by Krista Madsen
Hundreds of local women – and men and children – heeded the call to march the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, most heading to New York City while some embarked on one of several chartered buses bound for Washington D.C.
Mistrella Murphy organized logistics while Sara Levine took care of programming on a bus they booked for the Women’s March on Washington. The idea of a women’s march went viral immediately after Trump’s win, and Murphy jumped on it soon after. “I put the wheels in motion, so to speak, on Nov. 12 as soon as I saw early word on plans for a women’s march,” Murphy said. “I reached out to friends to be sure there was enough interest.”
Indeed the response was “overwhelming,” so she booked with Hudson Valley Charter on the 15th, “registered with local and national organizers, and began planning for a positive march and call to action.”
Departure time was 4:15 a.m. on January 21 with a return slated for close to midnight, so the 49 passengers – myself included – were a necessarily determined, if initially groggy, bunch. Leading up to the trip were various opportunities to gather with other local marchers to make protest signs from the new Trilogy consignment store opening soon on Main Street to Christ Church. Fueled by outrage, residents have been organizing: a Social Action for 10591 group has sprung up as well as a weekly solidarity salon led by Trilogy’s Heather Reid.
The posters on wide display at the marches from Poughkeepsie’s Bridge over the Hudson to a boat in Antartica showcased the diversity of causes marchers care about, and the endless variations of their creativity. While there certainly was plenty of crassness and anti-Trump sentiment, the overall themes covered what people stand for, not against. A sampling from our bus: She The People, History Has Its Eyes on You, All We Need is Love, Organize Agitate Educate Must Be Our War Cry, Facts are True Whether You Believe Them or Not, Liberty Dignity Justice For All, Polar Bears Are on Thin Ice and So Are We. And from one of several intrepid eighth graders aboard: Strong Woman in Training.
An early morning rest stop at the halfway point had proven surprisingly packed with fellow pink-hatted marchers. The energy mounted as the bus passed through the darkness of night into the thick fog that covered the approach to D.C. The women and their daughters – and one son wearing a hat boasting “Boy”– took turns sharing why they would march.
“I’m here to redirect my frustration and anxiety into something more positive and channeled,” said Rebecca Beaton.
The shock of the election results, said Nancy Duran, “woke me up out of a deep slumber and opened my eyes… I’m here to march for the first time for something I really believe in. Which is a just society, a government based in facts, and empathy for all people.”
A sense of the massiveness of the event was immediately obvious. Just the parking lot of 1,000-plus buses at RFK Stadium was something to behold. Metro stations were so overrun that most chose to make the two-mile trek to the Capitol on foot. Not one arrest was reported by D.C. police during the march at which one million are currently estimated to have attended. For those who managed to get through the peaceful throngs to the stage, there were many hours of back-to-back speakers and performers aiming to channel all this enthusiasm into ongoing action.
With so many people to navigate through and no clear path, at the end of the day every group back on the bus reported a different experience. Some shared photos of activist filmmaker Michael Moore and singer Alicia Keyes exiting the stage. The lineup included everyone from Madonna to feminist icon Gloria Steinem, singer/activist/actress Janelle Monáe, Love Army’s Van Jones, and New York’s junior U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The area south of the Capitol, which just the day prior was red with Make America Great Again hats, was now a sea of “pussyhats,” made to turn a word Trump famously used in vulgar fashion into a positive display of solidarity for the women’s rights that many fear are about to be trampled. It’s impossible to list all the interrelated causes vying for air-time here, but the glue they had in common: this is just the beginning.
“If we had 51 percent women in Congress, do you think we’d be debating access to contraception; do you think we’d be debating whether to have paid leave; do you think it would be so hard to end sexual assault on college campuses and in our military? It would not!” said Gillibrand. The senator placed this moment in historical context, recounting the difficult march of the suffragrettes over 100 years ago for similar reasons. Now, “this is the moment of the beginning of the revival of the women’s movement. This is the moment you will remember when women stood strong and stood firm and said never again. This is the moment that you are going to be heard.”
Moore shared that he was the youngest person to ever win public office in his state when at 18 he managed to get on his Michigan school board. “Run for office,” he urged the crowd. Think you’re too shy? “This is not the time to be shy,” he screamed. “You have two hours to get over it.”
Among his to-do items when marchers return home: volunteer, donate, become a supporting member of groups you care about, continue to stay engaged – and not only online.
The ride back offered more cheerleading, channeling, celebrating and sharing stories. The passengers vowed to continue this engagement with each other and with their causes, some planning to meet mid-week to phonebank, some certain they would attend more marches soon (the People’s Climate March on Washington is April 29, for one).
“It was an amazing, inspiring, and powerful day of solidarity and action,” said Heather Hewett. “We walked nearly nine miles – to get to and from parking at RFK, and then in the march – with people from all over the country and the world. The day left my body exhausted but my heart filled to the brim with hope and determination to keep working with others to make this country an inclusive place for everyone.”
“The experience exceeded every expectation,” said Murphy. “I wanted to be physically present to remind elected officials, who work for all of us, the values supported by the majority of Americans who voted. I took my 11-year-old daughter to show her that fighting for what you believe in is hard but worth it… The march showed the power of a woman-led movement, and I was proud to do my part.”