At 4:49am on Saturday morning, I woke up just south of Washington, D.C., my eyes wide open and my stomach flipping.
My friend Abigail and I had driven up the night before, to join the Women’s March on Washington.
Per the organizers’ instructions, we packed clear plastic bags, loading up on wet wipes and fancy mixed nuts. I wore fleece-lined tights under my jeans, even though the weather promised to be in the 50s.
As we pulled out of a housing development, I asked our Uber driver if traffic on I-95 was bad. He paused and said, in a voice that implied I might be deluding myself, “No, it’s still pretty early.”
The Franconia-Springfield metro station was lively: lots of women, lots of pink pussy hats. I was already sweating, thanks to my tights, so I wasn’t yet sporting my purple beanie embroidered with #VirginiaForAll.
The train itself was crowded, the atmosphere jovial. A middle-aged woman with a brace on her knee spoke loudly to neighbors while resting her hand on a giant Dalmatian with mournful eyes. When someone stuck a pink pussy hat on his head, he looked at me as if to say, “I knew something like this would happen.”
The woman next to me was piled high with layers of jackets and lanyards. I asked why she was marching.
A public school teacher from rural New York state, she gestured to the teenagers sitting in front of us. “For my daughters,” she said, “and also because when I hear Betsy DeVos talk, I want to reach through the TV and shake her.”
She told me her 20-year-old recently came home crying from an auto mechanic’s shop. He told her that all Muslims are terrorists who want to cut off our heads. “My daughter’s best friend is Muslim,” the woman told me, “and she didn’t know what to say. She was shaking because she was so angry with herself.”
At L’Enfant Plaza, we followed a woman in a hat shaped like two ovaries. Hundreds of women swept up the stairs and spilled into the gray D.C. morning.
Hawkers sprung up like mushrooms around the head of the station, offering shirts with flash printings of Obama’s face and quotes from Virginia Woolf. Food trucks peppered streets devoid of cars, as did Jumbotrons poised at intervals along Independence Avenue. I saw my first male marcher, a gray-haired fellow with pants buckled up near his armpits and a “The future is female” T-shirt.
We had officially arrived.
I saw a man laughing and hugging his wife, wearing a sandwich board sporting the words “I married a nasty woman.”
I saw a woman holding a poster with a life-sized female mannequin tattooed with genitalia and the words “We are not ovary-acting.”
I clutched the sign I’d decorated with neon Sharpie and the words “Protect the Planet & Each Other,” soaking up messages held by passers-by.
“Honor Paris Climate Agreement.”
“You can’t over-comb racism.”
“I’m too worried to be funny.”
We walked down quiet streets, watching stoplights flick red for no one.
We stopped about a block and a half from the main stage, where a large crowd had already gathered. Women, men and children stood in peaceful groups, beaming with excitement and purpose.
By the time Abigail and I returned, cups of coffee in hand, to the corner of Independence and Fourth, we could no longer see the stage. So we wedged up against the Air and Space Museum steps, eyeballed the Jumbotron and waited for the rally to start.
All around us, signs championed LBGTQIA rights, civil rights, native rights, immigrant rights, disability rights, reproductive rights, support for sexual assault survivors, stopping climate change. Even a small group of pro-life feminists held a banner calling for the end of all violence.
When America Ferrera took at the stage at 10am, she spoke for everyone.
“We march today for the moral core of this nation against which our new president is waging a war,” she said. “He would like us to forget the words, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ and instead take up a credo of hate, fear and suspicion of one another. But we are gathered here and across the country and around the world today to say, ‘Mr. Trump, we refuse.’”
For the next several hours, speakers and performers echoed her charge to uphold the soul of our nation.
Gloria Steinem spoke about solidarity. Michael Moore explained how to impede regressive policy during Trump’s first 100 days. Rhea Suh from the National Resources Defense Council explained her vow that her children will not inherit a polluted world, and a woman from Flint, Michigan, reminded us that her city has been without clean water for more than 1,000 days.
“If you don’t turn your back on us,” she said, “we won’t turn our backs on you.”
Civil rights activist Angela Davis, among other speakers, said that we must become “more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations.” Palestinian-American activist and march organizer Linda Sarsour reminded us that our current discomfort is just a taste of what American Muslims have been experiencing for more than 15 years.
And as so many Carrie Fisher posters reminded me, “A woman’s place is in the resistance.”
By the time we marched to the White House lawn, the sky was turning dark. Our phones (and Uber access) were dead, so we headed to Starbucks to recharge.
I collapsed on the floor next to a woman with flushed cheeks and smudged glasses.
“Were you here for the march, or do you just happen to be in the area?” I asked.
She laughed and told me she came in from Kentucky, 16 hours overnight on a bus. “You know those seats are really narrow,” she gestured, huddling in on herself. “I’m heading back tonight.”
“Why did you come?”
“Because I felt like I had to do something,” she said, looking sad. “I live in a really conservative area, and there are signs for Trump everywhere. I used to be an activist in college, but I don’t know what to do anymore.”
“So what will you do now?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “I’m not really sure.”
“Michael Moore gave us that list of things we can do starting tomorrow,” I said. “And the organizer said if we go to the march website, they’re giving us 10 things to do over the next 100 days.”
Her face brightened. “Oh really? I’ll have to check that out. I couldn’t hear anything where I was standing.”
I thought about that. Thirty-two hours to sandwich yourself alongside strangers, unable to hear a thing, simply because you believe presence is better than absence.
“Yow, my knees are stiff,” she said, struggling to stand. “Hey, good luck out there.”
As she walked away, a Starbucks employee held up a discarded poster. “Does this belong to you?”
I shook my head no.
“I hate to throw it away,” he said. “Somebody worked really hard on this.”
In gold and pink glitter, I made out the words “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
“I think it probably served its purpose,” I said.
He smiled. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”