Frances Sheets

A woman in a “pussyhat” holds up a sign illustrating the whole reason for the march.

Frances Sheets , Reporter, Photography Editor

Last Thursday, my mom and I embarked on our pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. We were two excited march goers unsure of what we would find.

What I found is this: my experience at the march was cold, crowded, boring, and wonderful.

But let me start at the beginning.

When I first heard about the Women’s March, I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure if we would go. I have considered myself a feminist from a very young age. In my book, this is simply believing in equal rights for men and women. I think that anyone and everyone can, and should, be a feminist. I wish the entire country had marched. It wasn’t just about women’s rights, it was about not being silenced. It was about upholding science, respecting each other, and respecting both genders.

After weeks of changing plans and working out logistics, my mom and I made a plan and stuck with it. We don’t usually do stuff like this, especially when it means we have to miss school, since my mom is a teacher.

However, the cause was incredibly important to both of us, and we decided we had to be there. Luckily, we have in-laws that live in Columbia, Maryland, which is just outside of Baltimore. They were incredibly willing to open their home to us.

We got there eventually, but our first night on the road was sketchy.

After driving four hours to Columbus, Ohio, my mom and I stopped around midnight to stay for the night. Apparently, we stopped off in exactly the wrong part of town. Cigarette smoke and the smell of mildew wafted out into the parking lot of motel, pushing us away. When we discovered that no one was working the desk, we left in search of a slightly nicer situation.

However, the place we found next made me wish that we had stuck with the original. A middle aged couple greeted us at the night window.

“Smoking or no?” asked the man.

“Definitely not,” my mom and I said in unison.

Yet somehow, our dimly lit room with broken lights and a bed spring covered in sheets wreaked of cigarettes and marijuana.

When we finally got to Maryland, the music/guest room at our in-laws house was much, much nicer, and I felt safe and cared for again after a night of second-hand smoke infused dreams.

We took the train into D.C., because we thought that it would take way too long to drive. (We later discovered that this wasn’t true because we had some friends who drove into the city with little traffic trouble and got there much more quickly than we did.)

Let me start off by saying that I hate winter. Hate it. Anything below 50 degrees is freezing. I was not incredibly pumped to stand outside all day.

As I discovered, this didn’t turn out to be an issue. There were so many people there that it felt pretty warm. The cool breeze ended up feeling nice, and my coat stayed unzipped the entire day. The crowd sort of reminded me of a pack of penguins, the kind you see on Planet Earth, all clumped together for warmth and comfort. We crowded together for the exact same purpose.

I was even less excited about the train than the cold, because even though I love to travel and I love big cities, I have a gripping fear of public transportation, especially elevated trains. Funny, since my dad lives in Chicago and I have spent a lot of time on the L.  

I spent the entire ride smushed against the emergency exit door at the back of the car, one hand hanging onto the handle for dear life (at the same time, trying not to open the door), and the other resting on some unknown sticky substance that was coating the back of the nearest seat.

At every stop, more people tried to board the car. A tall, middle aged man who did not seem to be accompanied by anyone stationed himself in the middle of the car, sticking out of a large mass of mothers with their young children.

He, for some reason, assigned himself the responsibility of telling everyone that no, there was no room left, and they could not board the car.

“We have children here!” he yelled at a woman and two young adults that were trying to (rudely) squish themselves in front of the door. “We have children here! Get off, you’ll have to wait.”

It’s true, the car was packed from wall-to-wall. People don’t naturally like getting that close to other people, though, and we could’ve fit more people on that car.

The people from the train got off that car like their lives depended on it. It was like taking a breath after being underwater. I could lift my arms again, and see more than two feet in front of me. Not for long. Much of the Green Line, the metro we rode, is underground, and so the station was. The dark, cramped feeling of the station added to the restlessness and giddiness of the crowd. To get up to the street, we had to take escalators. This posed a problem, because two of the four escalators broke. Shockingly, this confused people. Troves of people started running back down the escalator, as if  they couldn’t just use them like stairs.

“Just go up!” We all screamed. Finally they did.

Imagine the largest event that you have ever been to. A football game, a concert, or anything else with a large number of people in attendance. Triple that crowd, and it’s still smaller than the crowd in D.C. on Jan. 21.

We stood in the crowd for four hours. Like I said, I hate the cold, but I couldn’t feel it. What I could feel was my feet, my back, and the cramp in my neck. What I could feel was the energy of the people I was touching arms and feet with, and how they felt just as lucky to be there as I was. What I could feel was the pink, wool, eared hat (eloquently named “pussyhats”) that was scratching the top of my ears where my hair didn’t cover. What I could feel was the excitement when Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Keys walked out on stage, and my disappointment when I couldn’t hear what they were saying or see what they were doing.

I spent most of my standing time a few feet in front of two (news?) vans that had been taken over by people. Not inside, but on top of them. The van closest to me was home to a man with a gruff looking beard that I could see, when he stood up, was wearing a dress. He held a small rectangle of cardboard. Etched in pink letter across the front was “Bodily autonomy for the dead, but not for women?”

Next to him sat a young woman who was very friendly. She liked to shout when she saw people with signs she liked, and she especially like to shout when she saw some of her friends. All I thought when I heard her was “millenial,” but she was positive, enthusiastic, and she cheered louder than anyone.

Beside me stood a group of friends who I estimated to be a few years older than me, in college, maybe. In their midst was a tall boy who had a very vintage 90’s look and kept talking about how maybe, if he looked hard enough, he could find his future husband in the crowd.

Around me, as far as I could see, were people, people, people. People wearing pink pussyhats, people chanting together, people chatting with their friends, people standing on tiptoes and straining their necks to see the large jumbotron that was probably on a few hundred feet away, but it felt like it was miles in front of us.

That part was frustrating. The event had been planned out pretty well, and had gotten a lot of attention from celebrities and the media. On my way to the march, I saw pictures of hundreds of women boarding planes together and having singalongs during their flight. One cabin (either Delta or Southwest, but I can’t remember) even lit up their cabin pink for part of the flight to D.C.

However, the city had just put on a presidential inauguration, and there were some licensing issues with the march. The route was too small, there were several thousand more people than expected, and cell service was down before we even got into the city. On top of this, the sound system that was supposed to be broadcasting from the main stage to the jumbotrons broke. A dial up number was provided, but the crowd couldn’t agree on what it was.

Friendly millennial van girl finally found the right one, and yelled it so loud that everyone around us could call the number and try to get audio. So many people ended up calling that they wouldn’t let any more people listen. Our only audio was provided by a woman who had stuck her cell into a megaphone and was holding it above her head. Shockingly, this was not very high quality.

So, we settled on standing and taking in the crowd. I was the tallest out of the three of us, and I would jump up every few minutes to see what I could see.

What I could see was a mass of indiscernible faces stretching from where we were and back, as far as I could see, and front, as far as I could see. It was awe-inspiring, jaw dropping, and slightly nerve-racking. There were so many people.

Now, I don’t know if you have ever stood still for four hours, but it is not how I would want to spend any Saturday. Because of the sheer amount of people there, there was literally not even room for me to spin in a circle or pace a few steps. I stood still, completely, for four hours. My feet, from the soles and all the way through to the top, burned in my poor-arch support Converse. My back cramped up and I don’t think I would have been able to bend over, if I had the room to. My neck hurt even worse than my back, and to be honest, it still hurts a week later. I had barely gotten any sleep the night before, and I considered curling up on the dirt patch I was standing on and taking a nap. I certainly, for a while there, did not feel like a very enthusiastic or proactive citizen.

Things took a turn for the worse when I saw that a nearby traffic light had lost the person standing atop it and was up for grabs, so to speak. I convinced my mom that she should help me fight my way through the crowd and boost me up to the light. I wanted to get a higher vantage point to test out my new camera.

Soon, we were being suffocated by people. The crowd had filled in a lot more than we realized, and we got stuck, squashed by other protesters from all sides. This is when we decided to take things into our own hands, thankfully.

For the last hour the crowd had been screaming, as loud as we could, one word: “MARCH!”

I wasn’t the only one feeling achy and restless. No one could hear us, though. There were thousands of people between us and the main stage.

Finally, we just decided to go for it. Some tall guy took the lead, and yelled at everybody to start walking one way down the nearest street.

We walked down the street, down stone stairs, and into the mall. The huge, white, plastic ground covers were still there from the inauguration, and for a moment they made the overcast day bright.

As we walked towards the next street, we saw a strange bouncing orange figure in a temporary glass security building. One of the women working was jumping up and down, waving her arms, yelling, and grinning at us. She wasn’t allowed to participate, she was on duty. In spirit, though, she was there.

The walking part of the day ended almost as abruptly as it had started, and we again found ourselves stuck in a mass of people, unable to move. After nearly another hour of standing still, we decided our time had come to leave. The screaming baby next to us may have egged that decision on a little bit.

Although much of my time at the march was slightly painful and slightly boring, I don’t think I will ever forget this experience. I could feel, even before I got there, that this would be up there with the most important events of my lifetime. I am still shocked that I got to participate. I felt so, so, so lucky to be there.

My mom, step-aunt, and I rode the metro back into Maryland. It was even more crowded than before, and I was sure that we were going to fall off the track and die. Instead, my mom and I became friends with two very nice old ladies from New York.

That was one of my favorite things. My mom is famously an over-talker and over-sharer, and so I wasn’t surprised when she started chatting with anyone and everyone standing next to us. For once, though, I wasn’t embarrassed. It was so interesting learning everyone else’s stories. I loved to hear how far people had come, and what they were marching for.

After the country’s recent political events (the election, the inauguration, and everything before, after, and in between), I had lost some hope in our country. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, I was devastated by her loss. I desperately wanted there to be a female president, but more than anything, I desperately wanted Trump to lose.

I am still angry that he won, but I have come to accept it. This is our system. We elected the man, and now we have to live with it.

Even so, I think it will be very hard to be a woman under the Trump administration. I do not feel confident that President Trump has a realistic or appropriate view of women. I am afraid of a lot of things, but one huge fear is the entitled, uneducated men that I fear will fill the spot Trump has created for them.

However, this is not what I saw at the march. What I saw was a melting pot of men and women and children, banding together to fight for the one thing that we have been fighting for throughout history: women’s rights. For some people it was about bashing our new commander in chief, but not for me. I was just glad he let it happen.

For me the march was about being “stronger together.” If Trump truly wants to give the government back to the people, these are the people he should be giving it back to. Not democrats, or republicans, or men, or women, but people who are willing to wake up at 5 a.m. to stand in the street for a day just to make a statement. People that will protest and not be discouraged by loss. I am proud that I got to be one of these people, even if just for a day.

I do not know what will come of this, but here is what I hope. I hope that for the next four years, Americans bring change. I hope that there are many more peaceful protests, no matter what they are for. I would rather see standing in solidarity than burning trash cans and broken windows.