I knew when I saw the post that I had to be part of this. I was devastated by the election, as were so many others. I was so hurt and angry that I couldn’t even cry. I couldn’t sleep. I was stunned. I’m sure many of you felt the same way. That this country – MY country – could elect a person – I can’t even call him a “man”; my sons are men, he is not – who mocked the disabled and a war hero; who collected a Purple Heart “the easy way”; who characterized an entire nation as rapists and killers; who demonized a religion; who had spent eight years perpetrating a lie about the birthplace of our President; and who spoke about sexually assaultive behavior – no, that couldn’t have happened.
But, of course, it did. So when I saw the seeds of a Women’s March to protest all that he stands for – well, I wanted in. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it – airfare, transportation, hotel room, all on one of the busiest weekends in D.C. And I sure didn’t want it to look like I was supporting him!
And then I discovered that there were going to be buses, roundtrip, no layover, no hotel room. Roundtrip from Portland to D.C. and back was $700 and would mean about 24 hours each way, plus the time at the march. Oh, my aching back! Literally. But I would do it if that was the only way. Then I had a better idea: If my daughter-in-law who lives in central Illinois (with my son and three oldest grandchildren, I should add!) wanted to go, maybe I could fly there and go with her. The bus trip would take half the time and I’d have the company of a woman I admire and love. And she and I had never spent a lot of time together, just us, so it was appealing. It became even more appealing when I found out that airfare + bus fare was $100 less than the trip from Portland. And I could build in rest time and time with a part of my family I see too seldom.
As it turned out, Lisa was eager to go as well, so the plan was put into motion. On the Wednesday before the March, I flew into Champaign and we began planning our trip – snacks, drinks, posters, what to wear. I had a day-and-a-half with my son and grandsons and then Lisa and I were off – accompanied on our journey by 46 women, three men, and a bus driver. But before we boarded, I dragged Lisa away from her friends so we could be interviewed by the local news station! When it aired that night, my son texted it to us and we got most of the air time. It was pretty darned exciting!
The bus trip was fairly awful – cramped and crowded, worse than any airplane I’ve ever been on. There was zero space to extend our legs, and when the young girl in front of me reclined her seat I had to ask her to put it back upright, since it left me unable to move at all! But the adrenaline was flowing, we were making friends, and the excitement was in the air! We left Champaign around 6:00 pm CST and arrived in D.C. about 8:00 am EST. One of our group was knitting pink pussyhats as we traveled, and giving them away as they were completed; I was thrilled when she gave one to me! Finally, the bus parked, we took pictures and bathroom breaks, and started following the crowd to the location of the March.
Some of the marchers walked the approximately three miles to the starting site, and reported back that night how, as they walked through neighborhoods, people were clapping and cheering them, there were encouraging signs in the yards, and one couple even made their bathroom available to a youngster who was in dire need. Lisa and I – as well as most of the others – walked about a half-mile to the Metro Station and took the train. Along the way, we encountered D.C. police officers, security personnel, and National Guardsmen, all of whom were friendly and welcoming. We thanked them for their service – and they thanked us for coming! At the Metro, we got our tickets and then we really started to become aware of how many people were there. The lines for the escalators were lengthy, but there were plenty of staff on hand to help keep things running smoothly. As each train arrived and the doors opened, we joined the other marchers who were already on the car – and who welcomed us with cheers and clapping. This ritual was repeated at each stop.
Finally, we reached our destination and, Oh! My! So many people! Pink pussyhats everywhere! Signs of every description – funny, serious, poignant, profane – you name it, it was there! Everyone was friendly and helpful, and we didn’t experience any negativity at all – no small feat with a half-million people! It was a sea of humanity and we had no clear direction as to where to go, so we just moved with the crowd. There were speeches – too many of them, we thought, since the actual march kept being delayed. Then we heard that there were so many of us we wouldn’t be able to march. The speakers assured us that we would, but still the speeches went on, and people were beginning to leave to catch their buses back home. We were all tired and getting restless, when finally we were told to begin marching. We started out, but some in our group had to take a bathroom break, so we said we’d wait – and were glad we did! As we stood watching others go, the speaker introduced Amy Shumer, who then introduced Madonna! It was electric! We sang and danced, took pictures and videos, and then at last we were marching! It took us about an hour to march the 8 or 10 blocks toward the Washington Monument along Independence Avenue. We later learned that there had been an equally large crowd along the Mall!
Lisa and I began to make our way back toward where our bus was parked, but first walked over to the Mall so she could get a good view of the Capitol and the Mall. We wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial, but it would have meant another 3-mile walk since public transportation was restricted in some areas. As we headed back, once again we were greeted with smiles and thank-yous, and so much encouragement to continue the work. I don’t think we met a single person who gave any indication of support for the new administration. Trump is not liked in the city where he now lives.
The trip back to Champaign was even worse that the ride to D.C. We were all exhausted, it was impossible to sleep for more than an hour at a time (if that!), and I was plagued by knee pain and leg cramps. Fortunately, our stops for fuel or breaks seem to arrive just as I was sure I was going to climb out the window! We arrived home Sunday morning, and Lisa, bless her, managed to go to the annual meeting at her church – which was good, since she’s just been elected to the Vestry! I slept. And slept. And slept some more. My body hurt all over and I had no energy at all.
Sunday was my oldest grandson’s birthday, so we went out to dinner that night and had a lovely time and great food, then we went home and I slept some more!
Tuesday afternoon, I boarded the flight home, happy for having participated in an important event, protesting the new administration’s stated policies, being a part of something bigger than myself, and with a renewed determination to continue my activism in support of those who are much less fortunate than I.
As I disembarked from my flight in Chicago, I was immediately confronted by a man who, seeing my sweatshirt, said, “Were you there?” “Yes, I was,” I replied proudly. “Good for you – and thanks!” Awaiting my flight from O’Hare to Portland, a young woman sitting next to me asked the same question. When I responded, “Yes,” she said, “I marched in Chicago!” At the gate, I was again asked by the young male gate agent if I had been there. When I happily replied, he gave me a thumbs-up. And on my flight, I sat next to a young woman – an attorney – who had marched in New York. We spent most of the flight in conversation about next steps.
I’m happy to be home, and am slowly recovering from the stress I put on my aging body, but I will always be thankful I followed through on that first impulse to go.