“Show us what democracy looks like!” … “This is what democracy looks like!”
My journey to Washington, D.C., Saturday was like none other I’ve taken in my lifetime. It was an experience that touched my heart and soul, and empowered me to do more.
It has been frustrating coming back from the Women’s March on Washington to see some people attacking those of us who went because they feel it was unnecessary, but for me, it was very necessary. The movement is not just about women’s rights, it is about human rights … the rights of all people — women, men, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and those of all races, genders and beliefs. It was about ensuring people have clean water and a good environment, and access to quality health care and a strong education.
For me, it was a chance to be part of something larger and more important than just my one little corner of the world. To stand up for “Equal Rights 4 All” as the sash I wore at the rally and march read. I want people to “Hear My Voice” as the back of the sash noted.
The trip was enlightening and empowering, and being part of that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Not everyone there supported every cause that was part of the movement, but everyone there agreed and came together in solidarity that we need to continue to be progressive and move forward in our efforts to see that humans have equal rights in our country and around the world.
The trip began at lunchtime Friday as two other ladies and I piled in my car and left Pilot Mountain headed north into Virginia and then east toward Manassas, which sits just west of D.C. About halfway through the trip, we passed two rental RVs with handwritten window notes letting everyone know they were headed to Washington to march.
Then at a rest stop west of Warrenton, we met about 50 women on a charter bus from Cincinnati, Ohio, also headed toward D.C. They each were wearing red and purple heart pins that read “Kind,” and were gracious enough to share extras with us so we could have pins as well. They even gave us two extras to share with others with whom we came into contact.
On Friday night, we spent some time in our hotel room in Manassas making the sashes we would wear to the rally and march, because we wanted to share our messages and be hands-free at the same time. As we made our sashes, we watched the news from inauguration day, the violent protests that erupted into rioting, and I prayed that our event would not be turned into the circus that the Friday protests had become. Rioting gets no one anywhere, it only lessens the original message of the protest, because people are only looking at the damage being done. The organizers of the Women’s March encouraged us to not engage with those who wished to stir up trouble, and if safety seemed to be endangered, to walk away and leave the area. Thankfully, that never became an issue, and even more impressive are the reports that there were no arrests during the Saturday event.
Upon arriving to the Vienna metro station in Fairfax, the feeling was electrifying, it was moving. The parking lots were quickly filling with women, and men, some carrying signs, some wearing pink hats or pink clothing, and all excited for what was coming during the event.
We all squeezed our way onto the metro car, with great expectations of sharing our message, of making our voices heard, of being in unity with one another. My group added a fourth person, a man from Pilot Mountain who drove up to join us … a man who is a Trump supporter, but also is a supporter of women’s rights and wanted to be part of the day and see what messages he could take away from the event.
At the rally, my group chose to see how close to the stage we could get, and so we spent four hours or more squeezed like sardines at the intersection of 4th Street and Independence Avenue, just one block from the main stage. We saw the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia and others walk by the intersection during the event as they spoke with participants in the rally. We had a good view of the first jumbo-tron so we could see the speakers and performers as they addressed the gathering and kept everyone fired up for the causes we stood behind.
Mid-afternoon, many of those at the rally were ready to take to the streets and head toward The Ellipse at the White House, our final destination. So while the rally continued, many began their trek toward Constitution Avenue, chanting phrases like the one at the beginning of my column. Signs carried ranged in topic and message, depending on what the marchers wanted to convey. Yes, some were aimed at the new president, but many were about human rights of various degree and type with no mention of President Trump.
On the metro ride back to the car, we were thanked by people for participating. All in all, it was an incredibly positive and uplifting experience. Whether people agree with what is happening in the nation now or not, it has raised awareness for a number of causes, and has taught us all we need to watch more closely what actions our elected officials are taking and how that will affect people in our country.
As actress Scarlett Johansson said during her time on the stage during the D.C. rally, “An opportunity has presented itself to make real long-term change, not just for future Americans but in the way we view our responsibilities to get involved in and stay active in our communities. … We must stand up for what are our basic human rights and always move forward and never backwards.”
Carmen Perez, executive director for the Gathering of Justice and a national co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, added, “To protect each other we don’t always have to agree … unity of action doesn’t mean we always have to be unanimous in thought.”
Wendy Byerly Wood is editor of The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. She can be reached at 336-258-4035, [email protected] or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.