Voices from the Women’s Marchby Binita Gupta, Katherine Powell, Maddy Pauchet, Megan Tung, Mikaela Gerwin, Nina Chausow, Rachel Stone, Rebecca Ngu on Jan 31, 2017 1 Comment
I woke up on the morning of November 8th in bed feeling safe, my biggest worry getting to class on time, and ended the night wailing alone in the middle of Poe field.
The night America ended I was in J Street. I had decided to withdraw from the election hysteria and attempt to get some work done. Like everything else in J Street, this was futile. I ended up switching back and forth between the New York Times homepage and Twitter; Trump seemed to be inching, horrifyingly, ahead. He won Florida, then Indiana, then Michigan. Pennsylvania was close to being called. I went back to reading. My phone buzzed and I looked down; it was my sister texting my family group chat, “Trump is leading in Pennsylvania. He’s going to win.” My sister, the avid Bernie campaigner who had phone banked and worked in Bernie’s New York HQ for weeks, had given up hope.
He is going to win. I sat back as the impossible dawned upon me. I immediately thought of the millions of people who worked tirelessly against Trump for months. All of us who had exposed him as a lying, bigoted, selfish, xenophobic, predatory fraud. The sexual assault survivors who came out and confessed his crimes. The businessmen who testified to his corrupt dealings. The organizers and protestors who showed up at Trump appearances and disturbed the peace, demonstrating the violence incited by his rhetoric. The journalists who, after finally taking Trump seriously, published article after article exposing his unethical past and demagoguery. I thought of Khizr Khan who, with his grieving wife standing by, iconically waved his pocketbook Constitution and offered to let Trump read it. What was Mr. Khan thinking now? The media had rallied around him as a truth-speaker bringing down the big bully, and now the bully had won. My eyes began welling up. I’m sorry, I’m sorry — none of you were enough. All the ways people had dug deeply in themselves to fight against this demagogue — and we had lost.
The conclusions you could draw about America from the results of this election are fraught and full of caveats. Hillary won the popular vote; roughly the same percentage of white people who voted for Romney in 2012 voted for Trump, with one percent more white men swinging for Trump. There was no huge demographic shift that enabled the rise of Trump. Trump may be an unprecedented candidate, but the process and people who voted him into power are familiar. Perhaps America had not changed all that much; perhaps we had simply never known America, or at least the depths it was capable of plummeting.
Silent, pathetic tears began streaming down my face in the middle of J Street. I was crying for all the people who had personally invested themselves in this election, and thus for whom Trump represented a repudiation of their work, of their lives. All the people whom Americans simply did not care enough about, whose suffering they could set aside and rationalize as acceptable in the face of ideological goals or self-interest. And I’m being generous here.
I cried until I could not take the stifling silence of J Street (how was the library not imploding if the nation was?) and walked outside, my feet headed towards Poe field. I cried for all of those whom America hated. I cried for those whose lives do not matter as much as America’s security and innocence. I cried for the monsters we create when we allow ourselves to settle into a slow and easy dehumanization of others. America proved that it did not deserve us, but then, are we not, too, America? For those who have no option but to stand at the chasm between America’s broken reality and its purported ideals, what are we to do? I resolved that day to never trust the good will of American liberalism to get the job done; disaster was upon us—and would stay with us—and it was time to resist.
A few days later, I’m marching past Nassau Hall in a rally organized by New Jersey’s Unidad Latina en Acción; it feels so good to scream and break Princeton’s chilled silence. Around a week later, even more people, what felt like 200 or so, joined for a walkout to make Princeton a sanctuary campus; I keep looking back to marvel at the endless stream of protestors walking behind—with—me. I later join the Young Democratic-Socialists of Princeton.
Two and a half months later, I’m marching through New York City for its Women’s March. My friend Traci and I marched past the genteel Upper West Side and commercial beehive of Times Square, attracting many uncomfortable stares. I willed myself to look these nice white New Yorkers in the eye after they scanned my sign that read, AMERICA WAS NEVER WHITE. Some grinned and nodded; most were taken aback, surprised or nervous. One guy stopped me and asked to take my picture. Race would not be lost in our feminist march.
There are many women; professionals, moms, grandmothers. I was surprised and heartened by the number of elderly folks and children I saw. Despite the ciswhiteness of it all, I was heartened by will of the people palpable and visible in the normally hyper-individualistic streets of New York. Sure, I was surrounded by a bunch of ciswhite liberal women who probably voted for Hillary in the primaries, but we were facing disaster, and the resistance had better hold all of us, or Trump will win again in four years. I caught sight of a sign that read, PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER TO REDEEM THE WORK OF FOOLS. I prayed that it was true. I returned to campus at night, exhausted and bone-tired. This was the work, the demand, of politics now. We must put our bodies, our actions, where our beliefs are.
A week later I’m at a friend’s phone bank calling our senators. My voice is frail and uncertain and many of the voicemail boxes are full, but we keep calling. I am heartened hearing the voices of my friends as they swallow their discomfort and speak to these strangers. I don’t know what exactly to do, but I know that I cannot rely on the government to provide for our safety and freedom any longer. I do not recognize America as the democratic republic that we learned in school; it is becoming more and more, perhaps already, a fascist state.
I woke up November 8th believing that I was safe; I believed that the democratic system would uphold us and that rational decency would win. We grew up under Obama, for god’s sake. Yet Obama’s policies, too, paved the way for Trump’s election. Something irrevocably died the night of November 8th. I don’t want to recover it, but I’m not sure what will take its place. I can feel it forming though; I felt it when I persuaded my politically moderate friends further left, when I marched through Times Square with my sign held aloft, when I was phone banking with my girls. We grew up under Obama; now it’s time to become adults under Trump.
I had to pee for at least four of the seven hours at the march.
When I finally climbed over the fence to reach the Port-a-Potties, the crowd was just beginning to grow restless, a few strains of “Let us march!” carrying through the crowd. The hoard in front of the bathrooms was another story entirely. I stopped next to a woman with bright blue pigtails, tears streaming down her face as she attempted to control the growing signs of a panic attack. I placed my hand on her arm and asked if she wanted to breathe with me. We were standing together, deep breath in, deep breath out, when we noticed an elderly mother and a daughter trying to push their way through what no one in their right mind would call a line. The daughter looked distressed, caught between her desire to help her mother and her rising claustrophobia.
“You’re going to have to do this on your own, I can’t handle it,” said the daughter, twisting her pink hat anxiously as she backed away. Her mother, with a matching hat set on top of her gray hair, leaned on her walker, sheathed in pink paper, and nodded. The woman with blue hair and I looked at each other, shared another breath, and moved forward to help her. I called out, “woman with a walker,” making the woman laugh as we used her walker to barrel through towards the front. The group around us, everyone crossing their legs and clenching their bladders, cheered as she exited. Flush with victory, I was pulled away by the stream of the crowd, forgetting why I’d approached in the first place.
Two hours later, we began our slow shuffle towards the Washington monument. With every step, I could feel the weight of my bladder, growing heavier and heavier as I raised my sign higher.
I have no doubt that we will remember that we went to the march. Our photographs, the tattered signs taped to our dorm room walls, the pussy hats abandoned in the corner of drawers are tangible evidence of that. Yet I will always be grateful that I was deeply and miserably aware of my body as I marched. Every part of my body, with my bladder leading the charge, was acutely and vulnerably present with me that day, and that is my resistance.
My grandmother Rosie is amazing with plants, and her sister Doris is a great cook. I grew up driving to church with my grandmother and great aunts, listening to songs and listening to them talk about their lives.
When people ask me why I am a feminist, I say it’s because of them. I grew up among these women. My grandmother divorced her abusive husband and raised six children alone; she went back to school and worked and adopted my older sister and me when she was in her fifties. My great-aunts either never married or were single mothers; they are Christian, so they encourage me to start a family ‘the right way’, but they laid out stipulations when I was younger. No man was ever going to hit me, and no man could ever tell me to shut up. They are outspoken and fierce, headstrong and independent. I didn’t grow hearing that my opinion and personhood was less than any man’s, so that’s how I live my life now. It’s how I always have.
I think that the special talent I’ve inherited is a way with words. I think of words as a bridge between minds, an art form, a diplomatic tool. I went to the Women’s March in New York City because I think that assembly and free speech are the guardians of democracy.
My trip to New York started on Friday. I went with some student activists from the Center for Jewish Life. Traveling on Shabbat is not allowed, so we boarded the train early that afternoon. We went to service at the Columbia Hillel (which involved a lot of me mumbling in Hebrew and trying to follow along with the songs). We had dinner with a few elderly Jewish activists through Dorot, which is an organization seeking to bridge the generation gap, imparting the wisdom of elders and creating friendships between the old and young. Since the theme of Friday night’s dinner was civic engagement, many of the dinner guests were anti-war and environmental activists, and ninety-somethings who had been involved with the civil rights movement.
I met a woman who had participated in the Soviet Jewry movement, marched on Washington in 1963, and worked on environmentally friendly legislation in New Jersey. She gave us advice about using our voices, urging us to call legislators and write about the injustices we saw in our own communities and the world. She had visited parts of the USSR, East Africa, and the Middle East campaigning for human rights as a first-gen Jewish American woman. If nothing else, I learned how intersectional our campaign for human rights has to be.
We marched from the B’nai Jeshurun temple with an Asian rabbi. I saw women in hijabs and women speaking rapid-fire Spanish, babies in strollers, and older white men leaning on canes and holding signs that said ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here!’ I got a glimpse of the loud, messy coexistence that makes America truly great; I witnessed people marching for causes that do not personally affect them, if only because the common humanity in all of us is enough impetus to fight when you see another’s rights being encroached upon.
On Saturday in D.C., I saw a lot of protest signs that I really liked. Some were warm, funny and encouraging, some were empowering and engaging, and some were sarcastic, biting and honest. But the one sign that struck me the most was one that I didn’t even see: my best friend, who marched in New York, told me about the sign she read that said: “Being scared since 2016 is a privilege”.
I am not white, but I had the privilege of a childhood where I was not (consciously) aware of race or class, or even bothered by it. In fact, I was not even aware of many race or class injustices until I started college in 2013, where I was lucky enough to be surrounded by passionate people and constructive dialogue that made me think really hard about what it means to be a global citizen and a good person.
Since the march, I’ve been trying to take to heart the sign that my friend told me about. I think about what it was exactly that made me, for the first time ever, feel compelled to attend a protest. The obvious answer is Trump; I’ve spent the past year reading articles and watching John Oliver segments on how ridiculous of a character he is. But the issues he brought to light have been issues in America for a long time. Why did it take me so long to care?
So this is my letter to the brand new social justice warrior: for those of us who were mobilized by Trump’s election, that’s great. No one should tear you down for trying to be active in social justice as long as you truly have everyone’s interests at heart, not just those of your own demographic. But in attending the march, recognize that the fact that you never felt compelled to stand up for a cause until the inauguration of the 45th president was a huge privilege. Recognize that people have been feeling the way you are starting to feel (and more) for a long time; Trump’s victory is only another manifestation of the racism, homophobia and misogyny—amongst other things—that have been prevalent in America for many, many years.
To the seasoned activists: I am sorry it took us so long; this is my attempt in beginning to try and fix things.
I don’t believe that it’s productive to criticize or tear down people who are (at their hearts) attempting to do good by participating in the Women’s March. Instead, make them aware of what they may be ignorant about, and do so constructively. You will undeniably become frustrated, and you indeed have all the right and reason to be frustrated, especially since you have been trying to do this very thing for an incredibly long time now. People are slow to understand, and will continue to be slow no matter how hard you push. But you cannot deny that millions marching across the world marks the inklings of hopefully what will become real progress.
And it is the new social justice warrior’s responsibility to be more than receptive to criticism. We must expect it and we must welcome it. Remember that while many have mobilized, we still have a long way to go, in ways we cannot possibly understand. And most of all, we must remember to fight not just for people who look like us, but as well as all our fellow compatriots. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, it is imperative for us to talk to the people who felt marginalized at the march, talk to people who opted to stay out of the march, and talk to people who look different from or disagree with us. The manner in which constructive conversation progresses is more pertinent now than ever.
Visualize the thought. Then take a deep breath and blow it away like a dandelion. Or instead make it dissolve, disappear, drop like a smooth pebble into deep, black water. Release it like a helium balloon. Let it rise and rise and rise.
This tip comes from a friend’s Twitter post about how to deal if thoughts of Trump or Bannon appear in your mind unbidden, which they have. Lately I can’t stop scrolling through Twitter, obsessively consuming the news before it can consume me. This isn’t unlike how I am with airplanes. For years I’ve tried to stave off panic attacks by listening closely to the hum and crash of the engine, trying to spot a fault. If I could hear the moment the engine stalled or the wings snapped off or something I couldn’t expect but was so sure I’d know in the moment, I could stave off the eventual moment when me and the rest of my New Jersey-bound aircraft would come plummeting to the ground in a blaze of steel and carry-on luggage. This doesn’t help me relax, obviously, but it helps me feel like I’m in control. The plane always lands, predictably, and I always feel spent and shivering, my body exhausted with the effort of keeping the plane aloft.
It helps me to think that there are things I can do. I try to do them. I call my elected representatives on bathroom breaks in the library. I try to stay informed. I gather friends for an impromptu letter-to-your-senator writing party. I cry in surprising places. I chastise myself for reserving my panic for this year, when I should have been this galvanized long before. I buy tickets to Washington D.C., plan to march.
I stay with my best and oldest friend, Jessie, a senior at GW. I’ve known Jessie since I was ten years old. A Princeton friend drives a group of us over to DC. I haven’t slept in two nights and I feel like snapping. I try to sleep in the car, wake up to see the windows engulfed in fog and rain. “America the Beautiful” plays over the radio. We drive into a tunnel and the song dissolves into static.
I arrive at Jessie’s apartment as she and her roommates try on their gowns for the GW Inaugural Ball. I help them blend their eyeshadow, but decide to stay home. I eat a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant across the street and try to ignore Trump’s face on the television. Outside, cars thunder through the fog.
I return to the apartment and it feels safely, cozily female. Jessie lives with three roommates (and occasionally with two of their boyfriends), and this weekend, three women from the University of Michigan make the eight-hour schlep. We sleep two to a bed and four to a room. Jessie’s bathroom sink is messy with the casual alchemy of beauty. Gem colored bottles, foundation brushes resting in piles of loose powder. Glittering Naked palettes and Rainbath and coal facemasks, bottles of dry shampoo and tan foundation and tampons and rose gold highlighter and jet bullets of lipstick. Jessie’s D.C. bathroom sink looks the same as her sink in Chicago, which feels comforting. Democracy can’t end if Jessie’s sink still looks the same.
I will soon return home, and my comfort will dissipate. The shock will return, inevitably, then again and worse. First there will be new threats against climate scientists, the return of the global gag rule. Then the White House will remove the pages for LGBTQ Rights and Civil Rights and climate change from its website, then will release the news of the Muslim travel ban. My formerly conservative father will send me a Naomi Shihab Nye poem over email. I will try hard not to panic, will try to transform my thoughts into actions and protests and resistance, but first I will turn them into pebbles, into dandelions, into balloons.
All this has not happened yet. Right now, there is still so much hope. Jessie and I wake up and walk to the protest with her roommates. I paint my lips fire red. As I march with my old friend and the thousands of other marchers, I feel invincible.
I hope I never forget the sea of pink hats. It seemed more like a festival, like a celebration of issues. Fun, but strangely apolitical. The climate is changing. Science is real. LGBTQ rights. Small children absorbing civic engagement. What will they be leading protests against in ten years? The march was eerily free of police officers, as if someone did not want to acknowledge our presence or because it was mostly white women. Instead it was organized chaos with streams of marchers intersecting and diverging around barriers. The sheer volume of people was overwhelming. The couple marching next to me was from Montana. Wiry with eyes of fire, they had flown in because this “matters”. They offered me a candy bar. The chocolatey peanuts stuck in my teeth the rest of the day. There was a sense of community. A common experience that I think so many came to the march seeking. At one point I watched a hooded man run around cutting the locks on the portable bathroom left over from the inauguration the day before so marchers could use them. The long lines of women waiting thanked him enthusiastically. When I went to buy food after the march it took half an hour to get a simple sandwich at a take–out restaurant but everyone was waiting there patiently, no complaining. At one point everyone in the restaurant clapped encouragingly for the staff. It was exhausting, hours of waiting around and standing on stiff legs trying to listen to the speeches. People clearly were not used to marches; they often seemed to be wandering aimlessly, confused looks abound. The chants varied from the substantive, women calling “My Body, My Choice” and men calling “Her Body Her Choice”, to the kind of stupid like “Free Melania”.
I will remember the day divided by moments, too rich with experience to remember it as one entity. The discarded posters stacked in front of the National Gallery at the end of the day. The Capital Building still decorated for the inauguration framed by the multi-colored spectacle of marchers, the simple red white and blue flanked by the neons and sparkles of the crowd. I left suspended in history. I hope I’m ready for what comes now.
My father is easily the most brilliant man I know. I can ask him about anything, from explaining how angular momentum works to the most recent updates about our state legislation, and I can guarantee you that my father will have a well-articulated, detailed answer waiting for me off-hand. We have particularly good conversations on our car rides, and though it’s hard to remember all of them, I remember one particular conversation, a little over a year ago, around the time when Donald Trump first announced that he would be running for president.
I brought up the topic, and we laughed about it. It was just ridiculous, like the idea of Vermin Supreme or Kanye West running for president. I was convinced it was a publicity stunt, a joke. Even then, I asked my dad to make sure, “He doesn’t have a chance, though, right?”
My dad responded in Bengali, “Naa, naa, are you kidding? He has zero chance.”
I believed him wholeheartedly, because obviously, a reality TV star/businessman had no business being in the Oval Office, and I shoved the notion out of my mind.
The race continued, and I watched as Vermin Supreme gave up on his campaign. I watched as Carly Fiorina suspended her campaign, and shortly after, as Jeb Bush did the same. Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of either of either Fiorina or Bush, but I still understood that they were legitimate options for our next President. I noticed that Trump still hadn’t suspended his campaign, but I presumed that he was just enjoying basking in the limelight, as usual.
The primaries rolled around, as did another car conversation. I asked my dad again about what he thought.
“The Democrats are hoping that Trump wins the primaries.”
I was shocked. Why?
“Clinton will be a shoo-in for president, then.”
I understood. To me, Trump was akin to a cartoon character – humorous, unrelatable, and hardly real. The election result of a race between a former Secretary-of-State and a man who could barely conduct himself in public was a no-brainer.
In the primaries, Hillary supporters cheered as Trump went on to become the Republican Presidential Nominee. I could see it now, just within our reach – finally, the first female President, a woman I could finally call “Madam President.” I had discussions with my friends about her inevitable future presidency. What would we call Bill Clinton – the First Man, the First Husband, or the First Gentleman? What would the history books say?
It was at this time that Trump’s nomination was still hilarious. I used to frequent Trump’s twitter and Facebook page for a good laugh, to stumble upon his latest absurd conspiracy about climate change or to hear his newest blatantly incorrect accusation. His responses in debates were so idiotic and meaningless that they were funny, impersonations of him on Saturday Night Live were excellent entertainment on late nights in, and social media was flooded with mockeries of his facial expressions and sayings.
However, when the race was down to Trump and Clinton, things started to get just a little more frightening. Tomi Lahren’s videos popped up on my Facebook newsfeed, and I watched as a young, fiery woman shamelessly spouted xenophobic, Islamophobic, and homophobic remarks, posting pictures in a “Make America Great Again” hat and boasting her support for Trump. The comments on Trump and Lahren’s posts were even more horrifying; people from all states declared their loyalty towards the GOP candidate, passionately and openly affirming their hatred for African-Americans, Syrians, Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, the LGBTQ community, and women alike.
I began to notice the stigma around labeling myself as a Clinton supporter. Clinton supporters were artificial. Clinton supporters were spineless and cop-outs. Somehow, Hillary’s emails were perceived as far more incriminating than Trump’s countless sexist remarks about women. Somehow, the fact that Donald Trump was accused of sexual assault and rape could not cancel out the fact that Hillary was “cold.” Somehow, Hillary’s platform, one based on equality and justice, could not beat Trump’s platform, a platform forged in fear and hatred.
Because I attend college in a different state, I could not have a car conversation with my father to try and find reason amidst all the political chaos and confusion. Instead, I called him on Election Night, a sea of red states swimming in my vision.
“Dad, he can’t win, right?”
All I could think about was that first conversation in the car, us joking about this far-fetched, borderline silly idea. For the first time in my life, my father was wrong.
I had so much faith. I told myself that this is exactly why we studied history in our schools. We had covered World War II, the Holocaust, and Hitler so extensively in our history classes that there was no way we would make the same mistake of picking a cruel, heartless, hateful man as our leader. Hadn’t we studied Hitler’s methods of propaganda, the way he indulged his country’s fears so that he could rise to power? Hadn’t we seen the chilling, horrifying consequences of his actions?
My family and I believed in our fellow Americans. We believed that they would not strip millions of their brethren of their fundamental human rights. We believed that the people of America would not value their taxes over the safety and well-being of millions of human beings. We believed that our country was progressing, that we were about to have our first woman president who would help to continue to move this country in the direction Obama had set it in.
Instead, we watched in absolute horror as our country turned its back on us, turned its back on the millions of immigrants and minorities. All we could do was watch as our country rose up to accept Donald Trump as its new leader.
I watched as millions of privileged Americans celebrated carelessly, blissfully unthreatened by the dangers of their new President-Elect’s deep hatred.
Instead, my friends mourn and fear. They mourn for their families, for their cultures. They fear for their fundamental human rights, their homes, and their lives.
For those out there that do not understand the implications of this election, I will simply tell you this. For the next four years, I will live in fear, as will women, the Black community, the Latinx community, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, Asian-Americans, Indian-Americans, Native Americans, and the LGBTQ society.
My father, the man with an answer to everything, has no explanation for what has just happened.
Now, I hope. I hope that Trump is not as bad as he seems, and I hope that he cannot undo eight years of progress. I hope that we as a nation can stand together, and that we continue to move forward.
I hope, most of all, that my father will never be wrong again.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the march. I knew I would have to be up at 3:50 am, and I wistfully set Sleep Like A Baby Tonight as my alarm tone, but by the time my phone rings, my teeth are brushed, my Converse are laced, and I’ve triple-checked the contents of my pockets.
Campus is silent and empty as I make my to the Cannon parking lot. I’m not late, but I’m still one of the last to arrive; a group of twenty women and one tall man is huddled together, holding the Sharpie signs they made the night before. Alice Longenbach, one of the co-presidents of Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice, drew a large black uterus on hers. To my comment that it isn’t quite symmetrical, she replies that it’s “anatomically correct,” and gives me a brief run-down of the vagina’s internal structure. It’s not yet 5am and we’re already deep in vagina territory. Maybe that should’ve been expected, and to be honest, this is my thing; I have my period right now, I’m performing in the Vagina Monologues, and I’m getting an IUD on Monday, so I’ve had vag on the mind.
That’s one of the first things I bring up once we settle into our car, my impending IUD, my last period for the next six years. I am very deliberate about sharing this; I’ve been menstruating for ten years and I still hate talking about it, which is why I think it’s important that I do. I am a feminist, but I see myself undercutting my feminist beliefs all the time. Today, as I march for my rights, I am intentional about my body, my politics, my presence. I try very hard not to be apologetic. I participate in the de-stigmatization that I espouse, a valiant effort for 5am.
On the long drive, we share IUD horror stories, talk about male birth control and co-ed campus bathrooms, play fuck-marry-kill young Biden, young Clinton and young Kaine – and if you’re not familiar with young Kaine’s cheekbones, I recommend a Google. My friend Elizabeth says she has a “fired up playlist”, and we let her AUX until Let It Go shuffles on and she’s released from that responsibility. Camila, who is driving, asks for some Drake as “a palate cleanser.” Sara, sitting to my left, mentions a “really fucking good article in Teen Vogue about populism,” and gets so excited she drops the phone with Google Maps. “Sorry,” she laughs. “I got passionate about my discourse.”
In a tangent about Chomsky and the rise of authoritarianism that Elizabeth punctuates with “Noam is a straight homey,” I am struck by my admiration for these women, for their ability to criticize Trump with strength and eloquence and to recommend meme accounts for their biting social commentary. The thread of our conversation mirrors the guarded anticipation and exhilarated hope that kept me up last night; I know that’s a little contradictory, but I feel very done with politics, and very much not done with people. I can’t stand to listen to Trump’s speeches anymore, and I don’t think there’s much of a point anyway, but I feel invigorated by my friends and the thousands of people who woke up with me this morning to stand up, fight back.
We park at the University of Maryland and get ready in a parking lot behind frat row. Jess Quinter, co-pres of PSRJ, has brought pink face paint, a bagful of buttons with preferred pronouns and “this is what a feminist looks like,” and several boxes of granola bars to feed the troupes. While the group prepares, my friend Lydia and I run into a nearby sorority house to pee. I change my tampon there, and quickly wonder if this’ll be my last.
We plan to take the subway into DC, but it takes us several hours to buy tickets and force our little group through the saturated station. The ride is hot and long, but it is never tense; people are chatty, asking where we come from, what’s on our signs, and whether we have extra buttons for them. An old woman with bright red hair strikes up a conversation with the queer couple next to her; a minute later, a tall woman with a septum ring leans over to draw a heart on her cheek in purple eyeliner.
We run into Princeton alums before we even exit the subway station who noticed our uterus signs in the crowd. We move alongside them for a while, chanting “we reject the president-elect,” which is no longer relevant but has a nice ring to it. I crane my neck looking for the source of the cries, to see where the chants begin and to whom they’re oriented, but pretty quickly I realize there is no person who begins or ends them. The crowd is the event. There is no person to egg on but ourselves, and I feel powerful knowing that the noise is I make is for those around me. As we get closer to the subway’s exit, we grow louder and stronger.
There has been warranted criticism of the march as an exclusionary vagina-centric and white-feminist movement that overshadowed other civic justice issues. I’ve read the signs that asked, “I’ll see you nice white women at the next #BLM march?” and as happy as I was to follow Alice’s bobbing uterus through the crowd, I respect and am grateful to the trans-women who walked with us and would never intend to exclude them. I marched for Planned Parenthood, but the issues that were championed went far beyond that; “Black Lives Matter” was the loudest chant I heard that day.
For a while, we are stationary, standing elbow-to-elbow with strangers in the pink-flooded streets of DC; there are so many people that the march has to be re-routed.
“This is what democracy looks like” breaks out. Jess laughs, “if this is what democracy looks like, it’s pink and sweaty.”
As I look around, I get that warm heart-borne feeling of being part of something big, of a snapshot of history. I walk alongside all sorts of people; men in black holding “the apocalypse is near” signs who chant “Jesus loved women,” grandmothers with heavy eyeliner and pink knit pussy hats, and babies in “feminist” onesies.
“My body, my choice,” is shouted somewhere in front of me. “Their body, their choice,” echoes a male voice. The crowd is swept in the call-and-answer as we approach the Washington monument. “My body, my choice,” I yell out, looking up at the giant phallus.
“Their body, their choice.”
I am hoarse, but I am heard: my body, my choice.