It started with a Facebook post.
In the days following the election, it passed among friends accompanied by messages like, “Wouldn’t that be something? If it happens, we should go.” Like a lot of people that week, my friends and I were disappointed and nervous about the future.
The Facebook post gained momentum and grew into an event, a group of experienced activists took over the planning, and we realized, this march is happening.
My friend in Baltimore offered me her couch and I booked my plane tickets. We were going.
Many people have questioned whether it is appropriate for journalists to join the Women’s March in Washington or any of its many sister demonstrations. Across the country, newspapers forbid their staff from marching at the risk of appearing to undermine their objectivity.
I think it’s important to remember that journalists are people and people are not perfectly neutral. At our best, we strive for fairness, open-mindedness and equality, but it’s true that we all carry with us a set of unique experiences that shapes our worldviews.
My own views are shaped in large part by the amazing women in my life.
My grandmother, a Costa Rican-born immigrant who helped my parents raise us, and a retired teacher and breast cancer survivor; my mother, who is incredibly wise and unfailingly supportive (and I’m not just saying that because I’m still on her phone plan); and my sister.
If we’ve ever met face-to-face, chances are I’ve told you about my little sister. I’m pretty proud of her. Although I can’t boss her around anymore, I like to think it was years of my sisterly attention that prepared her for her current career as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
Our new president has made troubling comments about women and immigrants; has been at odds with the press, to say the least; and has described military sexual assault as an inevitable consequence of allowing women to serve alongside men. I have some serious concerns about many of his policies.
It was with those women, those worries about the new administration, and those guiding principles of fairness and equality in mind, that I decided to head to Washington, D.C.
My friend and I left Baltimore early that morning, drove as close as we dared to D.C., and took the Metro in — wisely, as we later learned the line outside the Baltimore train station was several blocks long.
Crammed shoulder to shoulder on the Metro, one woman near me observed to her companion, “Look at all these people. I think this country’s going to be OK.”
Arriving at the rally, we climbed a media stand leftover from the previous day’s parade to do what any good millennial would — take a selfie. From above, the sea of pink knit hats looked unreal.
Together my friend, a scientist equipped with a sign that read “women belong in the laboratory,” and I, camera in hand — my first impulse is always to observe and record — waded into the crowd.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being completely surrounded by people almost as far as you can see on all sides. Imagine the biggest crowd you’ve ever been in and double it. Triple it.
Crowds typically make me very anxious, but this one was different. It felt peaceful in a way most big crowds don’t. My friend, trying to describe it to someone else the next day, could only say, “It just had a really good vibe.”
It wouldn’t be entirely correct to call the event simply a protest of the new administration, although it was organized in reaction to the election. It was a diverse group of people — of different ages, genders, ethnicities, religions — concerned about the divisive rhetoric of the campaign and speaking up in support of human rights.
At first we thought we could get closer to the stage, but we soon realized that roughly half a million other people all had the same idea.
It was a little frustrating, admittedly. It would have been nice to see performances by artists including Janelle Monae, or to hear speeches from activist icons like Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem.
Someone in the crowd voiced our frustration, saying, “I can’t see what’s happening.”
Another person reminded us, “This is what’s happening.”
After that, we just let the crowd move us as it shifted, trying to be in the moment. We had a good time pointing out signs to each other and chatting with the people around us, meeting folks from as far away as Alaska. We met some friendly dogs, too, some even outfitted with their own signs. At least two people complimented my friend’s lipstick and someone caught up with me to return something that fell out of my pocket.
Despite being squeezed together, people were so patient with each other and so kind.
As I was about to be separated from my friend by the crowd, one woman stopped all the traffic around us to let me through. When I thanked her, she said, “We have to lift each other up.”
I’d been carrying around a lot of anxiety since the election. This march gave me the boost I didn’t know I needed and reminded me that there’s a lot of good out there.
Eventually word filtered down that the crowd was too large to move and would not be marching to its planned destination. We checked our phones for the first time in ages — there was no cell service in a crowd that big — and realized we’d been there all day. We decided we’d had enough, made our way back to Baltimore and got ice cream, which in my opinion is the best way to end any big day.
In the week that has followed, I’ve heard a lot of negative reactions to the march, even from friends and family. It’s been helpful to remember that in their times, no human rights movement has been entirely popular.
It remains to be seen just what sort of outcome last Saturday’s event will produce, but it is my hope that this demonstration — which may be the largest in American history — inspires more people to be active participants in our government.
Several marches proposed since then — including one organized by scientists — seem to suggest that people plan to be a lot more vocal about the causes they support.
If I learned anything from last Saturday, it’s that we’re going to have to look out for each other, lift each other up, and speak out when we see something wrong. If we are prepared to treat each other with kindness and respect, then I think this country, and all of us, really will be OK.
Cecilia Fox doesn’t usually spend her weekends at protests — she’s not that exciting. Reach her at [email protected]