The Washington March: Historic communion of women

The women’s march brought many first-timers on to the streets. A first-timer writes about why the election of Donald Trump spurred her to travel from North Carolina to Washington DC to take part.

Linda Tugurian
24 January 2017

I don’t consider myself a political activist.  But, from the first moment I heard about the Women’s March on Washington, I felt drawn toward action.  I felt the pull of something happening that was bigger than me, bigger than my own small sphere of influence, bigger than the recent U.S. election.  I felt the pull of a historic communion of women, coming together to convey a powerful message:  love is stronger than hate.

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Washington DC March 21 January 2017 Credit: Linda Tugurian

As I’ve talked with friends, family, and colleagues in the aftermath of the recent US election, I’ve often reflected on the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke with great foresight to an audience at the National Cathedral in 1968 about a great revolution in weaponry, technology, and human rights taking place in America at that time.

He said, “...time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time."

“Wait on time.”  I have heard echoes of these deceptive words in the suggestions of several friends who have attempted to reassure me in the days since November 8, 2016.  “Wait and see,” they recommend. “Give him a chance, you may be surprised.”  But, as the inauguration approached, I became increasingly uncomfortable with waiting on time.  The feeling churned inside, gnawing at my conscience, until one day I opened up Facebook to see a photo of a friend in a group of women wearing pink knit hats, preparing for a Women’s March on Washington.

This surely was better than waiting on time.

This was something I could do.

I picked up my cell and within minutes the tension in my gut began to ease.  Almost immediately I was supported by a cadre of women:  one offered to drive, another offered lodging, another knit me a pussy hat of my own.  Women who could not go encouraged me and strengthened my resolve.  It felt so good to finally be acting, to be moving forward.  I’d felt immobilised after the election, sickened by the words of a President-elect who, through words of bigotry and hate had legitimised the moral fringes of American society.  I was worried about the loss of decency in our leaders.  For me, the Women’s March on Washington offered a chance to emerge from the stupor and say, “enough is enough.”

What I didn’t count on was the powerful healing that I would find in the midst of some 500,000 people also in need of an outlet for their frustration with having had to accept Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.  I didn’t imagine the way the crowd would celebrate and embrace diversity, people of all colours and ages carrying signs about issues ranging from equal pay to immigration to global climate change to nuclear disarmament.  I had no understanding of what it would feel like to be a part of a nonviolent march where there was such a tremendous experience of unity and welcoming.  I listened with wonder as the waves of spontaneous applause and shouting swelled in the crowd, sweeping across the National Mall like a gentle breeze.  I chanted with all those around me as we walked side-by-side past the Washington Monument and on toward the White House.  I fought back tears as I felt what this meant to all of us, just to be there together, finally able to give voice to our collective concern and find healing in the experience of being together.

Here are some of my favourite memories of the March:

Driving toward the National Mall, on our way into D.C. the morning of the march, only to realise we were going to have to walk the rest of the way, nearly five miles.  By the time we reached the National Cathedral, we knew something special was happening.  Buses were lined up around the block of the cathedral and the sidewalks were filled with people walking to the National Mall carrying signs and wearing pink pussy hats.

The humour and sophistication of the signs and slogans.  In the current political climate, where populism has outpaced intellectualism, it was joyful to laugh out loud at the sophisticated, intellectual puns and word play found in the signs we encountered.  Among my favourites:  “#freeMelania,” “let’s talk about the elephant in the womb,” “No Country for Dirty Old Men,” “We shall overcomb,” and “I know signs. I make the best signs. They’re great. Everyone agrees.”

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Washington DC March 21 January 2017 Credit: Linda Tugurian

Strong women, without fear, expressing themselves, “I am stronger than you think I am.  I will not be dismissed.  I will not be treated as a sex object.”

Men proudly wearing pussy hats.  I saw numerous men marching in support of their wives, daughters, and mothers.  Many marched for themselves or for their partners.  Many, many of these men proudly donned pink pussy hats. 

A three-minute speech by six-year-old Sophie Cruz, which she delivered in English and in Spanish.  She proclaimed, “We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families.  Let us fight with love, faith and courage so that our families will not be destroyed.”  As an educator, I’ve always believed that children have an uncanny ability to speak great and simple truths. 

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Washington DC March 21 January 2017 Credit: Linda Tugurian

The palpable feeling of support and love in the air.  The entire time I was at the March, I heard no words of malice toward anyone in the crowd.  At one point, we were literally shoulder-to-shoulder moving forward as what can only be described as a single mass of humanity.  My shoestring came untied and I had visions of falling and being swallowed up by the sea of people moving around me.  But, when I stopped finally to tie my shoe, a circle of strangers enveloped me to protect me until I could get my shoe re-tied. 

When I was leaving D.C. on the Metro on Sunday morning, I sat down beside a stranger, an African American man, who noticed the poster I was carrying with me.  He said, “When I woke up this morning, I saw it on the news.  You guys really did something special yesterday.”  “Yes,” I said, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime special.  It’s the first time I’ve felt hopeful since the election.”

I don’t knows what comes next.  But I do know that I will act.  I will act on behalf of all those who marched, as well as those who didn't, in the hope that there are still actions that can renew hope and faith in the world around us.  

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