My recap! I journaled a bit and typed some up… and it ended up being 5 pages long. So I will write out a quick summary of the logistics of the trip plus my general thoughts about my experience. Here we go!
Friday afternoon – panic, question everything about my life choices, pack.
Friday, 8:30pm. Arrive at a local church – I don’t know anyone at the church, I found out about this bus trip through a friend of a colleague at the School of Social Work. Mostly white middle aged/older ladies (Interesting). Departed at 9pm, 1 bathroom break, 2 driver breaks/gas stops, 1 breakfast break. At the breakfast break around 6am, we were at 2 story trucker plaza, PACKED. Lines literally out the door to the ladies room. When men weren’t filling the men’s room, we used men’s rooms too. Awesome. At some point, the highway became a never ending caravan of busses and packed cars going to DC. I slept a bit on an off throughout the night, not well. Most times I woke up so uncomfortable and so tired, I almost wished I had backed out and couldn’t imagine standing around for 8 hours the next day with minimal food and water. I didn’t end up changing clothes at all, just adding jeans over my tights and packing my pockets full. I wish I had made a sign or carried some stickers, handouts, or put on some temporary tattoos.
Saturday. 9am. Arrived in DC. Roads were surprisingly clear except many were closed, forcing our driver and bus captain to re-strategize meeting points. Some people are starting to get snippy about the planning difficulties, but I had already decided my standards for the trip were pretty low – get off the bus, don’t get hurt throughout the day, make it back to bus. I have done enough events and traveling that I know you just have to roll with what you can throughout the day.
9:40am, we walk from our drop off point only about 6 blocks as close to the designated start point of 3rd and Independence as we could. I THINK we were around either 3rd or 4th and Jefferson, just on the South side of the mall. At first I was like, oh this isn’t so bad, the mall is about half full, we can wander when we need to. Within an hour, the crowd was so thick I couldn’t see where it ended. By jumping up and down I could see the crowd stretching all the way across and up the steps to one of the Smithsonian buildings on the north side of the mall, and maybe most of the way on the East end of the mall in front of the Capitol. We were near a traffic meter and a street light, and people took turns climbing both. Whenever someone new got up and looked around their faces were always amazing and priceless. “Holy shit!” everyone said. “I can’t even tell where the crowd ends. The Mall is FULL.”
11am to 1pm. I started feeling like a sardine. Saw two people push past, trying to get out, having panic attacks from the crush of the crowd. Many people leaving the front of the crowd saying it didn’t matter how close to the stage or screen you were, you couldn’t see or hear and it was just getting tighter and tighter. I had about fifteen minutes where I was realizing there was possibly a million people around me, and I had no where to go if something happened, remembering somewhat offhand advice to get low and run to a building if something dangerous happened, realizing that there was no way I could do that. I breathed slow, pushed on the soft trigger points below my collarbones, and felt better. I might have even napped on my feet for a few minutes.
1pm. The rally was supposed to go until 1 then march on a pre arranged route west on Independence towards the ellipse, around the East side of the ellipse of the Washington monument, then zig zag towards Pennsylvania. The crowd could not hear the speakers or audio and was not able to get many real time updates due to lack of cell service. We generally realized together that the march was not going to happen as originally planned, but everyone wanted to do it anyway. And honestly, most of us had been standing in more or less the same spot for 5 hours, and getting a little frustrated that the speakers were STILL going and seriously, you can’t expect us to put up with this show you are putting on without us actually participating in it or moving for 4 hours without getting cranky and wanting to do something on our own. So we did.
2pm. Chants and shuffling and surveillance from the light pole told us finally people were walking east. We made it about a block east, and low and behold, benches and porta potties. Quick toilet break, glad I brought tissue, and a seat to rest my back before joining the slow moving crush on the Mall.
2-4. We march! Again no one is really sure what is going on. A few people manage to get on Twitter and report the organizers posted – We March! Go east on the mall towards the Ellipse. I called Michelle and she reported the same thing, also said Alicia Keys and Madonna showed up and wanted to perform. Again, awesome, but we don’t care. It’s about Us.
My Vivoactive told me that as of about 4:30, when we reached 7th and Constitution, I had only waked about 3,000 steps and not even 2 miles. It definitely said 1.29 miles while we were still on 7th. That’s how huge and slow the crowd was. 6+ hours on my feet, not even 2 miles traveled.
4:30 Sat on a bench by a statue for a few minutes too look at pictures we had taken, post some updates and send a few messages, before deciding we should probably head to our meeting point. We walked about 6 blocks to 1st and Constitution, where our bus captain was already there and apologized, saying we couldn’t use the intersection so everyone was meeting at a park up the road. She showed us on the map where it was, maybe a mile, and honestly I was glad for an excuse to walk more. My toes were starting to bite but other than that, walking, especially uphill, was stretching out my very tight back muscles. The park was so cute, in a large roundabout of sorts with a playground in the middle and picturesque townhomes surrounding it, with a view on the Capitol dome.
6:30pm. We rendezvoused with the bus just around the corner from the park. Traffic was understandably very slow leaving the city until we got to a point where the highways split towards the Midwest and the northeast. We stopped for an hour at 9pm for a dinner stop, then got back on the road. Stopped 2 more times for driver breaks and short bathroom breaks. I surprisingly slept the whole way, but obviously not well because I could feel myself startling and jerking away and shifting positions, and feeling like my knees were breaking because there was nowhere else for my legs to go besides jammed up behind the seat in front of me.
Sunday, 7:30am. Arrived back at the church in East Lansing! Laid in bed and totally crashed from 10am-1pm. Woke up and thought I would eat a snack and read and see what my body felt like it needed, maybe running or yoga. When I started to fall asleep on the couch, I wasn’t even able to fight it, and ending up sleeping from 2ish to 5:50pm on the couch, woke up in the dark with all three cats on me. Looked at the clock and thought, oops, better get ready for that 7pm class cohort meeting.
Wow. OK this is getting long and I’m sure my travel itinerary is much less exciting than the actual content of the event itself, so here we go again.
My first main thought was that I am sure my experience is different than what the media would portray. Even sitting here, it almost like an alternate me experienced it. Did I really ride on a bus for 2 nights? Did I really stand in a crowd of up to a million people and chant things? Standing in the middle of that crowd was not pleasant at times – my feet were ok but my lower back was very painful. Standing in the crowd was also amazing. I am surrounded by a lot of like minded people on a daily basis, when it comes to social justice, women’s rights, immigration and equality, etc, but at the same time we are acutely aware that just outside, and sometimes within our sphere, there are people ready to disagree, debate, and tear us down. But the crowd at the Women’s March were MY PEOPLE. These are the people who have their own sphere of support, influence, and conflict around the country and around the world. Some limited news reports I’ve heard second and third hand say that possibly 2.9 million people around the world participated in various Women’s Marches. Wow!!!!
Being in the middle of the crowd felt very grassrootsy. I chatted with people. I leaned on strangers when I got tired of standing. I shouted and sang, listened and watched. I shared snacks. No one could hear or see the speakers, and of course cell phones were jammed, so we weren’t able to get many real time updates from the organizers.
I am very disappointed we couldn’t see or hear anything. I know these things cost money, but I feel like it wouldn’t have been too difficult to park a few audio speakers throughout the mall, or more screens. I mean, don’t thousands of people show up to watch sports games and things on giant projectors at parks? Surely something like that could have been worked out. At the very least, what about pre-positioning volunteers with walkie talkies and megaphones at the edges of the crowd?
There really was no pomp and circumstance for most of us. There was no leader telling us what to do, just a loose schedule and a few tweets and texts that managed to get through. What I feel, and what I want known, is that the March was not about celebrities. It was not about watching them, or hearing speeches, or seeing the women who pulled this together. For me and almost every other participant, it was about comradery, connection, recognition, and support. We made the realization that it didn’t matter, that the amplified voices somewhere in the crowd didn’t count as much as our neighbors singing along to the same words we were, encouraging each other in chants, coming up with activism ideas in our communities. I talked to people from different states in different professions of different creeds and faiths. I did notice a definite majority of white people, but a pretty large representation of men. Lots of LGBT signs, very few trans-specific. Small numbers of African American, Arab American, or Latino groups, but they were there. And keeping in mind that I didn’t move from my spot very much, so maybe there were bigger numbers of other groups in different areas that I just couldn’t see.
Here’s a bunch of thumbnails, and I’ll repost these pictures and some videos on my Facebook. My favorite signs were the clever plays on words, and the giant RBG. I tried not to take too many pictures of the really vulgar anti Trump ones. Some of my favorites chants were:
My body, my choice (Men: Her body, her choice)
Show me what democracy looks like (this is what democracy looks like)
No hate, no fear, immigrants/refugees/everyone is welcome here
Hey hey ho ho, the patriarchy is got to go
Whose streets, our streets
We need a leader, not a racist tweeter
Normalize love, not hate
Men: Bad hombre/Women: Nasty women
We are the popular vote