10 Incredible Things I Experienced at the Women's March on Washington

On January 21st, around 3.3 million people marched in over 500 U.S. cities to participate in the largest protest this country has seen since the 2003 national protests of the Iraq War. In a recent email update received from the Women’s March team on January 26th, the organizers state that the Women’s March was “the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history,” where an estimated 1.2 million marched in the streets of Washington, D.C. alone. They also claim that “with 5 million people marching globally, January 21st was likely the largest coordinated global protest in world history.”

On January 21st, I participated in my first national (and international) protest. I teamed up with my best friend, her mother, her mother’s friend and her 14-year-old daughter. Together we drove from Boston down to Washington, which took nearly nine hours with traffic and stops, to participate in the life-changing Women’s March on Washington.

I stayed up Thursday night before the trip and racked my brain for an idea to create a powerful sign. I began reading historic accounts of suffragettes from previous decades, researching inspiring quotes from all of my favorite female heroes, and wondered how on earth I could capture my concerns, frustrations, and longing for equality on one 18 inches by 24 inches piece of poster board.

And then it came to me. 

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem encapsulates my beliefs in the most eloquent ways, so it would have been absurd not to take inspiration from her. On one side of my poster, in thick colorful ink, I copied down one of her famous quotes from a talk she delivered on how to change the world in five steps. Steinem said: 

“The best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they’ll know it’s possible.” 

This quote resonated with me as I marched to defend a range of social and political issues, but women’s rights (social, economic, and physical) stood at the forefront for me as a reason to march. And I truly felt a responsibility to march—a strong sense to resist in order to connect efforts of the past and present to protect our future generations.

On Friday morning, we packed up and made the journey down from Massachusetts to Maryland, where we stayed in a hotel near Baltimore. That Saturday morning, we woke up at 5:45 a.m. and traveled into Washington, ready to join our brothers and sisters in the fight for equality. As we entered the city, I soaked in every bit of the movement, from the rally to the march, witnessing amazing acts of human kindness, understanding, and unity.

I curated a list of the 10 incredible things I experienced at the Women’s March on Washington.

1. The comradery on the metro ride before entering the city

Upon our arrival at a metro stop in Silver Springs, a suburb of Washington, I noticed immediately that the metro corridor was lined with women of all ages—and men too!—wearing pink and holding their signs. It was a sight to see, especially since we were only in the suburbs by this point, and this was my first glimpse of the crowd I would soon join.

As we waited for the train, swarms of people filled the platform, all awaiting the same train into the city. We held hands as a group in order to stay together while entering the train, and with each stop, the group multiplied. It seemed as though hundreds of people flooded into our train, and we all began chatting about our anticipation, trying to imagine what we were about to participate in. During this time, we met and spoke with women from Vermont, California, and Rhode Island within our small huddle, excitedly chattering away.

That’s when I began shooting Facebook Live videos, so that I could show my friends how strong the participation numbers were—just on the metro! The car quickly filled and before I knew it, I was smooshed up against a very tall man on one side, bracing an older woman in front of me on the other, all while holding onto my good friend Chloe so we wouldn’t fall forward, even though there was nowhere to fall! As we approached our stop, Chloe and I were buzzing with excitement.

As soon as we got off our stop at Judiciary Square, we could see the overwhelming size of the rest of the crowd pouring out onto the platform. Everywhere we turned, the station was completely packed! Cheering and chanting began to thunder across the metro, the phrase “fired up and ready to go!” echoing all the way through the tunnel. We slowly moved as a mass up the escalators and out of the underground passage. Everywhere I turned, there were people holding signs, flashing smiles, and again, wearing pink.

2. Seeing Washington for the first time as a marcher

This was my first experience in Washington, and as we set out for the streets, all I could do was look around and marvel at the beautiful city that is our nation’s capital. Growing up between Boston and New York City, I expected something very different than from what I saw. It was clean—orderly, even! And with such incredible architecture, too. Approaching the Capitol Building was a humbling sight, and I had to stop and truly internalize where I was in that moment across time. It was remarkable to imagine all the history that had passed through Washington, and to be a part of it on that very day. Right next to the National Mall, where the Inaugural Ceremony of the 45th President had taken place just the day before, the crowd thickened into a sea of pink. And there I was, standing in the very spot where civil rights activists, anti-war activists, feminists and LGBTQ rights advocates had protested for decades, filling the pages of our history books. 

Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue wasn't a part of the coordinators' original plan, but it was an amazing experience. We marched right through the heart of the city, shutting it down as a peaceful collective. We saw the Washington Monument, passed the Capitol Building, the National Mall, heck, we even passed the Trump Hotel, which made for an ironic experience! I cannot wait to return to Washington as a regular tourist (Cherry Blossom Festival, anyone?) but to see it through the eyes of a marcher made my first impression truly special.

3. Marching with my best friend from California as she sported her “Nasty Woman” apparel   

I attended the Women’s March with my best friend Chloe, a senior at the University of Oregon and a California native. I met her while studying abroad together in Italy in 2016, and we instantly connected. Chloe is passionate about politics, and when she mentioned that she and her mother were traveling to the East Coast for the march, it felt like Christmas morning. We hadn’t seen each other since the summer, so this was a special opportunity not only to reunite, but to “dismantle the patriarchy” together! 

Chloe was supposed to land in Boston on Friday, where I would meet her at the airport to then drive down to Washington together along with her mother. However, after a nightmarish experience traveling from coast to coast and experiencing heavy delays (I’m pointing at you, United Airlines!) Chloe’s travel was extended to 24 hours, and she ended up flying into Baltimore to meet us in Maryland rather than in Boston. After our long drive down without Chloe, we were very excited to see her, even though she was fast asleep in the hotel!

The day of the march, Chloe was sporting her “Nasty Woman” t-shirt, along with her “Nasty Woman” beanie that she purchased through the Samantha Bee “Full Frontal” website, where a portion of the proceeds went to the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project for Los Angeles County. She is a huge fan of Samantha Bee and received many compliments for her bold apparel, and not only was it hilarious, but it was totally kick-ass, and I was very proud to call her my best friend that day, and everyday.  

4. Squeezing through the hundreds of thousands of participants to get to the rally stage

Near the Capitol Building, the crowd thickened into an intimidating mass. Everyone was headed to the rally portion of the event, which was stationed near the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. We managed to get around the National Museum of the American Indian and squeeze through a narrow passageway between the walls of the museum and a stone wall bordering a tunnel leading toward an underground garage area. Here, we had to inch through one by one, beneath people who were sitting atop the stone wall, and hop over a few short fenced areas in order to reach the lawn where the rally stage was set. 

After coming around the building, we could see a jumbotron screen next to a large C-SPAN bus, and to the left, the lawn where people were already packed in front of the stage. We found a small clearing in front of the far jumbotron screen where we decided to linger as more people attempted to budge through to this area. Chloe and I became a bit adventurous and nudged our way around this area in order to get some photographs, and to see how far up we could get to the stage. We ended up squeezing our group through the crowd toward the stage, ducking and dodging as best we could. We got a great spot!

Our efforts were well worth it. I saw my hero, Gloria Steinem, deliver a passionate and inspiring speech, along with other favorites such as Scarlett Johansson, who discussed the critical need for extensive women’s healthcare and Planned Parenthood; and Alicia Keys, who led the crowd in singing a portion of “This Girl is On Fire.” I also witnessed the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was especially moving, along with each of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, who delivered some of the most empowering speeches of the day. Inching through the crowds was more than worth it.

5. Being surrounded by a sea of pink (thanks to Pussyhats)!

The Pussyhat project was a huge success, starting off as a meditative craft experiment in the homes of friends Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, who wanted to come up with a symbol of resistance to the Trump presidency. The project caught on, launching a full-blown movement where women across the country were knitting their own Pussyhats, getting the knitting patterns online from the Pussyhat Project’s blog, and registering the handmade hats on the site, as well.

My favorite sight was the men who unabashedly sported the hats and marched in solidarity with their female counterparts. The hats made a powerful statement. Aerial views show the thousands of marchers wearing Pussyhats, fulfilling their purpose as a symbol for women's rights. The hat surpassed expectations; in fact, it has become an icon of third-wave feminism. Although I had serious FOMO during the march, as I didn't participate in knitting or purchasing a Pussyhat, I wore a pink beanie to match the other marchers and join the sea of pink.

6. Seeing the space filled with people of all genders, backgrounds and ages

All of our individual purposes that brought us to the march were united under one main commonality: that we the people of the United States intend to put up a tough fight for equality for members of every community. The term "women’s rights" includes reproductive rights, human rights, immigrant and refugee rights, and civil rights for all races. You cannot care about one without caring about the others, because they are interconnected. It was empowering to show the middle finger to a society that pushes us to focus on shallow matters such as aesthetics, shopping, and dating, and demonstrate that we care about great and salient issues.

We will mobilize, and we will create change, for the future is female.

7. Getting to march down Pennsylvania Avenue *last minute* right up toward the White House.

Originally, the decided map route released on the Women’s March on Washington’s website had marchers follow along side streets, marching next to the National Mall on the less crowded Independence Avenue. 

However, due to the unexpected, overwhelming amount of marchers in attendance, the route was changed last minute, as organizer Tamika Mallory announced a different route around 2:30 p.m. We ended up taking to the streets and marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, a main street in the heart of the city, and marched all the way up to the Ellipse and the gates outside President’s Park. As I previously mentioned, we passed Trump’s hotel too, which was an ironic turn of events. The crowd responded to the sight of his hotel by directing “Shame!” chants at it, which was quite comical.

8. Marching alongside celebrities who acted like everyday citizens

I had the pleasure of seeing many celebrities at the march, some near me, some marching next to me, and some just on the jumbotron. I marched next to Christine Baranski, who is known for playing many roles on television and in films (I noticed her as Leonard’s mom in "The Big Bang Theory"). Then I marched next to a personal favorite actress, Rose Leslie, who depicts one of my most beloved TV characters, and is most notably known for her role on HBO’s "Game of Thrones" as Ygritte, the wildling woman. I privately piggy-backed on someone else’s conversation with her and thanked Christine Baranski for walking as one of us, an everyday citizen. I could only imagine how difficult it must be to risk your safety—and risk taking the spotlight away from the main cause—as a participating celebrity. She was very gracious. I didn’t, however, say anything to Rose Leslie, and since no one was making a scene about her being there, I felt it was best to personally acknowledge she was there (and share the story with others later!) but to respect her space as a citizen participant.

It was a very special reminder that women on all levels of the success totem pole are concerned for our futures, and that they were ready to stand with the public in order to defend their beliefs. However, one celebrity unfairly used her name to her advantage, but I can’t say that I blame her. As we waited in a bathroom “line” (more like a clusterf*ck), Fran Drescher, known from the '90s sitcom "The Nanny," cut the entire line with her two associates, and got to the bathroom without waiting at all. We were all pretty pissed, but hey, I loved the Queen from Flushing, so I made sure to tell her on her way out. 

9. Witnessing the hilarious and inspiring signs.

Honestly, only pictures could do this section justice.

10. The fact that no violence was sighted and no arrests were made of the estimated 1.3 million marchers in Washington, and across the nation.     

Again, this speaks for itself. However, there is an important factor to keep in mind while internalizing this fact. The participants of this march were predominantly female. I know this is obvious, however, this is crucial in understanding how women have set an outstanding precedent for organizing and protesting nonviolently. If there were more men in attendance, might there have been a greater chance for violence to occur and arrests to be made? This is something we can speculate on, but I believe there is no coincidence that the record-breaking Women’s March successfully unfolded nation-wide without any arrests or acts of violence being sighted or reported. We are powerful, yet we remain peaceful. *Sips tea, lookin’ directly at the patriarchy and SMH.*

If you would like to learn more about the Women’s March on Washington, visit the website and join the 10 Actions for the first 100 Days initiative.

Map taken from Women’s March on Washington website and Google Maps.

All photos courtesy of the author.