On January 21st, I was one in a million — one in more than 3 million people who marched in the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches worldwide. There were marches in each of the 50 states, including thousands of people in Alaska who marched through negative temperatures and falling snow. Crowd scientists estimate the marches are the largest protest in American history and that the crowds in Washington D.C. outnumbered those at Trump’s inauguration three times over — a fact that’s apparently made POTUS very upset.
That’s where I was the day after the inauguration — Washington D.C. I flew in on Friday, the day of the inauguration. Trump was preparing to be sworn in while I was 39,000 feet above the country, and became president shortly after I touched down in Baltimore.
I met my mom there. She’s been fighting this sort of fight much longer than I have. She’s a teacher, and has taught in public schools in Chicago and Baltimore — schools that serve predominantly minority students, schools where every student qualifies for free lunches, schools with the lowest reading scores in their city. She knows what’s at stake.
We marched with my mom’s college roommate (from her time at the University) Lori and her daughter Kira. None of us had participated in this sort of protest before, but we all felt the weight of the political moment too heavily to remain silent.
It’s hard to say whose idea it was to go. I remember calling my mom in the yard of Betsy Barber — a place that I felt safe for public crying — on the morning after the election. I’ll never forget how upset I was that day, how quiet campus was, the way we all looked at each other as if to say, “I’m sorry.” But when I spoke to her she reminded me that it was going to be OK. Because we were going to fight. And we weren’t going to stop fighting until it was OK.
I’m so grateful I got to go with my mom, the woman who raised me to be strong and smart and outspoken. The person off whom I’ve modeled much of myself.
LSA sophomore Kellie Lounds was also one of the 500,000 people who descended on the National Mall that day. She drove all the way from Ann Arbor to D.C. with a group of female students from the University.
“I felt like I was going to regret it if I didn’t go … because I knew it was going to be a historic amount of people showing up. I had been feeling sort of down — especially with the inauguration and I knew that I needed something to jumpstart me.”
As a member of University’s chapter of College Democrats and chair of the female-interest sub-group, FemDems, Kellie Lounds knows that activism doesn’t end when the March does — a concern of many activists who were wary of the March’s ability to motivate the public in the long term.
“I think it’s a good place to start. The fact that 500 (or however many hundred) thousand people showed up matters because it shows that people care. But I don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all solution,” Lounds said.
That “where do we go from here” sentiment was something shared among many of the women I’ve spoken to before and after the March.
For Lounds, the next step is to be a better ally for those who are affected more acutely by Trump’s policies, as well as for those who have largely been pushed out of mainstream activist movements.
“While I was at the March I didn’t really think about this at all but after we got done I read a lot of articles about how a lot of signage and messaging wasn’t very trans-inclusive,” Lounds said, “It made me check myself and be like, ‘You showed up and that’s good, but you can always be a better ally.’”
The March forced a lot of people to check their places as activists, myself included, and woke some people up to the necessity of their voices in an ongoing fight for justice and equality — a response that many felt was overdue.
LSA sophomore Hannah Foster echoed that sentiment, calling on her peers to remain attentive to issues that might not impact them directly.
“More than anything I think it’s important to educate ourselves about the new policies being put in place,” Foster said, “to keep ourselves from becoming apathetic about the injustices happening now — which can be hard to do when these policies don’t affect you personally.”
That’s something I’m guilty of, not showing up until my rights were at stake. That sort of reversal of attitude made many people whose rights have always been on the line feel uncomfortable about the March. Much has been written about the division that still exists among a group of seemingly — if only by location — united people. The worry that people were only marching for themselves seemed to be the lingering concern shared among many following the March.
To some extent I would say, yes, I’m sure many of the people who flooded the streets of D.C. the day after the inauguration would not have been there had Trump’s promised policies (which we’re now seeing put into place at an alarming speed) not affected their lives directly. It was the first time at a major protest for everyone in my group, but I’m sure it won’t be our last. As a sign at a #NoBan protest suggested, protests are going to become a regular activity for many who got their first taste at the Women’s March.
This delayed response was understandably frustrating for many whose lives have been monumentally shaped by public policy long before the Trump era. Foster recognizes what’s at stake for many people in this country under a Trump presidency.
“It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I feel the need to speak out against and I’ve had some difficulty figuring out how to begin,” Foster said. “It helps to stay connected with other people who also feel obligated to work against some of what is happening.”
Because in addition to unifying a group of like-minded people, the March highlighted the divisions that exist even within liberal, progressive activism. Divisions along the lines of race, sexuality and religion were still visible, even at an event designed as a unifier.
What the Women’s March did is set a precedent for how to respond to the inevitable injustices of this presidency. Since that day protests have erupted across the country in response to the green-lighting of the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines and, most recently, to Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The Women’s March was the first, and many feared it would be the last. And while the subsequent protests haven’t brought out the same numbers, their size relative to their spontaneity seems to be owed — in a small part at least — to the example of activism set by the Women’s March.
“Being in D.C. with hundreds of thousands of other people who shared my concerns was absolutely surreal,” Foster said of the lasting power of the March. “I left empowered and energized when before I felt scared and helpless. I’ll never forget it.”
For LSA sophomore Ana Patchin, she felt that her hope for the country — which had dampened since the election — was energized at the March.
“I was standing outside the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and I watched as a crowd of people carried a copy of the Constitution that they had crafted out of burlap down Constitution Avenue,” Patchin recalled. “That image has stuck with me. It serves as a reminder to me of how each and every day the people have the opportunity to carry the values that we believe in.”
Patchin described how hard it had been for her to believe in the goodness of America after the election — a feeling I, and many others, shared. She described a feeling of pride in the country on that morning and a great hope for its future as she joined the crowds on the mall.
“Every day I am finding so many reasons to feel disheartened,” Patchin said. “However, the March, and the action that people all across the U.S. have taken as a result, gives me a great deal of hope.”
While the Women’s March on Washington set a precedent for national activism, the same happened on a local level as thousands marched right here in Ann Arbor, in a sister march organized by Progressives at the University of Michigan and Michigan to Believe In.
“It all happened so fast,” said Public Policy junior Claire Cepuran, who organized the March with LSA sophomore Brad McPherson and LSA sophomore Robert Joseph. They didn’t know they were marching until early January, when Michigan to Believe In reached out to them about co-sponsoring the event.
“Following the election there were a lot of people feeling upset and like they wanted to do something and get involved and show their solidarity somehow, but they didn’t really know how and this seemed like a really good outlet for that,” Cepuran said.
She felt a deep connection to the March and what it stood for, and was motivated to march for many of the same reasons other women were.
“Gender issues have always been really important to me … that’s why the Women’s March was so cool and was so close to my heart,” Cepuran said. “I’ve always sort of felt that inequality.”
Cepuran, McPherson and Joseph run Progressives at the University of Michigan, a student organization started at the end of last semester with the goal of getting more progressive candidates into office on the city, county and state levels.
“I think there are a lot of progressive people, young people especially, who are not feeling represented by the Democratic Party,” Cepuran said. “We’re hoping to flood them with all of these young passionate people who want change.”
The meeting I attended last week attracted students as well as many Ann Arbor residents who feel passionately about similar causes. Everyone was eager to help in any way they could. For activists of all ages, the big question is still: What can I do next?
“There are two parts to making real change: You have to have the activism that focuses on expressing that there is a problem and then you have to focus on actual legislation and pushing for more parity between genders in government or in, say, the presidential cabinet,” McPherson said.
So now we’re on part two. The problems have been exposed, and are continuing to be exposed every day. We know what’s wrong. But it’s going to be hard to maintain the same level of energy that was achieved on January 21st.
I know I’m never going to forget how it felt when I got off the train at Judiciary Square and saw people lined up all the way down both sides of the platform. Or how it felt to hear someone in our car start singing “This Land is Your Land.”
But what I’m really never going to forget is how it felt on November 8th, watching the results come in as I sat in my friend’s apartment — the weight of the grief. And I’m never going to forget my dad calling me last Sunday to tell me how upset he was that his country, as a nation of immigrants, could turn against refugees looking for safety in a country that prided itself on its inclusivity.
I’m never going to forget how different it feels scrolling through my Twitter feed tonight, seeing piece after piece of my country fall apart and how it felt to stand on the top on the risers across from the National Archives and see people from the White House to the Capitol who believe, like I do, that America is better than a racist in an ill-fitting suit.
I’m lucky to have gotten to march with my mom. To have been able to fight alongside someone I know will never stop fighting for me. I’m so lucky to have been raised by people who set such a strong example of what it looks like to love and fight — and to forgive.
But I can’t just be lucky anymore. It’s time to make action out of the values I was raised with. Because it’s not just about surviving until midterms anymore. The March made it clear to me that this is much more urgent than I would have ever previously allowed myself believe.
At the end of the day it’s (sort of) simple: An international disease of hatred has produced a regime determined to turn an already divided nation against itself. It’s infuriating, but the best thing we can do is to stay angry, and to find in the midst of that anger some love for one another.
The Women’s March on Washington wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t the end, but what it did do was light a fire in the hearts of people of all ages and reminded us that America is still worth fighting for.