This is a guest post by my friend Vivian Lewin, who went to the Women's March in Washington last weekend, traveling from Montreal to a friend's house in Pennsylvania by car and then to D.C. Vivian and I met more than ten years ago through Christ Church Cathedral, and quickly realized we had much in common - being American, being writers and readers, loving textiles and sewing for just a few. She is a veteran of many marches, and we both wanted to share her experience and perspective here.
At 5:30 a.m. on January 21, 2017, the parking lot of Harrisburg Area Community College was already filling up when we arrived: Five people—two living nearby, two from Poughkeepsie, one from Montreal. We had all slept in Camp Hill, gotten up at four, eaten breakfast, and brought our lunches and charged-up phones/cameras to board a chartered bus and go to DC. A local woman who uses a walker joined us; the six of us managed to keep together all day.
People kept arriving, forming a long line in the dark. It was chilly, but that’s not what gave me goosebumps. I’m a dual US Canadian citizen and a Florida voter. After having watched the US election by myself on November 20, and having listened to the Inauguration Day coverage in the car alone on my drive from Montreal the day before, it seemed like a miracle to be in the company of like-minded women and men. I thrilled to think how many other parking lots were filling, how many other groups of people were converging on Washington. How many buses rolling through the night—some from Canada. How many friends and relations had sent us off with pink pussyhats (thank you, cassandrabeth!) or prayers or sandwiches. “Take a few steps for me,” one friend wrote, and other emails arrived too. “Be safe.” “My thoughts are with you.” I was there for others, not just anonymous others but carrying the hopes of people I know.
I felt we all shared a resolve that this day be as deeply meaningful as we could make it. Knitting hats, making posters by hand, meditating, praying, reserving hotel rooms or arranging car shares takes forethought and a resolute determination.
We reached DC around 9:30. To get to the actual march we six walked through the enormous parking lot of RFK Stadium—full to capacity with tour buses— to the metro entrance with an elevator. People made way for Bonnie and her walker. The cars were filled with marchers—they applauded Bonnie—and our train took us near the Mall.
Bonnie and her walker: "“I bought this especially for today. It’s supposed to be good for rough terrain and only weighs 13 pounds.”
We emerged to find the street already filled with people. You’ve seen the photos. We only got that overview from the giant screens along the way. Gloria Steinem was talking. We walked towards the unseen stage until the crowd was too thick, then planted ourselves where we could watch a screen, and stood in front of it for hours under a leaden sky. The crowd—each person in it—was as inspiring as the speeches. We photographed each other—friends and strangers alike. The memorable speeches began to blur together.
I was tired. My feet hurt. Cell service was limited and nobody knew whether we would march, or where. One network said the march was cancelled but a security guy said it would go towards the Washington Monument. Slowly, we threaded our way in that direction, single file through the crowd. Eventually, the actual march crawled in that direction, too. I was pretty numb; the day became an endurance exercise. When an officer in a police car said we were over a million, I told my friends and one of them started to cry. Yes indeed, it was all worth it! I told random strangers (not really strangers any more) as they passed, just to see the joy on their faces. We sat on the curb to rest as the crowd poured past on their way to the Ellipse. “What does democracy look like?” one fellow called and the crowd bellowed back “THIS is what democracy looks like.” Nobody wanted to stop that chant.
My decision, early on, to go to Washington felt personal, stubborn, even helpless. What I could write or do that would be more useful? Was it a kind of pilgrimage? I’d say, in retrospect, that I went to witness my resolve. There’s a prophetic tradition of doing acts that seem absurd—that put the lie to worldly power. Amazing to experience such an act manifested in the sea of people who had, together, come.
There is much work to do. I’ve marched in other “protests” that felt angry, or giddy, or triumphant. I didn’t feel that way on Saturday. This is one for the long haul. As James Louder wrote this morning, “The enormities of Trump’s first week are so enormous and so diverse, so wantonly and widely destructive that the mind boggles before any attempt of analysis…”. So it’s good to hold on to the memory of this day. I know that my experience will keep me keeping on. (See also “Activism 101, and Regular Life” in the Cassandra Pages)
Vivian Lewin is a Montreal writer who grew up in Pennsylvania. She attended Oberlin (AB honors English) and the University of Florida (MFA creative writing). She is a dual citizen of Canada and the US, and is a Florida voter. Vivian has made poems and quilts during the course of her life and has taught quilting; now she is a spiritual director and Lay Reader in the Anglican church and also works with a Healing Pathway group.