Citizens unite for Women’s March on DC

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

Alex Delaney-Gesing

Shades of pink dotted the crowds of more than 1 million spread out across Washington, D.C.’s, streets Saturday. On the day after the United States’ 45th president was sworn into office, citizens from all over gathered in a collective goal: unity.

The Women’s March on Washington, D.C. — previously referred to as the “Million Women March” before being renamed — was first organized in the days following the Nov. 9 General Election. Its purpose entailed “(sending) a bold message to our new (presidential) administration on their first day in office and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” according to the event’s official website.

As one of hundreds of marches and millions of sister marches organized across the nation and around the globe Saturday, D.C.’s march saw just over 500,000 participants coming from as close as Virginia to as far as California.

By the time cloudy skies broke through the morning darkness, coffee shops were already overflowing onto the sidewalks with patrons in need of a jolt of caffeine to start a day of advocacy and social inclusiveness.

The streets filled more and more still as thousands packed together in front of the Women’s March stage set up on Independence Avenue for the collection of speakers scheduled to appear. Crowds arriving in waves quickly surrounded jumbo screens positioned on neighboring streets.

Women of all ages carried signs reading phrases like “this pussy grabs back” and “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights.” Rainbow American flags tied Superman-style around the necks of all-black dressed advocates chanting “love is love” billowed out in the damp air as they walked toward the starting point of the march.

A rally began mid-morning ahead of the scheduled afternoon march. Notable activists and humanitarian leaders of organizations such as the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Native Organizers Alliance, Black Civic Participation and NAACP, to name a few, spoke on a call-to-action platform of unity.

Among the speakers was actress America Ferrara, a chair member of the Artists Table of the event. She addressed the audience before her, calling out the newly-inaugurated president

“We march today for the moral core of this nation against which our new president is waging a war,” Ferrara said from the podium at the head of the pre-march rally. “But we are gathered here across the country and around the world today to say ‘Mr. Trump, we refuse.’”

Anthropology students Jamie Sykes and Kate Padula from the University Of Southern Florida were among the swarm of marchers. Armed with pinks signs advocating equality for all and an end to fascism, the duo made the trek to D.C. Friday night before the march. Padula, 27, said she booked a hotel room months in advance.

“This march and the other protests going on around the city are what’s uniting everyone here,” she said. “It’s like all these movements are being fused together in a way.”

Padula and Sykes, 21, said they planned on marching in support of healthcare rights provided under the Affordable Care Act — an issue both have a firsthand experience with: Padula has multiple sclerosis and Sykes has crohn’s disease.

With the news of President Donald Trump signing the first executive action toward repealing Obamacare the night before, the prospect of not receiving much-needed aid stirred fear.

Sykes — a self-proclaimed “nasty woman” — said she wouldn’t be able to pay for the expense of hospital bills if not for Obamacare.

“It’s awful because people who have preexisting conditions (could) be excluded from health care because they just can’t afford it,” Sykes said. “There’s so many other reasons why, but for me, that’s the biggest.”

The issues at stake are why it’s important to march, according to Sykes.

“It’s for all of those people who will be affected by them,” Sykes said. “Oppressions are connected … you can’t really liberate without liberating everybody.”

Padula expressed similar sentiments, referring to the seemingly easy nature of society as a whole to lose hope and focus in the future. The march, she said, is a way to show the togetherness that can result from taking a stand — regardless of individual struggles.

“We just swore in a president whose stance on certain issues is incredibly problematic,” Padula said. “And instead of backing down and just accepting this, we’re showing that we can come together and resist.”

Mother and daughter Shelley Betts, 64, and Millicent Hairston, 45, caught the late night bus from Columbus, Ohio, to attend the march. With their matching pink pussy hats — designed and crafted specifically for the march for advocates of women’s rights —  and scarfs blending among the sea of pink-shaded attire, they said the lack of sleep was a small sacrifice compared to the importance of the march.

“It’s about power in the numbers,” Betts said. “If you don’t say anything, you can’t expect anything to be done.”

While the crowd of marchers was — as expected — primarily women, thousands of men joined forces in the parade as well. They arrived in attire ranging from the march-issued pussyhats and pink Planned Parenthood shirts bearing the phrase “the future is female,” to white T-shirts with the handwritten slogan of “I’m with her” surrounded by a circle of outer-pointed arrows printed in bold sharpie on the front.

John Houghton of Rockville, Maryland, dressed in white shirt and black tie. He carried a sign reading “ Privilege should extend beyond white men.”

“I think (white men) are underrepresented in activities like this,” Houghton said. “There seems to be more division among the genders and races in just the last year-and-a-half, and it shouldn’t be this way.”

Although his wife had been planning on attending the march, Houghton said he came out on a “a spur-of-the-moment” decision. It was something he felt he should be doing, he said.

“It’s just really important to bring all of America into these issues — not just those who are facing the (brunt of equality). I just wanted to beat back the division as much as I could,” he said.

In all, a total of 673 marches and 4,814,000 sister marches were organized across the nation and around the globe Saturday — including in Cleveland.

Alex Delaney-Gesing is the managing editor, contact her at [email protected]