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5 Things I Learned At The Women’s March On Washington

This weekend, I traveled to our nation’s capital along with fourteen other women from Iowa City to join in the Women’s March on Washington. It took about fourteen hours to get there, but it was totally worth it once we arrived in D.C. and saw the masses of people scattered everywhere on the National Mall, decked out in pink hats and carrying posters. It was an amazing way to spend my weekend, and I’m so excited to tell you what I learned during the trip!

1. Traveling with a bunch of people of all different ages and backgrounds is a ton of fun because everyone brings a different perspective

I’ve been to Washington, D.C. a total of four times now. My first trip there was with my family, and the other two times I was there with youth organizations. Those experiences were very different from this trip because A) I didn’t have that “getting to know you” period with my family (duh!), and B) I was surrounded by other high school students on my second and third trips, so we all had pretty much the same level of experience in the world, which meant that our perspectives tended to be similar. 

By contrast, the women I attended the March with ranged in age from thirteen to seventy-two. Some of us had been to D.C. before. Some hadn’t. A few were practically veteran protestors, while for others this was their very first time at such an event. All of us were feminists, but each one had different reasons for being one due to differing life experiences. It was fun to talk to the other women and learn how being part of a different generation than my own affected their feminist beliefs and practices. For instance, I don’t have a daughter, let alone a granddaughter, so subjects like how one should go about raising a feminist child in the age of an administration already noted for its ill treatment of women were new to me. 

2. Marches (and activism in general) resemble democracy

I have to credit one of the women in my group, Lin Swanson, for opening my eyes up to this! One call-and-response chant we heard often on Saturday went like this: “Show me what democracy looks like… This is what democracy looks like!” Sure, it’s a little corny, but it makes a good point. To quote Lin, both marches and democracy are characterized by being “large, messy, [and] slow,” as well as by “attempting to achieve multiple goals simultaneously and sometimes requiring everyone to stop short and mill around trying to change course.” I loved studying civics in middle school and high school, but this extremely practical analogy said more than just about any of the books I read or videos I watched in all those civics classes. 

3. Intersectional feminism is key

I mean, I already knew this, but it’s always nice to be reminded of this. It’s IMPORTANT to be reminded of this. If your feminism doesn’t support all women, then what does your feminism even stand for? 

After I got home from the March, I saw that a lot of my friends had shared articles that discussed the event through the lens of intersectional feminism. So of course I read them! For example, it’s great that the March was nonviolent and that no one was arrested, but examining why that happened is absolutely critical: Protestors at the March were treated differently than, say, #BlackLivesMatter protestors because the majority of protestors at the Women’s March were white and so tend to be viewed with less suspicion. Sometimes these truths make us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid them. We have to face them head on. 

I highly recommend that you check out the speeches from the March, all of which are available on YouTube. They present a variety of approaches to feminism, including the points of view of biracial women, trans women, sex workers, the children of undocumented immigrants and more. 

4. It’s important to know your limits

I actually left the March early! I marched for about an hour, during which we made it less than a block down the street. (So many people were there that it was hard to move!) I have anxiety, and two of the things that set it off the most are crowds and loud noises. You can imagine how stressed out I felt after being around 500,000 chanting protestors! On top of that, I was exhausted because we’d driven to D.C. overnight, and I have trouble falling asleep in cars. 

So I left the March along with several other members of my group who also felt overwhelmed. And I’m so happy I made that decision! I had participated in the March for a while, which was my goal, but it was time to go. I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I couldn’t handle much more. Trying new things and testing your boundaries is cool, but you know what else is cool? Treating yourself well by not mentally beating yourself up about needing a break or even needing to leave entirely. If you’re at all interested in activism or have already done some activist work, I hope you remember that. It’s perfectly okay to remove yourself from a situation if you’re anxious, exhausted or feel “off” in any other way. It doesn’t mean you’re any less important to the cause you’re fighting for. In fact, I think it makes you a better supporter of that cause because it’s hard to do your best work if you don’t feel your best. 

5. This is only the beginning

We can’t stop here. We have to maintain the momentum of this movement! After the March I also read a number of articles about various social justice movements that initially had massive support but later fizzled out because people became complacent. Of course, as I said in my previous point, everyone needs a break sometimes, but movements don’t run all by themselves. You have to keep showing up. You have to keep doing the work. The Women’s March was the end result of several months of intense planning, but it cannot be the end if we want to achieve anything. If we want to show the country and the world that we won’t stand for discrimination and hatred, it has to be the beginning of a much larger movement.

With that in mind, I encourage you to consider joining 10 Actions / 100 Days, a campaign that aims to get people to take action in (you guessed it!) ten different ways during the first few months of the new administration. It looks like a great way to stay involved!

I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to attend the Women’s March on Washington. Between this March and the hundreds of sister marches that took places in cities and towns all over the world, we made history on January 21, 2017. 

 

Cover photo (The rest of the photos are the author’s own or were taken by other members of her group).

Elizabeth Chesak is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is triple-majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies to prepare for her hybrid dream job of picture book author/National Geographic photojournalist/activist. When not in class, studying, or sleeping, she can usually be found befriending the neighborhood cats.
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