What started with a casual Facebook post turned into a global day of coordinated protest the likes of which has never been seen before. Estimates have ranged from three to over five million people participating worldwide. In spite of the then President-Elect instructing the National Park Service to refuse protest permits on the Mall to anyone for a month before and after inauguration, the DC March became a force of nature, took over the National Mall, shut down adjacent streets not originally permitted, and completely overwhelmed the city in homemade pink pussy hats. It was democratic protest in all its glory.
Since the March, a whirlwind of Executive Orders has stunned, shocked, and enraged people across the world, and even many who voted for the current White House occupant are feeling buyer’s remorse. Never in history has a new President’s approval rating plummeted so low so quickly, and it is doubtful the bottom of this barrel has been reached. But in the midst of the “shock and awe” tactics of the new administration, it is worthwhile to remember the firestorm of energy the March generated, why it resonated with so many people, and how it can be an inspiration moving forward.
Starting from the FLL long-term parking lot, women and men on their way to the march began connecting. Recognizable not just by pink hats but by the resolution and energy being carried on the shoulders of protesters, strangers met and became friends; they smiled, hugged and encouraged each other. Stories emerged of how others sacrificed so marchers could take time off work or away from family responsibilities to flood Washington with protest and create a show of strength like no other. It was clear to anyone half-awake that this was not just a march; it was already a movement.
Along with pink hats and an unmistakable energy of, “Hold my drink; I got this…”, rolled up poster board peeking out of backpacks was a harbinger of the amazing anti-administration signs to come. So as red trucker hats trickled out of DC on the Metro, a rising tide of pink hats, some with kitty faces, some without, all unique and handcrafted with fury and dissent, began flooding toward DC, the Mall, and a protest unequaled in history.
No Woodstock, no arena concert flooding the stage, no march ever before could have been preparation for the crush of protesters that began streaming toward the rally point hours before it began. As hundreds of thousands of protesters continued to overwhelm the area in every direction around the Capitol building and the rally stage, those who arrived early enough to be anywhere near the speakers were held in place for six hours rather than just the three while the rally was going on. There was simply no way to move in any direction as the massive display of fighters, mothers, voters, brothers kept arriving from all over the world. Wobbling with walkers and canes or wide-eyed from strollers and Baby Bjorns, centenarians and infants alike marched for a better world alongside the well-heeled and the welfare recipients. Whether you needed a temporary hand or had a permanent disability, if you protested the last war or fought in it, whatever your intersection of privilege and demographic: you had a doppelgänger at the Women’s March on DC. When it was finally time for the actual March to begin moving, it couldn’t. Thousands and thousands of sardined Marchers trying to get to the parade route were told to turn around and march on the Mall. This prompted the chant to inform the crowd, “Street’s too small! The March is on the Mall!” and like sand through an eternal hourglass, the Marchers poured and poured and poured in.
Thus began the reclamation of what was taken from the dissenters: the Mall would be home to the largest protest in US history and there was no earthly way to stop it. The people in pink pussy hats had spoken and they would not be denied.
Protest signs and costumes were mostly homemade and constantly entertaining. This was part of the true power of the protest: what individuals created independently knit together in solidarity to show that diversity is inescapably powerful. Signs were funny, profane, tragic, three-dimensional, simple, or museum-worthy. Hats were fuchsia, rose, salmon, coral, blush, variegated, solid, striped, embellished, plain, and every one was “women’s work” knitted by someone (for someone they may not even know) with intention, power, and love.
One of the protest signs read: “So Bad Even Introverts Are Here,” but it didn’t take an introvert to be overwhelmed by the ever-present onslaught of the multitudes. It easily took a minimum 45 minutes to push, needle, weasel, and worm through the distance of one city block. If you were separated from your group not only would you never find them in the million marchers, there was no cell signal to be had on the invisible network flooded with pussy hat pictures. More than once, comparisons have been made to Tokyo trains at rush hour, sardines, the crush at the stage of a rock concert, but all these scenarios would have to be populated entirely by the Goofy Gophers (often mistaken as Polite Chipmunks) from Warner Brothers’ cartoons in order to be accurate. Snacks were shared, space was made, laughs were shared, friends were made, hats were complimented, and the bedrock of it all was an unshakable determination knowing, “No matter how uncomfortable this gets we are here for each other, we are not leaving, and we WILL be counted.” Over five million people marched worldwide and there were no arrests. While not every continent had a march as crowded as DC, every continent had a march, and this same spirit of solidarity and joy showed up in over 600 cities across the globe. Protesters clinging to the jackets of people they knew while in full-body contact with no fewer than 5 other people at any given time somehow knew: history is being made and my body being here in protest matters. Some protesters had pinned to their jackets names of those joining in spirit but unable to be present in body, exponentially expanding the number of those in solidarity.
It can be said safely that the majority of March participants were women and/or white. It can also safely be assessed that people of privilege on the March understood their good fortune, the intersections that created it, and they were marching in solidarity not ignorance. Several different groups of men had home-made signs to the effect of “Gay Men Support Women’s Rights!” and white women waved placards declaring “Black Lives Matter!” There were environmental activists, reproductive health activists, DAPL activists, Native American activists, and every other cause imaginable. On the parade route during the actual march women raised their voices to chant, “Our bodies! Our choice!” and men shouted the antiphon: “Her body! Her choice!” in throats already raw and tired from chanting, singing, and shivering all day. Those who happened to be born on US soil shouted, “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” and some had determined tears in their eyes when a random stranger would lead the chanting question: “Tell me what democracy looks like!” and a thousand colors of a rainbow crowd answered like a clarion: “THIS is what democracy looks like!!!” This is what democracy looks like. This is what it looks like when men support women, when white people declare Black Lives Matter, when cisgendered privilege demands honor, dignity, and respect for transgendered sisters and brothers, when we know we are stronger together.
Inspiration and determination come from knowing it truly is this diversity that makes the majority of voters in the USA strong, and made the White House lose its mind, sputtering nonsense about inauguration attendance while DC was literally overrun by completely peaceful protest. Symbolically, a march is not fast, but it is inexorable. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was not one issue at the core of the Women’s March but there was one heart and its drumbeat was community, connection, and love; this heart will bend the arc of the universe just a little faster.
Katy Peterson is a freelance musician, composer, music mentor, activist, ordained minister, and chocolate lover who believes you have the power to light the world.