Pussy Hats and Promises: Reflecting on the Women's March

**Editor's Note: The Women's March on Washington was a historic occasion, and we are here to open a dialogue about our expectations for the march versus the reality of the event. Here, two of our writers offer their insight based on their experiences at the march. We hope that you will share your thoughts and feelings on the event in the comments of this article or on social media!**

Expectations

Amelia

For the years before I came to Kenyon, I was rather politically inactive. I had opinions, certainly, but in a small, conservative Indiana hometown, I felt like my voice was too small to be heard. When I arrived on campus, though, and witnessed a political community tensely observing—and trying to influence—the election, I saw firsthand the effects of activism. When Trump was elected, I felt the disbelief and discouragement shared by the Kenyon community. As I wrote in an article from last November, I knew that the time to get involved had come.

I had seen the Facebook posts, stemming from Pantsuit Nation into more local groups, announcing and planning marches. Even then, I had a feeling that the Women’s March in DC would leave a mark on the nation. I had no idea how impactful it would be to me personally.

As my friend Abigail and I sat on the bus, waiting to feel it move just an inch forward down Gaskin Avenue, I had the first of many feelings of anticipation that I would experience that weekend. I anticipated an exciting, formative day for my young political career, but also a sweeping, national change. For some reason, I had a premonition that this march would be the start of people like me joining a movement of political activism that would challenge the injustice and bigotry of the Trump presidency.  

Vahni

“Who’s in?”

A few days after the crushing 2016 presidential election, I posted this question along with a link to the Ohio group for the Women’s March on Washington on my Facebook page. While there were initially only a few hundred people interested in the group, I knew that a protest of Donald Trump’s presidency was necessary. I knew that I was not alone in my feelings of anger, defeat, and confusion after the election of a man who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women and called climate change a hoax.

I knew that there were people who would be more vulnerable than I to the kind of hate Trump’s presidency would perpetuate. In fact, they already were. I had watched bleary-eyed for years as black boys in hoodies were shot for merely walking down the street, as my female classmates broke under the weight of their sexual assaults, as my best friend lied about his sexuality for fear of exclusion.

I was tired of watching. I wanted other people to see these horrific injustices and help me to fight them. Luckily, other students at Kenyon felt the same way. Pretty soon, I found myself on an overnight bus to D.C., surrounded by pink pussy hats and handmade protest signs. As I sat on that bus, I wondered if the march would actually help bring about the change this country needs and if it would truly represent the intersectional issues I wanted it to. At the very least, I wished it would restore the hope I had felt eight years earlier when I had journeyed to D.C. for the inauguration of a very different man.

During the March

Amelia

The arrival of the Kenyon buses meant a groggy, anxious breakfast for their passengers. A group of my friends and I decided to locate some of the sites for the march, and before we knew it, we were in the crowd of people who became our fellow marchers. We ended up on Independence Avenue, standing among hundreds of thousands of people in front of one of several huge screens.

Waiting to march, we noticed a few signs that stood out for their wit or originality. One that Vahni and I especially loved was “Shock me Daddy Pence.” Taking in all the signs amid a sea of pink “pussyhats” provided a welcome distraction for the monotony of standing in the same spot for hours, but I want to devote some time to comment on that part of the march: I think the chants of “March, March, March,” over distinguished speakers with diverse viewpoints (among my favorites were Angela Davis and Van Jones) was disrespectful to the marchers. I was one of the many who were tired and sore after four and a half hours of waiting to march, but I recognized that each speaker was chosen for a reason and had a voice in the March’s intersectional dialogue. I felt that it was unrealistic for the protesters to expect perfection from an event of this unprecedented scale.

Despite these convictions, though, I joined the crowd as it turned around in marched in a colossal wave down Independence Avenue toward the Washington Monument. The crowd was so dense that it took several minutes to make a few feet of progress.

I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony of this massive group of women, united in our drive and passion for equality, waiting and waiting and waiting to take the smallest steps forward. I thought of the women who, a hundred years ago, endured harassment and discrimination like we do today, to earn us the vote. I feel that theirs is an experience that the women who “don’t need feminism” (those who have recently taken to Facebook to express their dissatisfaction with our motives) do not understand. We as women were able to protest on Saturday because of the progress of the women who came before us—the same goes for the LGBTQIA+ and Black Lives Matter movements also represented at the march. We still have a long way to go, though, which is why so many of us felt the need to march; it wasn’t just on a whim.

 

Vahni

When we arrived in D.C., the city was covered by a thick layer of gray fog, creating an ominous and uncertain atmosphere. The English student in me immediately saw it as a reflection of Trump’s fledgling presidency.

Dramatic metaphors aside, I felt a lot more optimistic after speaking with my fellow students about why they were marching. While some had very specific reasons for protesting, others laughed uncomfortably as they attempted to make a singular statement about all the miscarriages of justice that spurred them to action. Regardless of their response, I took comfort in the sense of solidarity and support the marchers provided.

Once we joined the actual march, I felt my heart swell with pride as I saw the diversity of people who turned out to support civil rights. While a majority of the people around me were white women, the signs and flags around me demonstrated that there were people of many races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, and classes represented. The signs themselves were incredibly unique, ranging from humorous quips like “Cheeto Voldemort is not my president” to powerful demands to end police brutality against African Americans. The speakers at the march were also diverse. They addressed a variety of issues that affected many different Americans. Among my personal favorites were Kamala Harris, Angela Davis, and Ashley Judd, who read the poem “I Am a Nasty Woman” by Nina Donovan.

After four hours of hearing speakers, we were finally ready to march. I felt empowered as half a million people took to the streets of D.C., drowning out the few counter protesters who held signs that read “BLM are racist thugs.” In that moment, I was able to feel strong in a way I hadn’t since before the election. More than before, I felt the weight of Obama’s plea at his first inauguration: “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

Reflections

Amelia

Ultimately, I left the march with a heightened sense of the anticipation I carried to Washington. Of course, the protest had its flaws. I can’t help but think, though, that it was the first of many steps in mobilizing a public that displayed its apathy during the election. I was glad to hear a message of continued action throughout Saturday. Over and over again, we were told to organize, contact senators, and join together in spreading our message of love overcoming hate.

Our country has a long, tortuous road marking our path to “liberty and justice for all.” Vahni and I have experienced the stronghold on Trump’s America, a place where opinions—and hearts—are seldom changed. The Women’s March on Washington, for many of those citizens, was immature and ineffective. However, I felt a change of heart standing among the hundreds of thousands of fellow marchers in the capital. If there is any time to make my voice heard, I realized, it’s now. And if all of the Americans marching in Washington and across the country felt the same change, then I anticipate an intrepid and indefatigable movement over the next four years.

 

Vahni

I am still skeptical about what the Women’s March on Washington will accomplish. After seeing the trending hashtag #noarrests, I am concerned that many who participated in the march do not understand the implications of the protest. Having zero arrests is not the hallmark of a successful protest, as evidenced by the sit-ins and marches during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Hopefully, the 500,000 people who attended the march in D.C. will do as Michael Moore instructed and make active efforts to change the country’s legal system. I also hope that it will inspire people to have open conversations about intersectional issues that value honesty over unity.

If nothing else, I believe this march restored many people’s faith in the ability of America to overcome hate and prejudice. We certainly have a long way to go, but we have also accomplished so much as a nation. We cannot give up just because of one bigot in office. We still have a voice, and it is important now more than ever to remember that. Personally, I have pledged to start calling my state representative to keep Betty DeVos from being confirmed. I have also decided to work with a women’s shelter nearby to provide comprehensive education for high school students about healthy relationships and sexual health.

These actions, just like this march, may not solve the larger inequalities that plague America, but they are an important first step. I am hopeful that this is the springboard for greater action to come.

 

Image Credit: Amelia Yeager and Vahni Kurra