Mine was largely complete elation to see so many people off their phones and into a crowd with each other. There were as many reasons for marching and priorities for marching as there were marchers—and I think that's a good thing. We don't know what the world we are building in this shell of the old will look like, and the march was not where I was looking to find out. I was looking for a palpable reminder that my sense that things are very wrong is shared—and boy howdy, it is. I do not know what comes next, but I can't—none of us can. I do know that as our packed MARC train rolled back into Baltimore, I blurted out, "Greatest City in America!" I can't remember being so happy to be home, and so excited to see what comes next.