BY JAN STEVENSON
It was amazing, unexpected in size, thrilling and inspiring.
Susan and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 4:30 a.m. Friday – Inauguration Day – to catch a bus for the Women’s March on Washington. Our group of 38 fellow travelers were quiet, some shy, mostly all in need of more coffee. During the 10-hour trip we got to know each other a little. As we drove east we learned about the protests and arrests in Washington during the inauguration, and apprehension crept onto some women’s faces. Would it be dangerous? Would there be lots of people or a small crowd? Would this march make any difference?
Saturday morning we were back on the bus at 6 a.m. on our way to RFK Stadium, where over 1,800 other buses from all over America each spilled out dozens of women with pink pussyhats, signs, smiles and enthusiasm. We joined the massive crowd already forming at 8 a.m. on the two-and-a-half-mile walk to the National Mall. Women everywhere.
We passed the National Guard Armory and were cheered and applauded by khaki-clad soldiers. A few of the women in uniform wanted selfies with us. The police, security personnel – even the men driving the trash trucks – all honked and yelled support as we made our way forward. I called out “thank you!” to a burly, armed, shaved-head soldier, and he called back with a big grin, “Say hi to my mom – she’s there too somewhere.”
Washingtonians living along the route, many with young children in tow, waved and cheered as the thousands paraded past their front doors. I stepped into the street to look back and saw a sea of pink marchers, all moving in the same direction – toward the seats of power.
Our group of six friends got to the National Mall more than an hour before the rally was set to begin and already we couldn’t get close enough to the stage to see or hear any of the speakers. We staked out a place near the edge of the crowd, but we were quickly surrounded by the masses of people still pouring in. “Let’s move to the edge of the crowd,” our friends said and we started north towards the other side of the Mall.
We never found the edge of the crowd – just continuous masses of people. Despite confusion and enormous crowding, the feeling was gentle, safe, supportive and playful. People smiled and made way for us as we moved through the growing sea of humanity. We finally got to the National Gallery steps on the north side of the Mall and there was a separate, gigantic march along the street. Susan thought this was the actual March starting, but we soon learned that all these people were just arriving. They hadn’t even entered the Mall yet!
We climbed the steps of the National Gallery and turned around – our jaws dropped. With a panoramic view of the entire Mall, Susan and I looked at each other, stunned. Both of us veterans of numerous large marches in Washington – against the Vietnam War, for LGBT rights, for women’s rights, against indifference to the AIDS pandemic – we’d never seen anything close to this! We watched in wonder as five different rivers of marchers make their ways east towards the White House. We went to the other side of the building and saw thousands more still just arriving to the Mall. By far, this was the largest demonstration of political resistance we had ever seen!
For hours we watched a continuous stream of human energy. We made it back to our bus – 8.3 miles later – and that night collapsed, exhausted but elated. Sunday morning we were back on the bus home. Our group of 38 women on the bus was transformed. Everyone was excited, chatting, sharing stories about their March experience – who they saw, how they felt, whether they made it to protest at the White House or the new Trump Hotel, or, like us, couldn’t get through the logjam of marchers.
Everyone wanted to talk about what’s next. Galvanized and energized, they wanted to know how to keep the pressure on the new administration and the Congress. I invited everyone to join Susan and I at the Michigan Democratic Convention Feb. 11 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Cobo Hall in Detroit. All phones came out to update their calendars and I expect to see many of my new bus friends at the MDP convention next month. We created a Facebook page to stay in touch, we planned phone calls to legislators and we committed to stay vigilant.
The Women’s March on Washington has mobilized a worldwide movement. Started by one woman in Hawaii the day after Trump’s election who suggested on Facebook that women come to protest the inauguration, and millions responded. We’ve made our voices heard from cities large and small and from other nations around the world. We mobilized and we must commit to organize out of this moment.
Now comes the hard work. But if the reaction on our one bus of somewhat hesitant marchers is any indication of a newfound energy and commitment to progressive human rights, then there is reason to have high hopes for the future of this beautiful, colorful, diverse and expansive America on the horizon.