I sat on my couch in the morning on Friday, January 20, 2017 to watch the peaceful transfer of power that our country is known for. It is one of the things that makes our country great. We can disagree and fight during election season and even after, but on Inauguration day, one man, one party hands over the reigns to another, relinquishing his power and the keys to the kingdom, so to speak.
This is something we usually celebrate. This year was different. I did not see anything to celebrate as Obama transferred his role to a mean-spirited man who campaigned on division, hatred, and fear. I sat there as his supporters booed his opponent, former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. And I listened as they cheered him and his American Carnage speech. There were protesters and violence. It was very disheartening.
I so wanted to attend the Women’s March the next day. I needed to feel something positive and a connection to other people who were also as angry, sad, and frustrated as I was. I was unable to attend Obama’s inauguration in 2009. I weighed 300 pounds and could barely walk. In 2013, I had just had surgery. I had lost a lot of weight and was sure I could do the walking, but I was trying not to push myself too hard as I was still recovering. I was looking forward to attending for Hillary, but alas, that was not to be.
Family and friends were concerned for my safety this year after watching the violence that took place on Trump’s Inauguration Day. I was also scheduled to work the mid-day into evening shift. I asked for the day off, but my boss was unable to grant the request. That only made my mood worse.
Then suddenly, something changed. Towards the end of the day, my supervisor came up to me and told me to call in the am and if it was slow, I could “come in late.” She left it sort of open-ended.
I went home and made my plans. My mom called and told me to “be safe.” My sisters cheered, as they were in California and could to make it. I had no idea what to expect. I read a lot of the “How to be safe at a protest rally” articles that had been floating around internet. Take one bag. Take food. Take an extra phone charger. Take something to wrap around your face in case of tear gas.
I was anxious, but excited.
I woke up early Saturday morning. I think I had four hours of sleep. I had everything all laid out. I got ready and made my way to the parking garage in my building. My plan was to drive to the metro and take the train into the city. In the parking garage, was another woman getting into her car with her friends.
“Are you going?” she asked.
“Of course!” And we both raised our fists in the air in celebration.
Already, this day felt different.
I arrived at the metro station at 730am and already the lot was full. That should have been a clue to what I was about to face, but the station has a small lot, so I didn’t think anything of it. I parked at the hotel across the street and ran across the street.
To say the station was packed is an understatement. There was probably a 30 minute line to fill or buy a fare card. Fortunately, I have one that I keep full from my days of commuting into the city. So, I got in the line for the turn-style to get into the station.
I knew where I wanted to go. A friend had been messaging me telling her to meet her and her friends. And that was certainly my plan. I waited for the second train, as the first was stuffed to the gills. I entered the train holding my Starbucks coffee and my fare card in my hand. I had my purse slung across my body so that I would not have to worry about that swinging around.
My face was maybe two inches from the woman standing in front of me.
“I know you!” She said to me. She did look familiar, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I had actually met her somewhere or of she just had that look of someone I know but cannot place.
“You do? My name’s Colleen. What’s yours?”
“Danni. Are you a Geek?” Now that is an odd question to ask someone. Or it would be if I hadn’t almost immediately known what she meant. “I mean are you in the NOVA Geek Group on Meetup?”
“No, but I went to Sarah’s Jewish Christmas! You were there!”
(A quick note here…I worked all the way up to midnight on Christmas Eve and was unable to make plans to go out-of-town to see family and the family that lives here went to Disney for Christmas, so one of my friends from my writer’s group invited me to Chinese food and a movie with her friends for Christmas.)
Danni, and her friends allowed me to tag along with them since once we arrived in the city it was clear there was probably no way I was going to be able to find my friends. I called work as soon as we got there. Which is a good thing, since I very quickly lost all cell service.
I could not to get over the number of people. We could barely move once we got close, to where the rally was, which was not very close at all. I spent the whole day near the Air & Space Museum, actually about a block and a half across the street. We could not even get close to Independence Avenue. Occasionally, we could see the jumbotrons or hear the speeches. But mostly, we just walked around and talked to people. It was great to feel a sense of solidarity with women. At the time, we had only an inkling of what we were a part of.
The DC police were so nice. It was almost as if they were in solidarity with us. They were directing people, answer questions, keeping an eye on families with children. So many women brought their daughters, sons, husbands, babies.
At one point, I lost Sarah’s friends. The one girl was pregnant and was racing around looking for a bathroom, of which there were very, very few. We were crossing a street that was packed with people when a sea of people going in the other direction cut me off from them. I knew where they were going and walked in that direction to no avail. So, I used my solitary status to push my way as close to Independence as I could get. I saw a corner of the screens sometimes, but at least here I could hear the speeches.
People were getting anxious and wanted to march. The chant, “MARCH! MARCH! MARCH!” came and went several times. At that point, it was announced that the streets were too chock-full of people to march and the route they received the permit for was blocked. We knew it was crazy-crowded, but still, we had no idea what the rest of the world was seeing on TV. Or what was going on in other cities. At one point, someone did say that women were protesting in Antarctica. I didn’t know there were people in Antartica, let alone protesters!
I did get to do some marching and chanting, but at that point, I made the decision to leave. I still had to get to work and I knew the metro was going to be crazy. If there was to be no marching, people would start to leave and I would never get out.
At one point during the protest, I started receiving random texts that had been delayed getting to me. I received one from my sister-in-law who told me my niece wanted to come to the city, but her parents told her, “no we cannot go today because of the protests.” We regularly take her to DC to the museums and monuments. When she was told about the protests, she expressed her displeasure with Trump and made her own sign!
I had heard Mr. Trump many times during his campaign say that he was leading a movement. That people didn’t understand what was going on. I agree that he did tap into an anger and frustration that working people in this country have had for the last 30 years as real wages have stagnated and labor has lost a lot of its political clout. I’m not sure I would call it a movement. All he has to do is not deliver on bringing jobs and higher wages to his supporters, and they will turn on him.
When I got home and was actually able to watch the news, I was astonished. I knew it was a lot of people, but I had no idea. There have been estimates that 2.6 million-2.9 million people protested nationwide and maybe as many as 11 million worldwide.
I suddenly stopped feeling bad I was unable to march through the city with the rest of the crowd. Just showing up, I decided, was enough. Adding myself to the numbers that made it impossible to march was just as important. I stood with my fellow Americans in solidarity supporting our values. And that, after all, was part of the point. It was also to send the message that although we may not be in power, we are not powerless. We are here, we are many, and we are not going away.
Trump’s election denied us celebrating the first woman president. We have denied him our silent acquiesces to his negative agenda.
That, Mr. Trump, is a movement.