An account for those who weren’t with us physically
Photos by Rosemary Warren/TheVerge
Staying together with a group in a crowd so thick you couldn’t get your bearings required a whole lot of logistics negotiation, but that isn’t what stayed with me about being with Reclaiming at the Women’s March in Washington, DC.
What stays are the many magical things we witnessed
Most of us started at the Tacoma metro station in Maryland, where we boarded a train that had a celebratory atmosphere. It felt like the subway in Boston on First Night: virtually everyone in the car was going to the same event, happy and expectant, and ready to connect. I spoke with a group of four young women in matching orange sweatshirts clearly purchased for the occasion.
Three also had orange ski caps; they explained that the fourth didn’t need one because her hair was already red (and I mean fire engine red, not Irish red). I complimented their color choice, lamenting that everything related to women was always pink and saying that it was too bad the march byword wasn’t "nasty woman" rather than "pussy hat." Two of the women promptly lifted their sweatshirts to display t-shirts that read "nasty woman"!
There were women, and some men, all around us – young urban dykes, Midwestern-appearing housewives, senior organizers who’d seen it all before, little girls out on their first political adventure – all shiny cheeks, open hearts, and excitement. Coming home on the same subway, I realized that I had no memory of that trip in — how long it had been, what stops we passed – just the people and the sense of a beginning.
When we reached the stop we were going to get off at, we couldn’t because the train didn’t stop. There was no room for us to debark onto the platform. So, along with many others, we got off at the next stop. And there, going up an escalator, looking down at the people still on the trains, the people on the platforms, the people on the escalator opposite, and looking up at the people on the platforms above, I realized that this was not just another protest march. This was bigger. Much, much bigger.
We arrived at our meeting place later than expected (and having found two – count them: 1, 2 – portapotties, with a line over two hours long). We gathered a couple more people, and I think that brought us auspiciously to 13! We did a quick circle to connect with ourselves, one another, the land, and spirits, and headed out into the flow of people towards the Native American museum where it was all supposed to start. We moved slowly, surrounded by throngs and throngs of people, using teal scarves to keep track of one another, following a square drum held high (later that day the drum would acquire a sigil), or keeping a hand on each other’s shoulders or jackets so that we didn’t get lost.
We were propelled forward by the beat of our drum, which shaped the energy of our small group and of the larger one as well. Total strangers approached me and thanked me for the drumming.
Finally we realized that we were not going to be able to make it to the rallying place so we stopped, found a slightly more open area, and sat down. This was perhaps the most crowded part of the day and what struck me was how incredibly calm the crowd was. Among a million people (and yes, that was the estimate of the District’s emergency services), it was quiet enough to speak in modulated voices, like two women over a kitchen table. And people were gracious, saying things like, "Would you mind if I cut in front of you so that I can rejoin my group?" and others replying, "No, please do." I actually lay down on the granite and took a nap in the middle of the churning crowd, completely comfortable and secure.
I was awakened by a troupe of people with a drum leading a chant: "He’s a fascist; he’s a racist; we won’t stop until he’s replaced by a real revolution." These splendid people were doing what they had come here for. None of us could hear what was happening at the rally, so we simply proceeded with our work, with groups emerging and falling back, contributing, witnessing others, being inspired, pooling energies. There was constant motion.
Eventually we got up to see if we could move into a position that was more connected to the main march. We found a group of marching people and joined it. After a while it became apparent that this was not the march proper, but a spontaneous march, of people who had come to DC to march! At that point we broke off and found a spot of lawn, just as a gorgeous contingent of nurses in red pussy hats marched by and I started to understand the hats. They weren’t just pink. They were orange, red, purple, or of that kind of yarn that fades from one color to another. Some were knitted, some crocheted, some made from fleece. One was being knitted on the metro as we rode in! Some were beautifully knit, some lumpy and hadn’t been blocked, and a few store bought. Some were floppy and worn to the side like tams, and one woman I saw had her ears front and back rather than side by side so that they looked more like horns. I loved that the hats were made by different hands. They served to identify small groups whose hats had been made by the same person and at the same time they stood for our mass intention. I even came to love the bubble gum pink ones when I saw a particularly bright fuzzy one on a six-foot man.
We decided to do a spiral dance on our square of lawn, chanting "Let it begin with each step we take, and let it begin with each change we make. Let it begin with each chain we break, and let it begin every time we awake." We were joined by people around us who seemed quite swept away by the energy, even giddy. Our drummers showed their chops and I was thankful for them for the umpteenth time that day.
After the spiral dance we split up into groups and my small group decided to make another effort to get involved in the heart of things. We made it to a place where we could see and hear a videocast of the rally. Amy Schumer introduced Madonna, who was awesome. I loved seeing this amazing woman of my generation speak so well. When she started singing I had a really odd reaction of, "wow, she sings really well for a regular old political organizer like us." lol.
By that time it was past 3:00 and we realized that the rally had run really long. We’d also finally been able to get a few texts through and heard that the march had been canceled because the mall was so full of bodies that no one could move. The street where we were was clearing out and it looked like time to go home. But soon we realized that the march had started and we were in the middle of it! Toshi Reagan was playing and I felt like I was at the Michigan Women’s Festival, but here we were in Washington headed toward the Washington monument. I realized that I was feeling great, despite hours of being on my feet and being jostled. The massive energy field that the march had created kept me feeling well physically and nurtured me emotionally as well.
All day long there was the constant entertainment of the signs. I loved the artistic ones that had been donated and made available as downloads before the march; these beautiful signs created the march visually: women of different ethnicities over the words "We the people" and the statements of our values superimposed over the American flag ("In our America, All people are equal, Loves wins, Black lives matter, Immigrants and refugees are welcome, Disabilities are respected, Women are in charge of their bodies, People and planet are valued over profit, Diversity is celebrated").
And then there were these:
"They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds."
"A woman’s place is in the resistance" (with a picture of the young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia)
"Then they came for the Muslims, and I said ‘no way, mother fucker!’"
"Not my president"
"my body, my rights"
"No son santos, no son putas, son mujeres"
"Love your mother" (with a picture of the earth)
"This pussy grabs back"
"Cheeto in Chief"
"Get your tiny little orange hands off my rights"
"Women’s rights are human rights"
"Girls just wanna have fun-damental rights"
"I’m a feminist. What’s your superpower?"
"I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit"
"Fight like a girl"
"The future is female"
"Build bridges, not walls"
"Men of quality do not fear equality"
"Still we rise"
Some of my favorites were handmade:
"I know signs. My signs are great. They’re terrific. Everyone agrees."
"Ctrl Alt-right Del" (With the "alt-right" surrounded by a circle with a line through it)
"No hablo Trump"
I saw a woman in her 70s or 80s with bright eyes and a beautiful face and deep crabapple-doll lines that looked more like sculpture than wrinkles; her sign simply read: "wtf America."
I also encountered a young woman, naked to the waist with black crosses over her nipples, who’d painted her sign onto her body: "Still not asking for it."
Then a miracle happened. As we were cutting across the parade to sit down and rest, I felt a hand on my shoulder and lo and behold! we were reunited with the larger group. Now reunited with all but three of our people, we let ourselves join the energy of a drumming group for a while.
When we got up to continue our march, we found that the street had emptied out. Trash was blowing across it like tumbleweeds. For the first time that day we could see landmarks and get our bearings. We kept marching and came across a group of indigenous people chanting and drumming and witnessed them for a while.
We reached the Washington monument and turned the corner to head for the White House. It was probably around 4:45 or so when we got there and stopped for snacks and then decided to close out our circle. A second miracle: we planned a ritual in 5 minutes and did it in maybe ten! Then we all went across the street to pee properly in portapotties.
At dusk, we decided to head for the nearest subway, and as we walked across a square of lawn in front of the White House, we encountered snow fences, hundreds of feet of them, covered with the people’s posters, six feet high, layered, reaching out onto the lawn. A grand collage envisioning a just world and the power to make it. The monument glowed, the White House twinkled, and the sky was a burnished pink. As darkness descended around us, I realized the extent of the spell that had been cast that day.
This piece by Jen from Baltimore Reclaiming.