As I stood in the middle of a crowd of thousands upon thousands of women, for the first time in a long time I thought, “Everything is going to be OK”.
The first thing you should know is that the Women’s March on Washington wasn’t a March–it was a Stand. It was a parking lot of bodies. You may have heard that the official March was technically canceled. By the time it was set to begin, the entire march route was filled with people, and there was nowhere to walk. We didn’t have a ghost of a chance of getting anywhere near the stage or hearing the speakers, but that was all right by us.
As I packed for the March, a friend with an anxiety disorder applied her worry powers to my regulation-sized purse to outfit me with everything I might need in case things got bad. Amazingly, she fit an inflatable rescue breather, a 12-hour light stick, a first aid kit, and two water bottles into the slim leather handbag we picked out together when she was a bridesmaid in my wedding.
The night before the March I drove myself from my home in suburban Philadelphia to DC to meet up with a friend who graciously offered her couch for the weekend. I got there early, and we met at a nearby friend’s apartment to make signs for the protest. I met the women I would be marching with, and there was an instant kinship that I’ve never felt with other girls before. We listened to a playlist of all-women artists while we shared poster paints and sharpie markers. I got to help a nurse draw an anatomically correct uterus on her poster. We drank wine and laughed about the inspirational, aggressive, beautiful, and crass things we were putting on our posters.
As we made our way to the marching route, puddles and streams of women trickled together into rivers and floods. Cars honked and thumbs were raised from passersby. DC seemed happy to have us.
The first stop was for breakfast. The wait in line was nearly an hour long at a tiny coffee shop a full 30-minutes away from the march route. Virtually every single person we saw on the street was there for the march, our signs piled together in the coffee shop window while we fueled up.
The entire day, I saw exactly one counter protester: A little boy, no more than six years old in an over-sized Trump Hat, holding his daddy’s hand, who just scowled and avoided eye contact. The little boy in his pitchy falsetto was yelling “This is treason! ” and “They perform abortions!”
It was unclear who he imagined was providing abortions, or why he knew what an abortion was when he technically didn’t look old enough to know where babies come from. Maybe he imagined we were all lining up to get abortions? It’s unclear. The word treason, however, chilled me. Is that what the scowling man had taught this little boy? That marching and peaceful protest is a crime against the state? Would this little boy grow up to be that afraid of speaking out against his elected leaders?
We were still blocks away from the intended march route when our march ground to a complete halt. It was just a sea of bodies, some confusion, but lots of folks trying to help each other out. I saw one woman share her sushi rolls for lunch, and another share her printed map of the area. It became very clear that the only danger here was getting separated from your group, because the crowds would swallow you up and make reunification almost impossible. We did lose one girl, who emerged hours later unharmed and none the worse for wear.
In the middle of that unfathomable crowd, I had never felt safer. What could be safer than standing in the middle of 1 million women who felt the same way I do? Suddenly, all that squirming vulnerability and nauseous disgust we felt when we heard that man speak of pussy grabbing was gone. The despair we felt when we knew in our hearts that there would be allegations, and the allegations would be ignored, suddenly didn’t sting as much. Our signs screamed at the crowd, emboldening each other and reverberating and swelling and reinvigorating each marcher. We talked about our periods and our genitals as easily and as blatantly as men talk about their boners in public. We tried to make some space for the women who don’t have periods or labias. I’ve heard that we failed, and for that I’m sorry.
I saw hundreds of signs daring him to grab our pussies. We turned a vulnerability into a war cry. I saw one glorious, glorious drag queen in full regalia, her church hat a full two feet in diameter, with a glittered and feathered sign that read “Go Ahead, Grab my Pussy.” I had a good belly laugh. I wished I could thank her through the crowds for being so loudly herself. Not as a point of interest or a photo-op or a novelty, but as a warrior fighting the same fight, and a few fights besides that I’ll never know.
By the way, there is no doubt which crowd was bigger. Just ask the Uber drivers which day was a better day. Every single person who lived there in DC said that inauguration day was a ghost town while the day of the march lit up the streets.
When we finally trudged back to my friend’s apartment, we bought some food, I horked it down, and I slept for a full 14 hours. But not before rattling off a Facebook post, simple with just a photo of me in my pink hat and my sign in front of the crowds. I was too tired to write more, and I figured it would send the right signals to those who knew what it meant.
But among all the likes and “you go girls”, there was one post from a stranger that stood out.
“Clearly you’re no better than the person or people you’re protesting against!” I scratched my head for a while on that one, but I knew exactly what she meant. It was not ladylike to stand in the middle of the street with a “Grab This” sign, letters drawn with barbs and points, blood dripping from each letter in red sharpie. My pride on that sign was an image of a hissing cat, capturing my rage and retaliation and utter rejection of victimhood.
In this woman’s mind, crassly mentioning a crass crime is the same as committing it.
Fuck that. I thought she was the only one, until my mother finally tracked me down on the phone to chastise me for driving husbandless all the way to DC. I could hear my stepfather adding his two cents from the background. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” My mom picked it up—“Yeah, two wrongs don’t make a right, Nicky”. I got heated. “Mom, If someone punches me in the face and I say they’re an asshole for punching me in the face, I’m not just as guilty as the face puncher!” It is not just as rude for me to repeat what he said as it was for him to say it in the first place. This isn’t a kindergarten battle of naughty words, it’s a promise of violence from someone we just made the most powerful man in the world, and we are not going to fucking have it.
In the end, the rogue Facebook commenter was trolled masterfully by my little brother and sister, who went after their grammar, and hijacked the thread with a back-and-forth about the finer points of the proper grammatical use of emojis.
I had forgotten how important it is to be with other women. Talking about sisterhood and woman power and all that sounds crunchy and cheesy as hell, but I understood it when I stood and felt the power of that crowd. I felt it while we laughed and made posters together. And I am sorry if any of our sisters felt un-included from that march. It means so little, but you are welcome in my space if you believe that your junk has nothing to do with your worth as a human being. I’ll work harder to make space for you.
I had forgotten how important relationships with other women are. I hadn’t spoken to our reached out to my friend in DC for over a year, and she opened her home to me in a heartbeat. When I friended one of my marching buddies on Facebook, I realize she was one of only a handful of women I’m connected to on that platform who has a different skin color than me. When some of the older women sang marching songs from fights they fought before, but I didn’t recognize, I felt it.
I’m so used to being the only girl in a room. I’m so used to fighting the interruptions and the Mansplanations and being talked over and being patronized and being ignored. It’s time for me to spend more time around women.