Last Saturday, women and men, elderly and young, turned out in the hundreds of thousands to march for the rights of not just women, but all those marginalized by society. Arriving closer to the National Mall, complete strangers were exchanging smiles and cheering.
At the rally prior to the march, taller folk offered to switch spots with those of us who are a little more vertically challenged. A helping hand was never far off. While calling for continued action, many speakers also called for the end of sweeping generalizations of various demographic groups, including those that voted for President Trump.
Despite being among the largest mass of people I had ever seen; never once did I feel unsafe. There was a palpable energy, but it was both peaceful and civil. Eight hours after arriving, we finally left the march. Though completely exhausted, the high from the march carried my tired feet another hour’s walk home.
On the walk back, our little Valpo group (of alumni and current students) decided to stop to eat. While in line for the restroom (wearing my “a woman’s place is in the house and senate” t-shirt), a man, eating dinner with his two daughters, asked me: “So is there anything good about America?” He proceeded to tell me how walking by he felt a lot of hateful energy at the march, and heard people saying things such as “All Trump supporters are sexist and racist.” Because this didn’t match what I experienced while participating, it caught me off guard. We continued to talk for another 20 minutes or so, explaining why we voted the way we did, and in my case, why I marched, and what I saw and felt during the march.
Hours after our conversation had ended, I realized the point wasn’t to necessarily change one another’s views in the moment, but to give a living breathing face to the “other”. Almost a week into Trump’s presidency, it now seems vital to engage with the “other,” and not just online.
Ever heard the song “Glory?” You know, the one by Common and John Legend? There’s this powerful line that reads, “No one can win the war individually, it takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy.” This popped into my head as I prepared myself to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.
Reflecting on why I was compelled to make the extra effort to go to Washington, I realized the strength in my ability to do so. I have the “young people’s energy” to endure a long car drive and be on my feet for a number of hours knowing that I would recover rather quickly from being uncomfortable. So many women and men came before me and made their contribution--it was my turn.
After that long drive through the night from Valpo to D.C. where we were so fortunate to be hosted by a recent Valpo grad, it was true that our young backs were aching and our legs were stiff. That, however, was where the predictability of the trip ended.
Arriving at the National Mall in D.C. for the Women’s March, there were more than a few surprises. As it is well known now, not only did the attendance exceed all anticipated numbers, but it did so to the point that there was no longer a route to march on because it was covered from edge to edge with people from beginning to end.
Wow, was that a sight to see. As the organizers worked to find alternative routes, we waited in our small standing area among the crowd to be dismissed to march. I was struck by a certain demographic that notably came out numbers: elderly people. Our beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and veterans of the cause (of which there were many) were present and in numbers!
This “wisdom” mentioned in the song that I interpreted to be passive was one of the most active among the crowds. I thought that my generation needed to step up to take over what was being handed down to us in terms of activism and action. However, walking alongside hundreds of strong women and men that day taught me that the act of participating was not being handed over vertically but horizontally.
The wisdom? Civic engagement is a forever thing. I left that march encouraged that when we share the burdens we bear--they’re lighter on us all.
Shoes were lying haphazardly on the floor as we flung them off to relax our swollen feet. My friend’s Fitbit had our mile count at over 13. We were all exhausted and starving and likely dehydrated, but we honestly had hardly noticed as we were too full of the positive energy we had just been a part of at the Women’s March on Washington.
A room full of twenty-something-year-old women, all Valpo students or recent graduates, scrolled through our phones for the first time in hours and became further overwhelmed. My heart warmed seeing our newsfeeds full of friends at other marches and of the media showing post after post of people all over the world supporting us. We all laughed as we shared pictures of humorous signs with each other and reminisced on this life-changing day.
The next day, during the car ride back to Valpo, our social media feeds changed from positivity to concern. An article by the Odyssey titled “I am a female and I am so over feminists” caused us to step back and consider the fact that some women didn’t support our cause. Articles and statements questioning the inclusivity of the march, and if it would lead to any real change, sent a sinking feeling through my stomach.
These statements did not seem to relate to the diverse, passionate and supportive experience I just had, and I didn’t quite know how to process all the negative feedback. Luckily, I was in a car full of thoughtful and engaging Valpo classmates who through critical discussion and reflection helped me to understand how I should respond to these claims.
Our discussions coming home proved that this march was just the catalyst. Being able to communicate to people with different opinions from our own is going to be the real test and hopefully what will result in true progress.