On Saturday morning, I woke up to a blaring iPhone alarm and a pitch-black sky that stretched over campus. Ambling down the Wharton stairs, I made my way to Magill Walk where a smattering of stars was more visible than the thinning tree branches arching overhead. I arrived at the train station where six of my friends and I caught the 5:56am SEPTA to Jefferson Station. Once there, we picked up a Greyhound to D.C. that was filled exclusively with people attending the march.
In total, the Washington march required one thousand more buses than Trump’s inauguration, and over one million people flocked to the capitol to protest the new administration. Across the United States, over three million attended marches, and the protest spanned six continents, totalling to over five million marchers worldwide. This extraordinary turnout exemplifies so clearly how a substantial portion of people across the globe understand the dangers that stem from complicity towards the discriminatory policies—policies America’s new administration has promised to enact.
It is important to acknowledge that both the original name for this march—The Million Woman March—and its current title—The Women’s March on Washington—were taken from Civil Rights marches, initially without proper acknowledgment of that fact. Further, at the initial organizational stages, the march’s founders were not as inclusive of People of Color and members of the LGBTQA+ community as they should have been, adding those women to the planning process retroactively instead of including them from the beginning. It is for these reasons that I was initially hesitant to come to D.C. Even after deciding to go, I was ready to approach the event with a severely critical eye.
But when I arrived at the intersection of 4th and Independence, the crowd was a beautiful conglomeration of Black, Non-binary, White, Brown, and Transgender women that formed a breathtakingly heterogeneous sea of femininity. There were men too—both old and young—who were protesting alongside their sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends. This march would not have achieved the success it did without participants from every race and gender. Feminism doesn’t work unless it is intersectional, and I sincerely hope future organizers of protest movements will take that fact into account. I hope that the white women who showed up Saturday will understand how important it is for all of us to be at the next Black Lives Matter protest; we don’t win unless we ensure that none of us get left behind.
One aspect of the march I would like to critique is the personal attacks the event spurred on the Trump family. While I admittedly laughed a bit at the “Free Melania” signs littering the crowd, in actuality, they are extremely counterproductive. Personally, I would not marry Donald Trump, but we cannot simply assume that the woman who chose to do so is being held hostage by her husband. Statements like those, and the SNL writer’s words concerning Trump’s son Bannon, are neither productive nor mature. Sinking our cause to the level of petty, presumptive statements only renders it less worthy of serious attention.
Swarthmore was well-represented at both the D.C. and Philadelphia protests. The Lang Center sponsored three buses filled with 144 students and faculty members to the capital. They also provided 225 round trip SEPTA tickets to students attending the march in Philly. Many who were not able to get a seat on one of the Swat buses went anyways via car, bus, train, or van. Even some Swatties currently abroad attended marches in their respective locations, such as Paris and London.
Eliza Wainwright ’19, who attended the march in Philly, thought that the protest left something to be desired.
“While it was really exciting to see so many people out there, I noticed the crowd wasn’t very diverse. The speakers were a lot of white, cis women. Overall I think [the march] was a good experience but it’s hard to have a provoking inclusive dialogue with people from all the same backgrounds. It didn’t necessarily spur any new dialogue,” she notes.
While Shivani Chinnappan ’18, who attended the D.C. protest, acknowledges that the march was not perfect, she decidedly affirms that its successes should be the greatest takeaway.
“When people thought the march wasn’t being very intersectional, the organizers took steps to make it more intersectional, and that was huge. There was definitely diversity amongst the groups, and there is always room for more, but the fact that the organizers made motions to correct their mistake and increase inclusivity is enough for me to be fully behind the cause,” she said.
Chinnappan also stresses that in addition to being exciting and energizing, the march sparked important, educational dialogues.
“Even for the people who didn’t think about intersectionality, you were there and you saw the signs. I saw that first hand when someone asked our group what ‘intersectionality and feminism’ meant. And we were happy to explain,” she confirms.
Overall, Chinnappan found her march experience to be both positive and productive, despite the jam-packed crowds and inability to move.
“The turnout was unreal, and the expanse was global. It would have been nice to hear the speakers, but I was there, showing my support, and I was happy to do that,” she states.
Sometimes, all you have to do is show up. Sometimes, that’s enough. On Saturday, enough people showed up to pack the streets of DC so tightly they nearly called off the march. I felt a surge of pride when they informed us the crowds had flooded the streets, providing nowhere to walk. It didn’t matter that we were hundreds of yards from the stage. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t see the screen. It didn’t matter that we went hours without moving. We were there.
Notwithstanding, as incredible as the march was, it cannot serve as the culmination of activism concerning the Trump administration. Simply showing up was everything on Saturday, but it is imperative that we continue to do so and begin to do more. It is critical that all of us resist governmental decisions with which we disagree by way of writing letters, signing petitions, campaigning for 2018 Congressional candidates, and getting to the polls at every possible opportunity.
It was past 2:30am on Sunday morning when my friends and I finally returned to Swat. Campus was as dark as we left it, the sky a deep blue crosshatched with streaks of black. We could barely keep our eyes open, yawning frequently while shuffling sluggishly back to our dorms. We had been gone 21 hours and were exhausted. Still, climbing the stairs to the third floor, my smudged, tattered sign dragging listlessly behind me, I couldn’t help but smile. It was a glorious exhaustion stemming from hours of exhilaration.
Regardless of whether those presiding over the buildings around which we marched take our protest into account, January 21, 2017 will be a day that over three million Americans will remember and one that will, undoubtedly, go down in history. Maybe it will change minds, maybe it won’t, but it will be noticed, and that is a fact of which each participant should be proud.
As Audre Lorde reminds us, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
The words of many are not welcome in our new president’s administration. On Saturday, we spoke. And that was just the beginning.