This was my first march. I really did not know what to expect. I spent the evening before the march sitting on the basement floor in our house with my sister and our friends painting posters. When we finally got to the march – which was no easy feat because the DC Metro was so overwhelmed with numbers of people, we had to walk – the sheer number of people prevented us from getting close enough to hear any of the speeches. We could not even see the Jumbotrons. I had to wait until I got home to learn what some of the speakers, including people like Gloria Steinem, had to say.
What I did hear and see, however, were the voices and actions of people engaged in peaceful protest. Even in the midst of the crush, people were friendly and civil. The energy was palpable. From the looks of it, people were at this march, born at the grass roots, for many different reasons. Some were there to protest the new administration. Others were there to ensure that their voices were heard on a variety of themes, including reproductive rights, gender equality, immigration, racial equality, and climate change. Homemade signs were everywhere. Frequent chants included: “My body/my choice!”; “This is what democracy looks like!”; and “Women’s rights are human rights!”
What I saw on the ground was inspiring, and what I saw on my social media feeds inspired me, too. My Facebook and Instagram pages had hundreds of pictures of my “sisters” in different parts of the country marching in their hometowns. Even if we might have been at the marches for different reasons and in different locations, we were connected and empowered.
I know that the march has been controversial at some levels – even in my high school. Some question how the march can be successful – as there was not a singular focus. However, I did see a common focus: the need for respect.
Last week in my 10th grade European history course, we focused on the French Revolution. One of the things I learned about was the “march” of October 1789 when more than 7,000 women marched from Paris to Versailles protesting the scarcity and high prices of bread. They had a goal of bringing King Louis XVI back to Paris so that he would be closer and arguably more responsive to the people. They succeeded! The crowd, numbering more than 60,000 people, escorted the royal family back to Paris. Some say that this was a major turning point in the French Revolution.
I don’t know if Saturday was a major turning point. But it was an important reminder of the power people have when they work together. It was also a reminder of the powerful voice women have and the importance of exercising it. When the marchers return to their homes, I hope they remember that the march is not a substitute for long- term action. It’s just the beginning; they need to take action in their local communities. Whether that action is calling their legislators or running for office themselves, it is important.
I am excited to see where this takes us – and I am grateful to the women who organized this march for exposing me to the possibilities of collective action.
By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman (pictured on left in photo above), a 10th grade student in Washington, D.C.