DC Diary: holding back tears at the Women’s March on Washington

I was not a fan of all the slogans and chanting – and the pink "pussy hats" were complicated – but hopefully some radical seeds were planted in the minds of the young


Washington, DC – We watched Trump’s inauguration on January 20 from the U.S. border. Our friend was being fingerprinted and interrogated about her visitor’s visa as we watched the television hanging from the ceiling. We tried not to be too loud we’d read the stories of Washington-bound Canadians being denied entry. But our tears, groans and commentary couldn’t always be contained, as was evident every time a U.S. border officer turned up the volume. 

Trump’s voice came through the set -–”We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own” – while border officers in the background called people out by numbers, not names, “Trinidad 1!” 

As Trump spoke of gangs, drugs, the protecting U.S. borders from the “ravages of other countries” and putting America First, we heard officers clapping in agreement. I held back tears and let my eyes roll instead. 

***

There were five of us on our way to the Women’s March on Washington.

We all had similar reasons for wanting to go. Maggie “couldn’t imagine not going.” Mira “would be really disappointed” in herself if she didn’t go.

We piled into a rented car with the jitters: will they let us in? But after a three-hour delay at the border, we were driving and eating snacks not sold on our side of the border.

The march attracted three times as many people as Trump’s inauguration, more than 1 million participants. We woke up Saturday morning and ordered an Uber, knowing the public transit system would be packed. We were right. Washington’s Metro reported the second-busiest day in its history, the first being Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Wherever we went, people were carrying signs and saying hello to each other. It reminded me of when I was a kid in Vancouver and the Canucks were in the playoffs. 

There were marches in cities worldwide, but many, like us, had travelled to DC. We met people from Woodstock, New York, Seattle, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Idaho, Iowa and Ireland. We saw signs carried by other Canadians.

The day was supposed to start with pre-events: musical performances and pre-rally speakers. The plan was to march at 1:15 pm, but 1:15 rolled around and there was nowhere to march. Every street was flooded with people. The organizers had a permit for 200,000. They hadn’t anticipated that this would turn out to be one of the largest days of protest in U.S. history.

Our group separated into two. I stood with mine on the ledge of a small wall. Other marchers found spots on top of trucks and in trees, surveying the crowd like house cats on perches. There were bodies everywhere.

“We shut down the streets, thank you very much!” said one woman.

There were signs and pink hats. For every Black Lives Matter sign there were three more painted with second-wave feminist slogans. 

The pink “pussy hats” were complicated. Part of the Pussyhat Project launched in response to Trump’s “Grab her by the pussy” comments, the knitted and crocheted cat-eared hats are still shared for free online at pussyhatproject.com. The organizers wanted to make the march a “sea of pink hats,” and they succeeded. We saw pink everywhere, and not only pussy hats but people wearing pink crowns, headbands and hijabs. 

I liked the idea of using labour deemed feminine, and thus frivolous, as a statement of power. As the project’s website says, “Knitting and crochet are traditionally women’s crafts, and we want to celebrate these arts.” 

I understood the criticisms of the hats as well. Listen, I love cats, and I was giddy to see these cats everywhere. However, I am uncomfortable with all the attention to female genitalia. I believe in responding to Trump’s rape-culture-infused comments, but I would also like to see feminists step away from the idea of “pussy power,” which is not only casually transphobic but also equates women’s power with their genitalia. We are whole human beings. 

Same goes for using pink, a colour I love almost as much as I love cats. 

I was not a fan of all the slogans and chants either. Some were neat, like those referring to Trump as an all-too-familiar “creepy tweeter!” Others were in support of Hillary Clinton, but I want to escape the idea that if you hate Trump you love Clinton.

The organizers’ Overview & Purpose states that “the Women’s March on Washington is a women-led movement bringing together people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations, disabilities and backgrounds in our nation’s capital on January 21, 2017, to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.” 

Despite this well-meaning ideal, our group knew this would be a march that prioritized the experiences and voices of cis, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied white women. 

With 1 million people, differing politics were inevitable. This was a space that granted opportunities for discussion, and we were happy to plant radical seeds in the minds of the young and liberal, or not. However, there was also space for neo-liberal selfishness to grow, as well as celebrity worship. 

***

When our group reunited, it was as if we’d been at two different marches. My group was excited and awed by the turnout, while those who’d stayed closer to the stage could only watch on-screen footage from cameras set up along the route. 

They heard Angela Davis speak and saw Janelle Monáe perform Hell You Talmbout, a protest song calling out police brutality. She was joined by mothers whose children were killed by gun violence and police: Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Mohamed Bah and Dontre Hamilton. She ended her performance by saying, “This is for my trans brothers and sisters. You are not forgotten. We will continue to fight with you.”

It was a powerful performance, but as activists onstage spoke and others performed, many white feminists in the crowd complained they just wanted to march.

The theory is that celebrities will bring exposure to an event, but I was more interested in the different causes, which were sometimes fighting with each other, than in seeing Amy Schumer.

Women of colour, formerly incarcerated women and trans activists delivered powerful speeches. Six-year-old Sophie Cruz, the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, delivered her speech, about protecting all families with a chain of love, in English and Spanish. “But that’s not going to get on TV because Madonna said the F-word,” offered a friend.

It’s good that right-wingers who showed up to oppose the march were small in number and more ridiculous than threatening. We all agreed that this had been an important moment in history, when, whatever every individual’s intention, the capital of the United States had been shut down. 

And we all agreed that it was a change to be in a space where if a guy grabbed your ass, people would not only have your back, but believe you. 

Marches are tools, not goals. Some people may continue working hard for social justice causes others may never attend such an event again. Some may take advantage of times like these where they can “out” themselves in ways they could never do at family dinners. I may not agree that “Love trumps hate,” since we saw the effectiveness of punching Nazis in the face just a couple of days ago, but I am a fan of making noise.

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