One Message, Many Voices: The Women’s March

By RACHEL BOLTON

Everyone has seen the photos and videos. Thousands of people in cities all over the world, standing up for what they believe in. The sheer number who participated is overwhelming. Even weeks after it happened, the Women’s March is still being talked about.

Maybe you were one of the protesters, or you knew someone who went. I went to my local march in downtown Boston. I’m proud that I went, sending the message that women aren’t going to give the current president an easy time. The stories of that day are just as varied as the people who attended. My story is entirely my own and doesn’t represent everyone’s experiences.

My choice to go was last minute. I followed the Facebook page for the march in Boston, and two days before the start, I made the decision to go. I felt unspeakably dissatisfied with the results of the election. (Don’t worry, I did vote.) I am still amazed that the American people didn’t elect Hillary Clinton.  While I didn’t agree with all of Secretary Clinton’s actions and views, I believe she would have been a capable and intelligent president. She spent her life working for the government in ways that made her, in my opinion, one of the most qualified candidates in history. Instead, America elected a man who has never held a government job and has a verifiable history of outright racism and sexism.

Going to the march would allow me to put my frustration and anger to good use. I didn’t want to be one of those people who merely complains and does nothing about it. Since all good protesters need a sign, my roommate and I cut up a cardboard box for a canvas. My sign was foldable, something that would come in handy the next day.

I put a quote from one of my favorite sci-fi shows, Babylon 5, on my sign:“No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom.” I thought it fitting for everything that has happened since November 8th. 

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Holding my sign at the march. Photo courtesy Rachel Bolton.

I live in Salem, a place known for its history with the infamous Witchcraft Trials. Up in the North Shore of Massachusetts, Salem is about a half hour train ride from Boston. There was no way I was going to try to drive there when I knew the city going to be busy. Since I was taught by my dad to never be late for things, I aimed to leave for Boston two hours before the march started.

When I got to the train station that morning, I expected it would be a little more crowded than usual. It was packed, I could barely find a place to stand. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said they would have more trains available that day, but I overheard two women talking that the trains had been full since several stops ago.

My stomach sank. I didn’t want to miss out on what I knew would be a historic moment. However, the commuter rail did stop and I got onboard when a woman opened the door.

The train car was like a proverbial can of sardines. Luckily, my unwieldy sign folded up, and I tucked it under my arm.  I don’t think anyone else could have fit after the stop in Salem. Despite my claustrophobia, I was impressed to see that so many people wanted to be a part of the march, even piling into an overcrowded train so they would be able to participate.

The most interesting conversation I had that day was with an older woman I stood next to. After apologizing for having to be in her personal bubble, she told me about her and her family’s history of activism. Her mother had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, and she herself had protested the Vietnam War in Washington D.C. She planned to meet up with her son at the march, joking that she wanted to bring her grandson too, but he was three and she thought he was too little to appreciate it.

The starting point of the march in Boston would be Boston Common, a large park in the middle of the city. After I got off the commuter rail, it was just a short subway ride to the park. Luckily this wasn’t as packed but most of the people on the subway with me were also attending the march. The driver of the train guessed where we were going and announced he was rooting for us. Everyone cheered him on for his support.

As soon as I took the elevator out of the station, I immediately felt the energy in the air. I participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in college, but that was much smaller in size. That march had around two hundred people in it, but I could tell that the Women’s March was far beyond that number. I would later find out that 175,000 people attended the Women’s March in Boston.

 I expected it to be both an act of unity after the election and a good starting point for further activism post-inauguration. It was. Already, there were groups of people holding signs and chanting. I met up with my friend, Riley, soon after I arrived. I wanted to have a buddy for safety’s sake, although I’m privileged to say I never felt nervous or concerned for our wellbeing during the march. 

Riley saw my sign, and being a resourceful art student, quickly made her own sign out of markers and a notebook. Holding on to each other so we didn’t get separated, we began to move further into the park.

I thought that the protest would be mostly young white women, but I was happily surprised to see it was not the case. The crowds were diverse in age, race, and gender. Whole families were there – even little kids holding signs of their own. Pink pussy hats were as far as the eye could see. It’s amazing to me that the president’s dreadful comment has been turned into a symbol of solidarity.

One of the most fascinating parts of the day was seeing what people put on their signs. Besides seeing plenty of angry anthropomorphized uteri, the Star Wars theme was a popular choice. Since her death, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia has become a face for women stepping up and leading social justice movements. I also spotted several of Rogue One’s heroine Jyn Erso’s quote, “Rebellions are built on hope.”

According to the woman who organized the march, the organizers expected that twenty-five thousand people would attend. Boston ended up being one of the largest sister marches with a hundred and seventy-five thousand people in the park at Boston Common. I told Riley that if more people showed up, we would need a bigger city to contain the volume.

My spot was too far back to let me see them, but the march had decent microphones for their speakers. The Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, was there to endorse the goals of the marches. Walsh’s speech made me proud to be a resident of Massachusetts. He reminded the crowd that our state has a legacy of being the start of or supporting numerous social movements, from the American Revolution, to abolitionism, and being the first state to legalize gay marriage.

Mayor Walsh hyped up the crowd with his message, readying us for the appearance of Senator Elizabeth Warren. The moment she said hello, all of us marchers started chanting her name. It took a minute or two before it got quiet enough for her to talk.

Senator Warren greeted the women and friends of women of Massachusetts, thanking us for giving her the opportunity to speak. She went on to talk about her disagreements with the policies of the current administration and about how they are not the ideas that will benefit the United States. She said, “We are here! We will not be silent! We will not play dead! We will fight for what we believe in!” The crowd enthusiastically agreed. I knew she was a great speaker, but I was truly impressed with what she said. I sincerely hope that she will run for president in 2020. 

After the speakers finished, Riley and I continued to stand, waiting for the actual marching to begin. Unfortunately, we ended up waiting a long time to move. I stand on my feet all day for my job, so I was used to it. But after nearly three hours in one area I was ready to start walking.

Since the organizers weren’t expecting so many attendees, the marchers moved slowly. In order to get out from the park to the street, everyone had to funnel through one tiny gate. Linking arms, Riley and I started moving forward. Knowing that people were starting to get frustrated with the pace, the organizers asked us to introduce ourselves to the person next to us. We ended up speaking to a Quaker Church group who all came together.

Finally, Riley and I were able to slip through a hole in the gate to get to out of the park and into the march. Residents of the apartment buildings waved rainbow flags overhead. Once we got to the path, things started move faster. It felt nice to stretch my legs. I held my sign up in the air, glad my voice was one of many.

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A small section of attendees. Photo courtesy Riley Cady.

My first exposure to female protesters was the character Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. I remember thinking as a kid that if I was alive back then, I would have been a suffragette too. It is with  a strange mix of annoyance and pride that I can look back and tell my younger self, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance to protest inequality too.”  Like the movements of the past, the world listened. The Women’s March was an undeniable presence in the cites that held it, the news, and on social media.

I was grateful to experience this day, but only thing that I’d do differently would be to bring a water bottle and a snack. After a while, my stomach started to growl.

Besides my superficial problems, the march brought up a lot of intersectional issues that need reflection. Although the uteri signs were humorous, it is important to remember that not all women have uteri and there are also men and gender nonconforming people who do have one. As a cis gender woman, it is easy for me to relate to the imagery, but there are people who are uncomfortable with the portrayal of uteri as an explicitly female trait. 

Then again, women’s reproductive organs have been historically seen as inappropriate or things to be ashamed of. Putting them on a poster shows that uterus-havers aren’t going to let the government dictate what happens to them.

While the crowds were diverse to a degree, there were not as many people of color in attendance relative to the representatively diverse city that is Boston. White women have a history of ignoring or shutting out women of other races in their activism. We also can’t forget that the majority of white women did vote for the republican candidate. My fellow privileged white women and I need to acknowledge that history and make sure we are making space for and supporting the women of color around us.

Because the majority of marchers were white, and because I was in a liberal part of the U.S. there wasn’t a fear of being harassed for protesting. This will not always be the case for other marches or other minority marchers, especially if they are about more controversial issues or have a majority of non-white protesters.  The protests at Standing Rock are an example of this. 

It’s incredibly inspiring that the Women’s March globally was a success, all of us have to remember that this is just the beginning. We can’t sit back now and congratulate ourselves for participating. With regards to myself, going to the march inspired me to not be a passive activist. I have to be out here, visibly supporting the causes I believe in. I can’t just sit back and share articles on Facebook and think I’ve done enough.

As the new administration continues, we all have to take care of each other, no matter what our age, race, sexual or gender identity, or national origin. Like the march, and like Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, we are stronger together.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “One Message, Many Voices: The Women’s March

  1. Great read Rachel. So proud of how you have grown into a thoughtful, active young women. Good for you and our world. Your past neighbor Laraine Yager.

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