By Grace McEntee, Cove Creek Precinct, Watauga County:
I could have left for Washington from Boone, but I wanted to go with my two sisters, so I drove to Alabama where the three of us boarded Birmingham Bus #2 — completely full of marchers — for the 13-hour trip to D. C. (going back over most of the route I had just come down).
We parked at RFK Stadium, where buses of marchers were pulling in every minute. As we walked toward the march’s starting point, down the sidewalks of residential D.C., drivers passing by tooted their horns, waved, and shouted supportive words. Residents came out, often bringing their young children, to wave and thank us for coming. One woman handed out bags of cookies to us. Not a single person made an unsupportive remark or gesture.
Despite arriving early, we never made it to the pre-march rally, where the speakers were. There were far too many marchers — thousands and thousands of us were backed up into any and every empty street we could find. The overflow crowd took up block after block after block.
The three of us ended up crowded like sardines on a street alongside the National Museum of the American Indian. We stood there, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, for two hours, waiting for the march to begin. There was no place to sit or get indoors on that chilly day. Port-a-john line waits were often an hour long. No food venders were around. As lunchtime came and went, we ate snacks we had in our pockets.
Amazingly, everyone stayed cheerful, patient, and considerate.
The creativity of the signs that marchers brought with them helped keep us in good spirits. Many bore messages supporting our country’s diversity, demands for equality and social justice, or environmental concerns.
Many made their points with a great deal of humor. Among my favorites: “Where do I begin?”; “Resistance is fertile”; “And you thought I was nasty before?”; “Putin played his Trump card”; “A woman’s place is in the Revolution”’; “OMG GOP WTF”; “We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn”; “I can see Russia from the White House”; and “Dear World, we’re sorry.” Pink “pussy hats” abounded.
March time came and passed. Finally, word got to us that the crowd was far too big for the planned march route, and we were to take our part of the march wherever we could. So off we went to streets around the National Mall.
For the next hour or two marchers walked the streets, chanting, showing off our signs, merging at intersections, and winding our way through our country’s capital, often shouting out the powerful reminder: “This is what democracy looks like!”
The lack of police presence was striking. I saw only half a dozen officers other than those directing traffic. The only “incident” I witnessed was when a policeman asked a woman who had shimmied up a light post to come down. “I’m concerned for your safety,” he said. So she came down, with the officer cupping his hands to give her a safe last foothold as she neared the ground.
I also witnessed marcher after marcher thanking the officers directing traffic at pedestrian walkways. Civility abounded. Several officers thanked us for coming. And on the way back to the bus a minister and his parishioners stood by the sidewalk to invite us to use their church restrooms if needed, and to offer us bottles of water.
I had no idea what to expect from the Woman’s March on Washington. Would there be violence? Would the tone be full of bitterness, hate, or despair? None of my worries materialized. Some of the speeches I heard once I got home channeled the anger that many felt during a particularly divisive election, but if I had to pick one word to describe the tone of the day it would be joyful.
There was a palpable optimism and joy in the air — along with a sense of resolve and a newfound confidence that ordinary citizens could find ways to influence government officials, even those with immense wealth and power, to pay attention to the needs and concerns of their constituents. All of us went home knowing there would be many lost skirmishes in the days, months, and years to come, some of them heart-breaking. But all of us also came home with a new sense of purpose, a new commitment to action, and a new network to keep us motivated and organized.