A whirlwind is really the only way to describe the four days that we spent in Washington D.C. this last weekend. A complete whirlwind. Jerimiah, Jackson, and I have been to D.C. once before, but only for one day while we were visiting Jerimiah’s mom in Maryland. Back then Jackson was just learning to walk, we had not yet made it to his first birthday, and President Obama had just been sworn into office. In short, we were in a very different time in our lives. So was our country.
Fast forward ten years and suddenly my little guy, who last time in D.C. was toddling across the Washington Monument, was marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, a smile on his face and a megaphone in his hand. He was marching for women’s rights. He was marching for his friends and his family. He was marching for his mommy and for his sister. He was marching for his own reasons too, recalling the first time he heard President Trump talk about “the wall” and asking whether his Hispanic friend, Angel, would be sent away. He made up his own chant: “Be a leader, not a Tweeter!” It was sort of, well, perfect.
Though Jackson may not have grasped what was happening around him, may not have caught the meaning of many of the signs, or heard the rumblings under foot of anti-semitism, or noticed the anti-abortion counter protesters, at one point he walked up next to me, grabbed my hand and said, “Mommy, I see why we came now.” And that was all I needed to hear. I, on the other hand, I had been a mess leading up to last Saturday.
The idea to go to the Women’s March had come to my friend Beth and me (like most of our ideas) in a bursting blaze of wine and lingering indignation. We were at my kitchen island one evening a couple of weeks before, catching up on our recent holidays (complaining really about lack of sleep and lack of sound judgement) when she said, “Hey, the Women’s March is in a couple of weeks, wanna go and take the family?” “Uh, duh,” I responded, as I finished off the bottle of my Target “Clearance” red, and she started pulling up AirBnBs on her phone. It wasn’t long before we had roped in both husbands, our friend Meredith and her two sons, and a third friend, Merrily, who like Beth had the experience of the first march under her belt. The house was booked, the days requested off, the scene was set. Then came the shitstorm.
First there was the weather. I mean, who could have possibly known there would be a Nor’easter in January?! No one. No one could have predicted that. Washington got what five inches the week before the march. Or was it 15? 50? I dunno, but the temps were about to, as Lil Jon, The East Side Boyz, and Ying Yang Twins would say, “Get low, get low, get low, get low…” Yeah. It got low.
Then days before, the news broke about the march administrators. Now I can’t really speak a lot to this. I caught it in passing, Beth could probably tell you more, but it seemed like women fighting each other and accusing each other of saying things that should not have been said. It made people nervous. It made people scared to come to the march, scared to stand in solidarity with one another. Honestly I stayed far away from it, figuring I’d learn more when we were actually there, seeing these women in person.
Then there was the news of the change of venue. Originally the Women’s March had obtained a permit to march at the National Mall, but with the shutdown, the National Parks Service was afraid they would not be able to keep the mall clean and the snow removed in time for the march, so at the last minute a permit was issued for 10,000 to march on Pennsylvania Avenue. The one saving grace that the march would go right by Trump’s Washington Hotel, all was not lost.
Then the night before our president himself tried to steal the thunder by saying he would make a “Big, Yuge, Terrific” announcement at 3:00 pm on the day of the march. Then it was promptly changed to 4:00 pm, considering that is when the march ended. I think he knew better than to piss off 10,000 women marching past his house. Good on him.
Then of course, was the fact that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans had gone without pay for a month now. That weighed heavy on our minds and our hearts, and we tried to figure out how we could help them, while marching at the same time.
Le sigh. It was sort of chaotic to say the least, but still, we persisted.
Everyone made it to DC safely, having made the six hour drive from Charlotte on Friday. Saturday morning came and our crew readied ourselves for the street, even though we were all a bit groggy and some of us were, ahem, a bit hungover. The kids though, they were amped up! They had their signs (most of them made by Beth) and their megaphone and their marching shoes. Not to mention their hats, gloves, and layers of clothes. (In the end though, this day would prove to be the warmest of our time there.)
They boys seemed hellbent on making as much noise as they could, as well as giving out a number of “free hugs”, cause yeah, these are cool kids. Meanwhile, Morgan (the lone girl in the kid group) showed up ready for battle, her handmade sign garnering a lot of attention from us, as well as many people at the march. We will call her, well, wise beyond her years. (Basically, she pities ‘da fool.)
At this point no one had any idea how many people would be at the march, what the scene would look like, how the marchers would react to one another, and whether it would be anything like the other two marches. I had never been to a march, period. I was nervous, I was anxious, and I was a little numb to what I was walking into. But I was ready. We all were. We were ready for whatever was headed our way, snacks and toe warmers in our bags, and smiles on our faces. At about 10:15 a.m. the whole crew took off from our house for the metro. We were only five stops away from the crowd that awaited us.
About twenty minutes later we rounded the corner of Freedom Plaza and saw a sight that I am not sure we expected. Well, I didn’t expect it. Thousands of men, women, and children lined the streets. Vendors selling merchandise, food, and hot coffee. Pink hats, 12 foot signs, and amped up fellow Americans ready to take to the streets together in love and in light. It was all a little much for me to take in.
There was so much to see. It was like being at a circus, a parade, a concert, and a play all at once. There were smiles and voices. There were high fives and handshakes. There were hugs, lots of hugs. There were women crying. There were funny signs and serious signs and necessary signs. There was a camaraderie I don’t think I was fully prepared for. I simply stood, silently looking around trying to take it all in, trying to sear this image into my mind to recall at a later time, on an idle Thursday when I am in bed, my blankets pulled up over my head and I am sad. I wanted to bottle it. I wanted to capture the essence of the mood, the sight, the sounds all around me. In short, it was pretty fucking cool.
We started marching and chanting and laughing and hugging promptly at 11 am. The march was just around one city block, but it took about two hours. In the middle of it Merrily, Beth, and I popped into a coffee shop to get the crew all warmed up with cups of joe, when a slight scare happened upon us. Meredith came in asking if we had seen Cooper. He had walked over to throw something in a trash can and the sea of people had swept him away. We tried to remain calm. He had his cell phone. The crowd was slow moving. And we had eyes all over.
His momma ended up finding him just a few feet away after a frantic look for about ten minutes. When he had realized he was separated from the group, he found a police officer and stood by him, looking for us and trying to call his mom. (Did I mention how smart these kids are?!) He seemed okay, we were all a little shaken up, though no one wanted to admit it, and after a small break to regroup we joined the masses again. At one point after we found him, Beth, Meredith, and I all looked at each other, a knowing smile spreading across our faces. Had we been worried? Yes. But this was a sea of mommies. A sea of grandmothers. Of women who have birthed and held and bathed these babies, the generations before us. Women who have seen more in their lives than we ever will. Our babies would be just fine among them.
As the march wrapped up we saw more sights that conjured up pictures from the 1970s. Women in trees leading chants, women in bikinis (in that weather! Oh my goodness we wanted to put sweaters on them!) women holding hands, forming chains, women screaming, women with fists in the air, women with an air of determination to be heard and seen. And they were.
Around 1 p.m. the march wrapped up at Freedom Plaza where a stage had been erected to house the speakers, of which there were many. There were speakers from the Women’s March itself, the very women who were reportedly arguing just days before taking the stage, including Tamika Mallory who went after the rumors head on, telling her Jewish sisters, “I see you.”
About 3 p.m. the kids lost steam. It started to sprinkle and everyone was a little hungry. That’s when Beth’s husband Dave, Meredith, and Merrily offered to take the kids for food and all meet back later. Beth and I wanted to stay to see more of the rally and Jerimiah was sort of along for the ride, so we split up. I’m not sure what the other group did, but I was sent screenshots of giant cinnamon rolls, so it must have been good! Beth, Jerimiah, and I walked to the other side of Freedom Plaza to try to get a better view of the stage. That is when we found the counter-protesters.
Calling them counter-protesters might not be accurate, I don’t know what they were or why they were there. I don’t know who they were trying to scare or upset. I don’t know whether they were there on their own ambitions or whether they were paid by some larger organization, though my money is on the latter. But they were there, and they weren’t going anywhere.
At first I didn’t see them. In fact I stepped right past them and didn’t even notice their signs, as I was fixated on trying to get closer to the stage and by this time of the day was ignorant to signs above my head. It wasn’t until Beth and Jerimiah made eyes at each other and Beth said, “They are trying to cover up their signs” that I looked over. There was a circle of women standing in front of a young man. They had him surrounded and they were holding their signs up above their heads, ushering people around him. I stepped around Jerimiah to get a better view. That’s when I saw the man’s sign.
It was a graphic depiction of a “late-term abortion”. Graphic in the sense that it was made to conjure up a disgusting scene of a dead baby, supposedly at five months gestation, outside of its mother’s body, cut up in many parts and covered in blood. Of course it was a depiction. It was not an actual baby, but a doll made to look like one. On the other side of the sign was what appeared to be a dead woman. It was all very morose. I spun back around trying to again focus on the stage, but I could not get that image out of my mind, which I what I assume they wanted.
Within a couple of minutes I found myself standing in front of the man, my signs held up above my head, giving the other women in the group a reprise from the sign holding. Beth was next to me holding her signs and Jerimiah was across from us blocking the signs of a young woman who had popped up. I’m not sure how long we stood there, but it felt like half an hour or so. At one point I lowered may sign and another woman took over for me, so I could take a picture of Jerimiah across from me. Another image I wanted seared into my brain for later.
It wasn’t long before I overheard a discussion behind me. Another young woman had shown up, anti-abortion signs in hand, to spew ignorance at the crowd. Some marchers had stopped to try to talk to her. It sounded like a civil discussion. No one was yelling, no one was even raising their voice. The young woman was talking about science. About how babies are made at conception. About how they feel pain during an abortion. About how babies are “sawed into pieces” to get them to come out.
I stepped in. I didn’t plan to. My body sort of just moved over to her. I knew as I was walking that I shouldn’t do it. I felt the emotion rising up in me. I felt my head getting hot, giving me this sort of groggy feeling. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the cold, or the steam forming at the corners of my eyes, but I walked up and I told her Lydia’s story. I started with, “I gave birth to a dead baby.” The crowd of women went silent and all their eyes turned to me, the young anti-abortionist as well. They listened intently. They listened to me describe the chromosomal disorder. They listened to be explain the choice I had. The one I had because abortion is legal. They listened to me say her name, over and over again. Lydia. Lydia. Lydia.
Then when I was finished. When the tears were streaming down my face, Evangeline, the woman who was holding the disgusting sign said, “I’m sorry that happened to you, but that is different.” I wanted to scream at her. IT IS NOT DIFFERENT. But I didn’t. Eventually I walked away. I felt beaten down. I felt abused and assaulted. Even now today, I am not sure why.
Later that night I wasn’t so cordial with the crew. We ended up all meeting again at our AirBnB. I got to hear Jackson tell me all about the big cinnamon rolls, and listen to the kids run around upstairs playing Harry Potter and Monopoly and recounting the fun they had that day. I lay in my room, listening the talking and the laughing and the love being passed around the table. Everyone came to check on me. Beth and Meredith offered encouragement, you’re not alone, we are here if you want to talk. Jerimiah offered his love. His strength. His solidarity. After all, we had went through it together. Always together.
I eventually drifted off to sleep that night with horrific images in my mind, but I dreamed about my daughter. About the women I had met that day. About the women I have come to know. Come to call my friends. About all the daughters and all the women and all the lives that were lost, are lost. All the women I marched for.
It’s been a few days of processing for me. And I’m still working through my experience, but so far there is one thing I am sure about. I am so happy that I was able to be part of the Women’s March. I am so happy that I was able to use my voice for those who cannot. I am so happy that I stood with my husband and son by my side. That Jackson saw a strength in his mommy that he may have forgotten existed. That he saw his Daddy triumphantly helping women. That he understands what our powers can be used for. I am so happy that I stood alongside friends that I did. Women of caliber like those with me that day. I am so happy to have those women in my life. In my heart.
I am so happy to think that my daughter knows what I do, how I share her story, how I speak of her and about her, is to remember her. To better the lives of all girls and women, to keep her present always in this world and in my heart. I am so happy to have been on the right side of history. To have walked the walk many before us have walked. To have done my part, as tiny and as insignificant as it seems, I know in my heart that it made a difference for someone. And that will carry me for many more years.
I’ll leave you with this thought: As women we can’t allow the world to change us, to rearrange us, to divide us, or to deride us. We have to act responsibly and respectively toward one another if we are to get anywhere. We have to lift each other up, step on the backs of those who first carried us, then become the backs for the younger generations to hoist theirselves on top of. We are part of a fold like no other. And we must welcome each other with open arms, open minds, and open hearts.
Ps… Below is our march song. 🙂 Enjoy.