By Susan Bromley
A journey of a thousand-plus miles (round trip) figuratively began last November, but literally was taken this weekend.
This journey– to the Women’s March on Washington– took me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one, and also brought me, as leaving your comfort zone often does, to a place of personal growth.
I left my house on Friday about 5 p.m. with my daughter and my cousin, not really knowing what to expect for the next roughly 36 hours. I knew I was going to be on a bus with about 50 other women, traveling through the night. I knew there was expected to be about 200,000 people marching in Washington, DC on Saturday, with speakers planned beforehand. I knew the weather was expected to be a high of about 55.
I tried to plan for what I knew. I wore comfortable tennis shoes. I brought a jacket and a few different shirts to layer with. I brought two cameras, my phone, multiple chargers and backup batteries, a notebook and pens. I brought a pillow, and blankets and snacks and water and some toiletries.
This was not a vacation for privileged American women, as I’ve already seen suggested on social media.
My idea of a vacation doesn’t involve sitting almost straight up in a bus seat without sleep for two nights, with a day in between of standing in one place for more than six hours, sandwiched among thousands of people, and then trying to move among those thousands to a place where walking freely is finally possible. Did I get to go and see any of the memorials that I know from previous experience are amazing? Nope. No time for that. This wasn’t a vacation and certainly isn’t a complaint. This is democracy in action.
As I heard while marching among those thousands of people, which turned out to be roughly half a million marchers, 300,000 more than the previous estimate (so much for plans!), “This is what democracy looks like!” Indeed, this IS what democracy looks like.
Was the rally and march perfect? Of course not. Democracy isn’t perfect.
The rally would have benefited from fewer speakers and shorter speeches. Many repeated the same things and of course, some people are better public speakers than others. There were some people who resonated more with me than others– (Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Van Jones, a few other people who I was not familiar with and whose names I don’t recall). There were some whose comments I found crass or which didn’t speak to how I feel.
But this is our country. These are my people. These are voices that deserve to be heard. And there were plenty more I didn’t hear, but I saw their signs, I read their messages. Some I connected with, some I didn’t.
As I stood there, I met some strangers. To my right was a group from Virginia. In front of me was a woman from Portland, Oregon wearing a poster with part of a Langston Hughes poem (“Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.”).
Also in front of me was a pediatric oncologist that struck up a conversation with my cousin, who is a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital in Detroit and works with children undergoing cancer treatment. To my left and on the other side of my daughter were art teachers from Brooklyn who work in public education and are equally appalled by the selection of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. Behind us was Chris Beisel, a Maryland resident and married father who did his post-doctorate work at Michigan State University and now works as a program director for the National Institute of Health. As a scientist, he told me he was troubled by Trump’s lack of disregard for facts, and his association with many people who are anti-vaccination.
As the crowd grew restless and ready to march and take those first steps, we didn’t hang around to hear the final few rally speakers. I didn’t even know Madonna was there until later. Sorry. This is democracy. We had to march because I had a bus to catch at 5.
Trying to move was like the biggest pedestrian traffic jam ever, but there was no pushing, people were mostly polite and fairly patient. I clung to my daughter in front of me, I could feel my cousin holding on to my jacket behind me. I saw a lot of smiles. I saw camaraderie, I heard chants of, “No hate, no fear, everybody is welcome here!”
I saw no violence, no rioting, no clashes with police, who were obviously out in force, for which I was immensely grateful for their protection and the job they do.
As we began to march, the route was detoured for the masses of people. There was a lot to take in– sights and sounds and the feeling of a movement that is bigger than can be processed. Yes, I felt inspired, but I also felt completely overwhelmed.
I looked around and there were people chanting and waving and some looked upset, and some looked angry and some looked happy and some looked exhilarated. There were young women, and middle-aged women, and women who remembered marching for the Equal Rights Amendment back in the ’70s. These were mothers, and daughters, and grandmothers, and sisters. There were plenty of men, too. There were some children. There were all different races, religions, and sexual orientations.
There were anti-Trump signs and signs supporting science and recognition of climate change, pro-public education signs, signs supporting healthcare for all, plenty of signs supporting women’s physical autonomy. Some marchers had signs that were profane, and some held signs that made me laugh, and some held signs that brought tears to my eyes.
And as I looked around, in this sea of the most people I’ve ever been in in my life, I felt alternately uncomfortable and yet comforted. These are my people. For better, for worse. We are not all the same, nor should we be. But our voices will be heard.
We were sad to have to leave the march route, yet happy when we got back to our bus that would take us home. We were tired, and yet, energized.
I am glad to have been a part of this history-making march and am ready to take action today, for all people, regardless of gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or political party. We are all humans and it’s time to fight for all of us and get out of our comfort zones.
This is what democracy looks like.