21 January, 2017. By now most people in the world have a pretty good idea what happened that day. Not only was the Woman’s March on Washington the single greatest demonstration event in this country, but it ranks as one of the largest worldwide events ever. Not bad for something that started out as a Facebook post the day after the US presidential elections.
Given that I worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign beginning in August of 2016, I felt that in the aftermath of the election I could do one of two things: sit back and piss and moan, or get involved. I decided on the former. I registered with the Woman’s March knew the end of November, and a few weeks later I volunteered to be a bus captain, which meant I would be responsible for 50 to 60 people traveling on a caravan of buses leaving Harrisburg the day of the march.
So through most of January I prepared myself for what was to come. I bought a battery charger for my phone as I would need my phone on most of the day. (Though that proved to be unnecessary as you will soon see.) I bought wool socks in case it was cold. I bought new insoles for my mukluks in case I needed to wear them. I bought thermal undergarments in case I was going to have to deal with near zero temperatures. When I discovered the temperatures were expected to be in the mid-50s, I bought a fleece jacket to go over the sweatshirt, jeans, and tennis shoes I was going to wear.
Last of all, I had my pussy hat: the ubiquitous pink hat that was made in such a way that the corners would look like cat ears. Mine was crocheted by a member of the crocheting group I belong to and send to me all the way from Illinois. And with all of that in place I was ready to go–
The night before the March–which happened to be the inauguration of Darth Orange–I expected to be in bed before ten and up at four so that I could be out the door a little after five. As usually happens with me my plans blow up in my face: I really didn’t get to bed until about eleven-thirty and I was up at three, with maybe two hours of good sleep found during that time. I got up, did my business, loaded up on some cashews and beef jerky, and got dressed. I also took some antidiarrhea medication because only a couple of days earlier I’d been sick as a dog and I was completely unsure of whether or not it actually be a will to make the March. By mid-Friday I was certain: sick or not, I was going to go to DC. Nothing was going to stop me–not even lo0se bowels.
Believe it or not even though I arrived at the parking lot at 5:10 in the morning, I was not the first one there. There were already close to a dozen cars in the parking lot and only a few of us were bus captains. It didn’t take long for that to change, and well before the first bus arrived there were hundreds of people waiting to board.
The process was simple: as soon as the buses arrived we began loading people on, first come first serve. I was on the third bus to arrive and left in a group of six, all from the same carrier. My job was to see that everybody was aboard was supposed to be there and keep them informed of what we expected to do once we were on the ground in Washington.
I should point out that we had an app our phones that was supposed to allow us to select a bus and checking passengers. Needless to say, the app didn’t work for shit, and at no time during the day was I ever able to get it to do anything. Not that it really mattered, because we discovered that once we were in DC we basically shut down the phone service: it was nearly impossible to get a signal to call out, and data and Wi-Fi were impossible to come by. I managed a couple of live broadcasts, coming while I was back-boning off of the Wi-Fi from the National Archives. This last part we had been warned about by people who had been in DC during large gatherings and who said it was impossible to use your mobiles.
With everybody aboard we left Harrisburg a little after 6:35 and we were soon on our way to Washington. I was soon on my feet explaining to my group what we expected to do and to beware of anyone who might be trying to get them to fill out questionnaires as they might have been people working to make us look bad, or others who were trying to track us. Once my spiel was done I kicked back and enjoyed the ride.
The buses were parked at RFK Stadium, on the far east side of the downtown area. While I had a Metro card which would allow me to take the subway into the center of the city, I decided to do something else: walked for two miles from RFK to the Capital. And I wasn’t walking alone:
It took about forty minutes for the capital to come and view and this was probably the first moment I started to feel real excitement. Because when you see a structure like this you know you’re right downtown in the middle of the nation’s capital and you’re about to engage in something historic.
Let’s keep in mind that we were coming in from the east and all of the action was going to be happening on the west side of the capital, in the area of The Mall stretching all the way out to the Washington Monument and the White House. So it this point in the above photos, we couldn’t see what waited for us. Not only that but there’s a reason they call the Capital “The Hill”: it sits on top of the hill and from there you’re actually looking down on the city. So as were walking towards the crown we start hearing this now that would begin low and rise in intensity before sweeping over us like a wave. The first time we heard it was somewhat indistinct, the second time we heard it it hit everyone walking in the group like a hammer. I turned to the woman on my right and said, “That is chilling as hell.” She told me that chilling was the appropriate word: she said it gave her goosebumps.
It was only a few minutes later that we saw what was causing the sound, and upon seeing the crowd I actually gasped.
On the right is the US Botanical Gardens, and if you look all the way down the street at what looks like a white barricade–that’s the stage where all the festivities were taking place. The closest we got to the stage was about a block; you couldn’t get any closer because of the crush of people. So slowly I made my way towards The Mall, as I was caught in a mob and my anxiety level was going right off the scale.
The scene at The Mall wasn’t much better: it was just there was more space for more people. There were also port-a-potties, which I had to use. The one good thing was that there was some space in which one can catch their breath.
Here’s a video I made of my time on The Mall and it gives you some idea not only of the crowds, but how uncomfortable I was feeling in them.
After a while it got to be too much and I had to leave the crowds. It wasn’t anything personal, just a matter of anxiety and feeling a bit claustrophobic. So I made my way off The Mall and headed up 4th Street towards Pennsylvania Avenue. Pennsylvania Avenue was closed off and people were marching there, with most of them going around in a two block circle. There were still a lot of people in this area the city: tens of thousands at least stretching down to The Mall and a block further north past the Canadian Embassy and up toward the federal courthouses.
It was while I was here that I cut another video, this time sitting in front of the Canadian Embassy. It’s not long video, but at this point you could see that I was starting to get a little tired–mostly because at this point I had only two hours of sleep in the last thirty-six and I was quickly approaching nine hours awake.
I grabbed a quick bite and a quick rest as well. As I pointed out in the video I was feeling more dehydrated than I was hungry and I was in the process of trying to fill up on as many fluids as possible. My appetite had vanished since Thursday, so it seemed as if I was living off fat reserves, a bit of beef jerky, and cashew nuts. But I drank two large bottles of water on the bus trip down, another bottle of water and a power bar on the walk to the capital from RFK Stadium, and during lunch I had a Gatorade and a ginger ale. I knew the fluids would get absorbed into my body and the less solids I ate, the less I would need to go to a port-a-potty. I also wanted to get back to Pennsylvania Avenue before one PM, as that was the time the march started.
Only thing was, no one really knew where the march was starting.
Given the size of the crowd getting information out was sketchy as hell. At eleven-thirty I’d spoken to a person who would just been in a conversation with a New York Times stringer and she was told that at that time, they were estimating the size of the crowd at between four hundred and fifty and five hundred thousand people. As 1 o’clock approached I was hearing various rumors that the numbers were actually closer to six hundred thousand, and a few people had heard that we might be close to seven hundred thousand. All of this was totally believable: at this point there were way too many people in the downtown Washington area, and people were walking the streets without any fear that we were going to encounter vehicle traffic.
It was just before one that the word came out that the march was starting. What we were hearing was that we would not be allowed to march to the front of the White House, and that Pennsylvania Avenue was closed off a few blocks from where we were marching. So right near the IRS Building on 10th, everyone hung a left and marched a block down to Constitution Avenue. What we didn’t know at the time was that this still wasn’t the actual march: these people were actually the spillover from The Mall, whereas the true march was coming up 14th Street from Independence Avenue. Essentially what was happening was three separate marches going on at the same time, which was similar to the situation they had in Los Angeles.
It didn’t matter: we were marching and doing so with a purpose. Here are some of the shots I took on Constitution Avenue as we headed east.
I also managed to pick up about a minute and a half of video footage as we were marching. One thing I need the stress is that while the crowd doesn’t sound that loud on the recording, there was constant noise at all times, as well as a constant background on. At no time did ever get completely quiet, and after a while you just sort of tuned it out. But it never, ever went away
As we walked I had no sense of time; I was charging my phone during much of the march and since I couldn’t get a data connection there wasn’t any point in checking for updates from people. And given the crowd I was in, it would’ve been ridiculous to try texting or reading a text while walking along. They were far more important things going on which needed my attention.
I walked all the way down to 20th Street and headed north to C Street and headed back east towards the Ellipse, the park just to the south of the White House. While I was still marching on Constitution I’d taken the time to speak with a few of the volunteers near the entrance to the Eclipse, and they had informed me that area was the closest anyone would be allowed to the White House proper. It made sense as it’s a huge park, but what no one knew was it was already twenty minutes after two PM in the march was supposed to have ended at two.
And it was still going on.
So I snapped a few pictures while in the Ellipse before heading across the street to the Washington Monument, where I hope to be able get a better perspective by getting a little elevation on top of everyone.
And when I say “more or less”, we discovered that the new Pussy Grabber in Chief had decided to begin from the White House earlier in the day and didn’t return until late afternoon, were leaks report he was extremely furious about the coverage the march was getting. One of the reports that’s been publicized is that he flew into a rage at one point and screamed, “Don’t these people know I’m the fucking president?” Yeah, Donnie: we know you’re the president. That’s why we were marching.
I finally headed up towards the Washington Monument and got one more picture as well as a final bit of video trying to capture the last of the marchers coming it–or, I should say what I thought were the last of the marchers. Because it was about three-thirty in the afternoon when I shot this last video and there was no sign that the people in the march were sending out.
When you watch this video pay no attention to the fact that my nose piercing and sticking way out, something I didn’t realize at the time. Normally I keep it flush against the outer skin, but at some point I must’ve wiped my nose and pushed it outward, which is why it sticking up when you see the one shot of me.
After a good rest where I spent about twenty minutes speaking with another woman from North Carolina, I headed over by the World War II Monument and did some walking along reflecting, as well as using a port-a-potty for the last time. I walked back up to the Washington Monument about four-thirty and the march was still continuing. I discovered much later that the police had actually closed the parade route at four o’clock and turned away tens of thousands of people who were still waiting to march. I continued to watch people filing into the Ellipse for about another ten minutes, then began making my way back to the Washington Metro system, where I boarded the train at the Smithsonian station.
I didn’t get any pictures on the train because they were packed: people were standing shoulder to shoulder in every car, and there were stories from different people in my car saying that lines and been shut down at least three or four times during the day because of all the problems they had with people overcrowding the cars. The Washington Metro office reported that by 11 AM that day, they had serviced 275,000 transit passes, where’s the day before, during the inauguration, they said during the same time period they had serviced 192,000 passes. Needless to say we were far bigger party, and a lot more jovial.
There were several people in the car with me were actually heading back to Harrisburg: it turned out there was right next to mine, so I helped lead them back to the parking lot. One of the women in the group was in a walker, and she was growing rapidly exhausted as she had walked the entire march using her walker. We took our time getting back and after only a few minutes of looking I found our buses and got everyone where they were supposed to be. I came on board mine and begin making certain that everyone who is returning on the bus was there, as well as finally getting off my feet and having another water.
About twenty minutes after I sat down someone came around and gave us the news: AP and CNN were reporting that unofficial totals for our march showed nearly 1 million participants, and CNN said there were as many as 1.3 million. I got on the loudspeaker and reported the news, which got everyone applauding. And throughout the time before we left, and while we were departing Washington, I kept giving as many updates as I could get on the numbers coming back from the sister marchers in cities around the country and the world. It was while I was reading this information that everyone, myself included, realize just what a huge offense had taken place today. It’s one thing to say half a million marchers showed up in Washington DC, but it’s entirely something else to hear there were maybe a million marchers in Washington, and 275,000 in New York City, and possibly 750,000 in Los Angeles, and that the Chicago march was officially stopped when the number of participants reached 300,000, but everyone going on and by the time they reached Grant Park it was estimated the crowd had reached a half a million.
When we heard that news, it became evident we had started something important.
That was the question I kept asking myself on the ride home: did we do something important? Was our efforts worthwhile? More importantly, did we start something that was going to continue onward and not just be some one-time, flash in the pan event that people would feel good about doing but wouldn’t amount to much in the end?
That was all answered for me last week. Scientists are now planning a march in mid-March, and at last check there were nearly 800,000 people interested in the event in Washington. There is also talk of another march on April 15 which will end in front of the IRS Building, and this will focus on the fact that the Liar in Chief refuses to release his tax forms. Lastly, the Pride parade which is supposed to take place on 11 June is apparently going to become a rather huge event, and given that I’m hearing that there’s going to be an executive order which is basically going to allow legalized discrimination against anyone LGBTQIA, I imagine that is going to grow into something far bigger than just everyone parading and having a good time. I feel is going to turn into something hugely political.
And seeing how people turned out to protest at airports this last weekend concerning the restrictions on travel for Muslim countries, it’s apparent that people are not letting up the pressure. With the exception of those were comfortable with fascism, most people seem upset over what is occurring and they’re prepared to take action.
So what’s in store for me? What actions am I going to take? This Sunday I’ll be marching in Harrisburg in support of immigration and sanctuary cities for refugees, particularly those coming from Syria. I’m already making arrangements to go to the Science March and I fully intend to participate in the Pride March in June, though that one is going to be tricky because I’m going to drive to Indiana on 8 June, attend my daughter’s high school graduation on 9 June, then drive to Washington on 10 June and do the march the next day. Needless to say, exhaustion is probably going to set in somewhere around the night of 10 June and I’m going to sleep like a rock somewhere in a hotel on the outskirts of Washington.
It’s time to get political; it’s time to get active. I’ve always been somewhat active politically, but ever since working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year I seem to have found a need to actually put myself on the line and get things done. As a trans-woman it’s easy to say, well sure, we know why you’re doing this. But as I’ve said to others, it’s not just me on marching for. Part of it is I’m marching for my daughter, who is likely to start growing up in a world radically different than she’s known for the last eighteen years. I’m marching for my Muslim friends who suddenly have a reason to fear living in the US. I’m marching for all my women friends who are about to watch all the rights safe for the last fifty years vanish.
I can’t just march for myself. I have maybe 10 to 15 years left after which I really won’t much care if things are further going to shit, or if they’re getting better, or we successfully fought off the darkness. But there will be so many other people I know will still be here, and they will care about these things.
One doesn’t march for the present: they march to make a better future.
And while I can, I will do my damnedest to make that future a better one for those I leave behind.
As a last note to the March, I worked out the route I walk that Saturday so that I could see how many miles I traveled. The numbers are pretty impressive: I was on my feet for 11.67 miles/18.78 kilometers, of which I walked 8.67 miles/13.95 kilometers. This was the reason I spent most of the following Sunday wine about taking aspirin so that my legs wouldn’t hurt. Pretty impressive for someone who two days earlier was thinking about going to the hospital because they were so dehydrated.