On Saturday Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump's inauguration, roughly 500,000 women and men flocked to downtown Washington, D.C. in the name of positivity and unity. The Women's March on Washington -- and in many other places in the U.S. and elsewhere on all seven continents -- was also a source of frustration and voices raised against detrimental legislation some have noticed against members of the American population. While it was never advertised as an anti-Trump march, its timing certainly had something to do with a battle many have felt they lost in recent weeks.
"Five hundred thousand" is the number they'll give you as a baseline, so as not to be overzealous in their approximation. Based on the event's Facebook page and some email RSVP's sent out by organizers, the expected number of attendees was 200,000, but it became clear very quickly that far more people had arrived. As a participant, I can tell you that it felt much, much closer to a million.
Before I address the sort of negativity which has inspired me to write this piece, I want to focus on the positive and paint a picture of the inspiring -- and thoroughly peaceful -- scene I and many other were a part of on Saturday.
My family and I had the good fortune of knowing a D.C. resident whose driveway was located just 10 blocks from the Capitol Building. We walked amid thickening groups of women, their children and their allies bundled in scarves and knit pink "pussy hats" (modeled as a double-entendre after cat ears and Trump's "locker room banter"). Just before entering the iron gates of the event area, we stopped at a crowded Lutheran church where activists and clergy members sang spirituals, and we picked up some free coffee and bagels to go. We shook hands and exchanged smiles, and laughed at one another's signs. Our cause seemed, for just a brief moment, a comedic fantasy, a false turn of unfortunate events, a simulation designed to bring us together.
We followed swaths of people to Independence Avenue and, drawing nearer and nearer to the main stage, were faced with security rerouting us: "This avenue is full; you have to go around." Then finally, we were there, squished within what was literally the largest crowd I have ever seen in my life, soon listening to wise words from the likes passionate likes of Gloria Steinem, Janelle Monáe, Scarlett Johansson, Alicia Keys, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and yes, even Michael Moore, bless his sweet, political heart.
And then we marched. From Independence Ave. we followed swaths of people down 3rd Street and past the Reflecting Pool, spilling out onto the National Mall where crowds were momentarily gridlocked as we were funneled through a fence-like enclosure, chanting protest rhymes and cheering again and again, simply because so many of us were from so far away and finding gleeful comradery and home for the future in the company of strangers. Before long we broke loose onto Constitution Ave., traveling eastward, toward the White House.
Our rollicking sea of people moved in one direction, then in many, until 5:00 in the evening when the overcast skies began to definitively darken. We felt joy. Peace. Unity. Resistance without hatred. I witnessed no arguments, no counter protesters and not a single shred of violence or vandalism -- unless you count the mounds of discarded protest signs overflowing from trashcans.
I woke on Sunday to review photos and video I had captured the day before, and scrolled through my social feeds to revel in the sights of friends' experiences in North Carolina, Miami, San Francisco, London, New York and Washington state. It had been a success on so many different levels, an absolutely perfect illustration of what the First Amendment guarantees us: the right of the people to peaceably assemble. While I am well aware that some vandalism took place on Friday night, it is a simple fact that Saturday's event was free of this sort of behavior.
I am sorry to say to you, boys (although you are adults, I feel the term "men" should be reserved for those with better judgment), that this is when I arrived upon your choice of communication. I was aghast. I had not even tuned in to Fox News, which I later learned was combining footage of Friday with reports of Saturday's event; I needed only to turn to Twitter comment feeds to witness the lies you decided to promote.
One of you took to a post of one great woman I follow, echoing a sentiment I have since read numerous times: Where have we, the protesters, been with regard to the human rights women are deprived of in Saudi Arabia, where they cannot vote or even drive? How are we unable to recognize our privilege, and just shut the hell up already? Another arrived on an Instagram post by NPR, announcing that we have "literally nothing" to complain about. Many more of you reduced yourselves to the ultimate form of pettiness, making sarcastic criticisms of our simple, pink hats.
While I respect your right to free speech -- the right which we enjoyed to its fullest extent -- I feel that there is something fundamentally destructive about your violent accusations. And before you remind me that our accusations were violent as well, it is important that we remember that those accusations were a response to specific sources which were completely original themselves -- or, the statements about women Trump made during his campaign and the racist and misogynistic agendas certain conservative lawmakers have been pushing since long before he announced his bid for presidency. How someone can be offended by a sign reading "PUSSY GRABS BACK", when it directly attributed to a man who's just won the presidency, is beyond me.
We cannot just go back and forth. Every conflict can be traced to a distinct source. And if you choose to listen to the women who showed up at this march, if you choose to listen to their reasoning and their experiences and the basic areas of respect they expect from their elected officials and their fellow Americans, you will understand how precisely legitimate their attendance was. Our decision to attend, to Tweet and Instagram our support for one another, clearly does not seek to suggest our dismissal of Saudi women's struggles. Many of us are hardworking Americans just like you; when the opportunity arises to affect change in the land you call home -- and to make history while you're at it -- you take it.
For so many years, women did not write the history books. For a long time, women did not wage the wars. Women did not -- and still have not -- commanded the United States of America. It is not our intention to blame men as a whole for the stunted areas of progress we're facing today. In fact, many brave men were in attendance this past weekend. My point here is that we must continue reminding ourselves that we have not yet achieved equality, and the good news is that we don't have too far to go.
But every time one of you decides to take to Twitter or Facebook to poke holes in our moments of progress just to grab attention, or create a dialogue you feel is necessary, we take a little step backwards. That cannot happen anymore.
So please, to the men I address today, on the internet, who hold unparalleled rage and calculated scrutiny for our work and our vision: I ask you to stop. Many of the things we demanded on Saturday are things that can hardly be debated -- simple things like access to reproductive health resources and equal pay for equal work -- things that you may not be able to imagine because you have never had to fight for them. You may disagree with specific areas or viewpoints expressed at the march, and that's O.K. We don't always have to agree. But to disagree with the concept of the march in the first place is 100% wrong, and if that is the idea you are promoting, you should be ashamed.
The issues brought up at the march wholeheartedly exist; we would not be talking about them otherwise. We are not yet even with you; all we ask is that you lend your ears and your support. We would do the same for you.
I drove home this weekend immersed in an unprecedented cloud of glee, surrounded by promises I made to myself and others with hopes to truly contribute to the causes I care about, and for that reason I say, for the first time ever: Thank you, Donald Trump.