After the election, like many of my fellow students, I had mixed feelings. However, unlike many of my friends, I felt a small sense of relief. I knew that this was going to be a time of incredible upheaval and chaos in our country; however, I was to be exempt from that chaos as I was planning on studying abroad for the first five months of the Donald Trump administration. For weeks, I bragged that I wasn’t going to have to deal with the “peaceful exchange of power” because I would be nearly 4,000 miles away.
For my first few weeks in Paris, I tried my best not to think about Trump. Every time my host mother brought up something he had said on TV I would quickly change the subject. I would casually scroll through my Facebook feed, stopping on the occasional cat video and not much else. I was under the impression that I had escaped (for the time being) and attempted to focus on my life abroad.
What I didn’t realize was just how small this world has become. With the advent of nearly ubiquitous access to social media, there is no such thing as “escaping to another country” anymore. I thought back to all the people who threatened to move to Canada after Trump’s election, hoping they had realized by now that running away is the opposite of a solution. While his policies may not directly affect me while I’m a resident of France, that doesn’t mean I don’t hear about them or feel the emotional blowback from knowing that his policies are affecting many people I love.
My attitude completely changed the day of the Women’s March on Paris. I woke up late the day after the inauguration and lazily checked my Facebook feed. I saw that one of my new friends from my program in Paris had posted that he would be attending the Women’s March. I checked out the Facebook event and after about 30 seconds of deliberating if I would rather stay in bed, I decided to go. I quickly found out that nearly every student from my study abroad program was also going.
A group of my fellow students and I met up and watched as thousands upon thousands of people slowly gathered in Human Rights Square in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Being the unorganized international students that we are, none of us remembered to bring signs, but we spent a great deal of time admiring the signs around us in both French and English. We quickly realized that many of the people around us were American, not French. I had no idea there were this many of us in Paris.
The march finally began and, as I’m sure many others who participated in the marches around the world did, I felt an overwhelming sense of solidarity — a feeling that I’m not sure I had felt in my time abroad thus far. While our program requires that we speak French at all times, we all slowly slipped into English, feeling that this protest constituted a reasonable exception to the rule. All around us, bands played, people danced and crowds shouted chants in both French and English.
What the march made me realize is that politics is a global issue, not just a national one. It is now estimated that the march reached millions of women in the United States and across the globe, making it the biggest peaceful protest in American history. Personally, I have never been a part of an event that massive in my entire life. Before the march, I didn’t want anything to do with American politics; they had exhausted me while I was back home and all I wanted was an escape. After the march, I was so incredibly grateful to have the chance to stand up for what I believe in while abroad. It gave me hope, it made me feel like I still have a place in the debate, it made me want to get involved again. Most importantly, it woke me up.
Tyree Cowell is a junior in LSA studying abroad in Paris, France.