Opinion: This is what democracy looks like

Demonstrators filled the National Mall before the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. According to city officials an estimated 500,000 people participated in the demonstration.

Bobbie Szabo

Approximately 15,000 people of all genders flooded the streets of downtown Cleveland to march for civil rights — women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, the rights of people of color and indigenous peoples, the rights of survivors and victims of sexual assault — on Saturday. I was one of those people.

At 9 in the morning, two of my friends and I boarded the overcrowded Regional Transit Authority headed to Public Square. Every single person on it was going to the march.

The energy in the crowd was palpable — we knew we were on the way to make history. We excitedly complimented each other’s signs, t-shirts and pussy hats and acknowledged the commonalities we all have despite living in a nation that feels so bitterly divided.

Walking into Public Square at 10:30 a.m. was overwhelming. There were people as far as the eye could see in every direction. People of all genders, ethnicities, sexualities, ages, body types and religions gathered together to march for what was right and it was magical. I did not see the division and hate typically used to characterize demonstrations.

I saw solidarity. I felt connected to all the people around me. I felt loved and supported by everyone around me for one of the first times since the election. I felt powerful.

I felt a righteous anger quelled only by the knowledge that I was not alone, nor will I ever be.

Not only was I physically surrounded by thousands of people, but I carried almost 70 people who could not attend a march with me on my sign: family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers and classmates from all over the country and world.

They are who I was marching for. I was marching for the people I love. I was marching for love.

As we marched past Town Hall, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” we saw statues of historical and political figures like Alexander Hamilton holding signs celebrating feminism and diversity.

As we marched past the Cleveland Public Library, we received cheers from employees and patrons standing outside on the steps.

As we marched through Cleveland, we were guided peacefully and cheerfully by the local police who stood with and for us.

As we arrived once again in Public Square, we were greeted by music and joy.

I have never attended such a positive demonstration. I have never attended a march focused more on hope and moving forward together. While I still feel upset, angry and betrayed, I do not feel quite as devastated anymore; now I know there are millions of people across the globe willing to fight for and with me and those I love.

There are millions of people willing to take a stand and walk to great lengths for what is right. There are millions of people who are just as horrified and disgusted by what is happening in our country as I am. There are millions of them, and several thousand live in my own backyard.

If we can take this momentum and build upon it, nothing could stop us — not a political system that failed us, not a small group of people motivated by hate, not a deliberately belligerent and bigoted president. Now is the time to mobilize, to organize, to create positive change.

The Women’s March across the globe was undoubtedly needed and inspiring, but this movement cannot stop here.

We need to make our voices heard, especially when it seems no one in government is listening. They are our representatives, and it is our duty to hold them accountable for doing what is right by us.

Let us take this march as the beginning — let us take this march as the first step of revolution.

Bobbie Szabo is a columnist, she can be contacted [email protected]