This is not an article I would have foreseen writing. After all, almost one year ago, I wrote an article critiquing the Women’s March, entitled simply: “The Women Have Marched. Now What?”
The article’s tone is mostly professional, but at the time, I was bitterly angry and disillusioned with the state of affairs in the country. After what seemed like a year of nonstop antagonism against women, the worst possible candidate for women’s rights had been elected to the highest office in the land — and white women helped land him there. Overnight, critical women’s issues were suddenly at high risk of elimination. To me, the Women’s March seemed to be a pseudo-activist action that was too little, too late.
A full year later, on a whim more than a serious plan, I attended my very first Women’s March in New York City. I couldn’t shrug off some residual cynicism and skepticism in the hours leading up to it, but I’m happy to say that the event itself didn’t fall flat — at least, for the most part.
What changed my mind?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. The past year has seen a deluge of revelations about the ways in which powerful men have been abusing women. It led to the #MeToo moment, but it also seems to have, at long last, pushed activists to demand deeper social and political change. The conversation has seemingly shifted from outrage to action. And although one can never be quite sure, it certainly seems to me that progressive women are more eager than ever to score electoral victories in this year’s midterm elections, hopefully triggering real, meaningful political change.
I also think a year was enough time for my anger to simmer into something more tempered. Marching last year would have been a lone act of lashing out. This year, I finally felt like I was in it for the long haul.
I clearly wasn’t the only one who felt this way. More than 200,000 protesters attended the march in New York on Saturday, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Thousands also turned out in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Austin and hundreds of other cities worldwide.
Starting from in front of the Trump International Hotel & Tower by Central Park, thousands of protesters wearing pink hats, shouting chants, and carrying witty posters stretched as far as the eye could see, filling what felt like every block in New York City. Subway stations en route to the event were packed, and at one point, even the surrounding streets seemed to overflow with protesters.
The march was also quite diverse – people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations were in the streets supporting each other. Indeed, the crowd chanted inclusive, supportive messages and cheers throughout the event. Attendees complimented each other’s signs, handed out buttons, and registered each other for upcoming elections.
I remember distinctly that at one point, someone near me with a boombox blasted Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Fifth Harmony — basically, a whole tracklist of feminist tunes. The crowd around us — young girls, older women, and everyone in between — danced and cheered each other on. At another point, a band brought marching drums and played strong beats for the crowd to march to. There was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie, a feeling that everyone understood and was supportive of one another.
Words can’t describe the impact that experiencing this had on my psyche. Taking in the sheer number of people in the streets — people who had taken time out of their day to get outside and stand up for a cause they believed in — gave me a sense of peace and hope I haven’t felt in a while.
I was also most surprised by the staggering number of organizations and causes represented by demonstrators, the vast majority of which were not necessarily female-centric. These included Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ organizations, organizations for the disabled, immigrant coalitions, and women running for political office. It was clearly not just an extended photo op, which is what I cynically thought it would be. I was especially touched by the presence of very old women, most of whom had been activists in their youth as well. They were just as passionate as the women in their 20s, and several flaunted signs about who they were marching for — their daughters, their granddaughters, and all the women they didn’t know.
The march was hardly without resistance, however. Scattered throughout the crowd were counter-protesters wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, signs that said “Trump 2020,” and T-shirts displaying slogans like “Gays for Trump.” These counter-protesters were mostly sequestered near the Trump Tower (no surprise there). Their presence certainly kept some of the female protesters — myself included — on edge. But aside from small incidents of tension between the two groups, the crowds respected their First Amendment right to protest and they respected ours.
Let’s be clear — gatherings like these are not a substitute for more focused activism. I hope that the women who are at this rally will vote in their upcoming elections, attend the next Black Lives Matter protest, or march on behalf of DACA. Of course, there’s no way to guarantee any of that, but it’s a strong and necessary start.
The message of the day was that one whole year after the very first march of its kind, the attendees of the Women’s March are still very much “here.” They are still impassioned, still raring to go, and no, they aren’t going anywhere.
To rephrase a chant I heard repeated throughout the march that day: This is what democracy looks like. Imperfect, angry — and hungry for change.