When I was confronted with the sheer mass of people, chants, and knitted pink caps on the streets surrounding Capitol Hill for the historic Women’s March on Washington, I was struck by how many people around the country (and the world) felt the same way as I did. As someone who’s lived much of her “political life” online, I was elated to finally see the support outside in the living, breathing world.
The truth is, I wasn’t particularly involved with this election—or politics—before November. It wasn’t until my mother added me to a “secret” Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, where over 3.9 million Hillary Clinton supporters shared their experiences of sexism, homophobia, and ableism, did I begin to feel that maybe I should be doing something as well, on the off chance that Hillary lost. (Although that would never happen, right?)
I joined Hillary’s Manhattan headquarters and began calling registered Democrats and undecided voters from all across Florida to ask if they had a plan for Election Day, looking to the women in the Facebook group who were knocking on doors and making phone calls to get out to vote as inspiration. But come election night, these efforts were not enough to change the results.
From the lot outside of the Javits Center, I watched the MSNBC pundits on a huge screen dispassionately discuss what went wrong. Hillary Clinton, they opined, could not energize a large enough group of voters in Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania to make plans to get to their local church or community center or high school and cast their ballots. The passion and the energy just weren’t there.
Guilt isn’t a productive emotion, but it’s what I felt for not supporting Hillary more vocally and passionately sooner. I consoled myself by going to a few of the November protests around Trump Tower—seeing that so many people were willing to fill the streets with a vocal resistance was reassuring.
But it wasn’t until I attended the Women’s March on Washington—accompanied by hundreds of my peers at Barnard—did I realize the value of off-line protesting as a visible measure of social support.
Though I initially found out about the march through the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, it was a post on Barnard’s class of 2018 Facebook page, that Barnard would be sponsoring buses to the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration that made me feel like I had no reason to not go. I would not only be a body in the streets, but a body alongside my peers.
I saw the march as both an opportunity to better integrate myself into the resistance against Trump’s presidency and into a group of Barnard students who were committed to the resistance. If everything worked out, maybe I’d have some friends to go to the next protest with.
The group of Barnard students heading to D.C. met outside the Barnard main gates at 3:45 a.m. on the day of the march. Once on the bus, most of us fell asleep for the duration of the rides (barring a brief bathroom break in Delaware), and woke up in the parking lot outside of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, bright-eyed and ready to protest the patriarchy amid a seemingly endless sea of coach buses and pink pussy hats.
As we walked from the stadium to Capitol Hill, I wondered—like many other students there—if I would have traveled all the way to D.C. for the march even if Barnard hadn’t helped me out with the bus fare or organized a sense of solidarity and safety among us.
Yaari Sanderson, a senior at Barnard, echoed this sentiment, appreciating the financial support she received from her college. “Barnard’s [bus] was a lot less expensive than anyone else.” But this support manifested itself in other ways as well—namely, feeling comfortable going into a different city at odd hours of the night. “I don’t know how safe I would have felt taking the bus at four in the morning and then getting here and having absolutely no idea where to go.”
But beyond just a sense of safety, Barnard’s support of the march also provided a sense of unity. “It felt really like a community movement,” Sharon Mathew, a first-year at Barnard and former Spectator contributor, said.
We mingled with people from all over the country as we made the trek downtown from the stadium, passing parents and kids waving and shouting words of encouragement from their front yards, enjoying the occasional supportive honk of a passing truck.
We originally intended to meet up with Barnard alumni to march united in sisterhood and humanity (OK, and maybe even to network). But as the mass of marchers thickened and it became more and more difficult to keep track of fellow Barnard students, I knew that the likelihood of us marching as one cohesive unit was pretty slim.
As we walked toward the Capitol that morning, people in New York City were also beginning to gather for their Women’s March. Though everyone from Barnard who went to D.C. could have slept in and taken a crowded-but-relatively-quick subway ride to march with New Yorkers in a city significant to Trump, students told me they wanted to be with people from all over the country.
“I’m not from New York originally, so I might have felt differently if I was in my hometown and wanted to support my hometown along with women's issues,” Sanderson said, “but coming as a nation altogether was really what I wanted to do.”
A little over a week before the march, the organizers released a statement of unity principles that went beyond the gender-based identity of womanhood to include supporting the rights of immigrants, ending mass incarceration, and protecting the environment. The broadening of the march’s platform was predictably applauded and chided by various people, who voiced their opinions on broad online platforms.
The students I spoke with supported the platform’s movement toward intersectionality. Barnard first-year Julia Rocha told me that the march needed to be inclusive because Trump’s attacks went beyond just women. “Women's rights have everything to do with mass incarceration and immigration rights,” she explained, calling an exclusion of those issues from women’s rights “inaccurate and unhelpful.”
As we passed by the energized crowds on the steps of the Capitol, Rocha revealed that she had also participated in the protests outside of Trump Tower immediately following the election. She wants to continue being a “body in the street” and become a leader in organizing protests.
“I think that I haven’t paid enough attention to that before, but the election was a big wake up call for me,” she said.
We were in the good company of others who felt compelled to be bodies in the street and loudly proclaim their disdain for Donald Trump. Chants erupted all around us, from the simple and effective “Love Trumps Hate,” to the cattier “Hands too small can’t build a wall.”
I felt that our group from Barnard blended in seamlessly with marchers from all over the country—so seamlessly, in fact, that I ended up losing all contact with the group I came with before I even made it to the main event by the National Mall. Once I came to terms with the fact that I would not be seeing anyone from Barnard until we all congregated at our bus that night, I submerged myself in the national community around me.
The crowd was everywhere. It was impossible to tell where the march ended or began. People embraced all aspects of the march’s platform, carrying signs in support of the environment, of immigrants, and of intersectional feminism.
I may not have achieved my goal of integrating myself more into Barnard’s community through the protest, but of course that wasn’t the purpose of the march. The community I joined was an international one, and although in some ways, its members remain just as anonymous to me as they might on a political Facebook group, they’ve shown me—and the rest of the country—that we will show up for each other, lend each other our phone chargers, and repeat each other’s chants.
The feeling of camaraderie was not universal among the marchers, I am aware. Not everyone agreed with all of the stated goals of the Women’s March or that it should extend its focus beyond the most basic issues of gender-based discrimination. Not everyone who marched will continue to feel empowered by this international community and take their energy to a Black Lives Matter march, to an anti-DAPL protest, or to show solidarity for Muslims and immigrants. But the fact that some of us have, and will continue to carry the momentum of the march forward, made the uniting of our community on that Saturday worthwhile.
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