the women's march
On the eve of the Women’s March, Molly and I scoured the second floor of Michaels on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn for poster board. We approached one woman who had a few cardboard sheaths in her shopping cart and asked where she found them. The actual poster board was sold out, she said, but the framing mattes were in the back. As we carried the one remaining matte, a man who looked like my high school science teacher—tall, thin, a little pasty, in Patagonia and swishy khakis—asked us where we found the board, and said that he had tried Michaels in Manhattan, but that the line was five-hundred people long. Unlikely, and yet the next afternoon, as hundreds of thousands of women and men filled the streets of midtown Manhattan for the Women’s March NYC, it seemed possible.
In her piece for NYR Daily on the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., Emily Eakin describes the bus as “protest’s defining symbol”—it is cheap, efficient, and has been the main mode of transport to protests for decades, starting with the Freedom Rides of the 1960s during which the ride was part of the protest itself. She goes on to describe the bus trip down to D.C. from New York, and the number of buses that lined I-95 South, all headed for the March. She writes, “In a sense, we were already marching.” The same felt true in New York, but the subway was our bus. As Molly, Laura, Rachel, and I waited for the 4 train on the platform at Borough Hall, more and more people gathered with signs and pink knitted pussyhats. The five-minute wait felt five times as long. A woman and her young son asked us for directions to the march and then asked if she could have a picture of her son with our signs. When Rachel tried to flip her “HONESTLY FUCK THIS” sign to its “Women Unite!” side the mother said no, no just leave it. Her son grinned next to the sign and she snapped an iPhone picture.
Soon the train came, and by the time we reached Union Square the subway was packed with women and men carrying signs. Despite the crowding, the spirit of the day felt generous and people made room. When, after announcing that the train would run local from Union Square to Grand Central, the conductor’s voice came back over the speaker to tell us that we would in fact be going express, cheers and applause filled the car. We slowly disembarked at 42nd Street, onto a platform that was so crowded I felt a kind of hazy fear. I never used to dream of chaos, but night after night after the election I’ve found myself lost in a dreary, crowded city. Awake, that fear dissipated as soon as we were up the platform stairs and walking towards the turnstiles. A disgruntled man in a red baseball cap yelled something indiscernible at us as we passed—he looked as if he had been lifted from footage of a Trump rally in the middle of the country and dropped there. He was one of the only counter-protestors we saw all day.
Before joining the crowd on 42nd Street, the sun came out. I had chills. We heard the voices of women chanting just a few blocks beyond, and as we got closer the words became clearer: “This is what democracy looks like.” For the first time in weeks, I felt hopeful despite knowing how much more there was to be done.
Once we had joined the March at 42nd and Third Ave, it was impossible to see very far ahead or behind you because the air was thick with signs. One woman carried a sign that read “Women Against War & Violence.” Another carried a sign that read, “Wow, that just happened!” For a while we walked behind a woman with a baby carriage, and the baby stretched out its little hand to hold onto Molly’s shoulder bag, which hung at just the right height. “This is what democracy looks like,” two children nearby continued to chant, a few verses after the adults’ voices had petered off, and to hear those words from their mouths felt promising. Every time I made eye contact with any of the other marchers, the recognition was met with a smile. Later that day, Laura told me that to her this felt like the best of the city, when the coldness disappears and reveals a city full of people who are willing to support each other.
We marched for a while alongside the Gay and Lesbian Big Apple Corps in their fabulously regal purple and black outfits, as they played Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” As we sang and danced along, I was reminded of the ebullient mood I felt on voting day, when I had dressed sharply in anticipation of the first female president and the other women I passed on the way to the subway seemed to have done the same. Whether those women had supported Hillary Clinton all along or voted for her as a vote against Trump, the mood on Election Day had felt strong and defiant. As I marched in New York, I felt defiant, but also worried. It seemed at times like we were celebrating the win that should have been ours—and was ours, by popular vote. A march sends a signal, but it does not solve a problem.
The March continued under Pershing Square Bridge, and when I looked up I could see the stone angel who flanks the clock outside Grand Central Station, presiding over the protestors who lined the building’s second floor balcony. Later in the March, as we headed up Fifth Avenue toward Trump Tower, I noticed the art deco statuary along the 50s and Fifth Ave—the elegance of these statues always comes as a surprise against the grayness of midtown. But it wasn’t just that—it was the smell of the hotdog and Nuts 4 Nuts stands, the tall grey-haired businessman in a suit who scoffed at my sign as he walked in the opposite direction, the waiters and concierges peaking through the windows of the Grand Hyatt as we passed. Regular city sights, transformed by the masses of people gathered to defend their rights. As we headed north on Fifth, the glossy black corner of Trump Tower came into view. Trump was in D.C. by then, but I pictured his thick, hunched frame in the windows above—a man who claims to be for the people, and yet one for whom New York is best observed from high above, through tinted, sound-proof glass.
By the time we reached 54th and Fifth we were exhausted and sore. We joked about being so out of shape that walking for a few blocks with your arms above your head could set your lower back and legs on fire. When I got home I lied down flat on the wood floor of my living room and stayed there for a few minutes. Pictures from the day flooded social media, and I flipped through slideshows collecting pictures of women all around the world. I teared up when I saw a photo of thirty people gathered on a boat in Antarctica holding signs (one of which read “Penguins March for Peace”), and at a group of protestors in snowy Boise, Idaho.
There is one photo taken at the Washington, D.C., March that is particularly striking. In the image, a black woman named Angela Peoples holds a sign that reads “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” She sucks on a lollipop and looks wearily into the distance, while a group of blonde white women in pink pussyhats are on their phones, oblivious. After the March, the photo went viral—for some women, it epitomized what a million-person march alone cannot remedy. As Jenna Wortham writes in The New York Times, “That photo cuts to a truth of the election: While black women show up for white women to advance causes that benefit entire movements, the reciprocity is rarely shown.” In an interview with The Root, Peoples describes the reaction of some white women at the march to her sign: “‘Not this white woman,’ or ‘No one I know!’” When I read Peoples’ interview, I was unsettled by these white women’s responses and their eagerness to dismiss a reality that must be reckoned with over the next years. To say “No one I know!” is to ignore the problem, when in fact we need to better understand why so many women thought they could afford to vote for a man who was caught on tape crudely boasting about sexual assault and has made countless racist remarks.
For me, the photo of Peoples and the girls in their pussyhats brings to mind the town where I grew up in New Hampshire: mostly white, mostly middle class. A town that went for Trump. In high school, I was lucky to find a group of strong, smart friends, who weren’t afraid to be feminists in a high school where calling oneself a feminist was an invitation to be teased. We bonded over volunteering for Obama’s 2008 campaign though many of us would not be old enough to vote for him come Election Day. On the day of the Women’s March, I scrolled through Instagram and Facebook and saw that each of these young women had gone to the marches in their respective cities, and I felt proud to know them.
And yet throughout high school I was aware that outside of my group of friends, certain things were different. It was small town New Hampshire in 2008: Women’s Studies was a relatively new class at our highschool, and those who took it were sneered at for being “queer” and “weird.” If one girl called herself a feminist, some other girl would call her a dyke. Those of us with supportive parents and friends knew that it was possible to be a young woman who respected herself and her rights in this environment. But it was not always easy to do. In this world, wearing your boyfriend’s football jersey on game day broadcast social status. Being a “daddy’s girl” or “guy’s girl” was a point of pride—so long as the boys knew you “weren’t like other girls.” We were schooled in a formula harder to forget than algorithms and proofs: that a woman’s worth was determined by her relationship to men.
I thought we were past all of that. Trump’s election makes me think otherwise. Despite his repeated demonstrations of his lack of respect for women, our rights, our agency outside of the family unit, he still won with white women. I can’t help but wonder if the size of the Women’s Marches across the world gave pause to the women who voted for Trump. Or how it affected today’s generation of young women for whom identifying as a feminist is a kind of social risk. If anything, the marches were powerful proof of a community—an estimated three million people in support not only of women’s rights, but also the many other issues that in the past week alone have come under threat. As Rebecca Traister wrote in New York magazine, the Marches gave “the revolutionary sense that the new women’s movement will be about pulling in issues of criminal justice, environmental activism, immigration reform, and systemic racism.” For those of us who were there on Saturday: what can we do to make the next March, and subsequent activism, more inclusive? On Saturday we gathered for women, but what will we do for immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement, scientists and environmentalists?
There is one photo from a March in Concord, New Hampshire, that stays in my mind. In the picture, a young woman’s profile pops against the grey pillars of the State House. She wears a pink hat that appears hand knit, and looks amused at something in the distance. In the background of the photo, two women with neat grey hair and glasses are in profile, looking in the opposite direction. The photo was taken by my mother, who joined the protest in Concord, the capitol of the state where we both grew up. Here gathered several generations of New Hampshire women and men, to hear speakers describe their fights for reproductive rights, immigration reform, racial equality, LGBTQ equality, climate change, and paid family leave. Elderly people filled chairs in the front row. Some of these people have been fighting for decades; others, like that young girl in the pink hat, are newer to the fight. Together we are resisting, marching forward.