You’ll Never Walk Alone

Scenes from the Women’s March on Washington

They came from Houston and upstate Michigan, from Greensboro, North Carolina, and Brooklyn. A group of young girls carried a giant banner representing hundreds more people from Kentucky, and a parade of women from New Mexico passed by in yellow sashes. A local TV reporter searched for anyone from Indiana, and I met a trio of James Madison students by way of Los Angeles and Ohio and nearby Fairfax, Virginia. An Irish man whose wife was marching in Dublin talked to a woman whose husband was protesting in Oslo, Norway. They came from York, Pennsylvania; Nashville, Tennessee; the Bay Area; and four Metro stops down, across the Potomac River in Rosslyn. Where they came from didn’t matter so much now that they had all arrived here, at the same time, on the same day.

So many people came to Washington, D.C. on Saturday that the event resembled less of a march and more of an occupation. Independence Avenue was stuffed so tightly that it took three minutes for a woman on the intersection of 9th to reunite with her friends standing maybe only 40 yards away. We marchers were packed so tightly together in such a small space that I heard one high school girl ask her friend if they should crowd surf. “They’ll carry you for a little while, but then they’ll drop you,” her friend advised. More frequently, marchers talked about good places to eat on U Street, took photos of signs, or tried to get within earshot of the speeches. Cell service was hard to come by, but I imagine Tinder was amazing.

Near the stage, a group called the Pussy Hat Project gave out pink knitted hats from across the country. (Mine was 100% acrylic and vegan friendly, made by Laura Martinez of Ventura, California, who attached a note saying that she is a survivor of sexual violence.) An older woman from the Pussy Hat Project used a megaphone to proclaim that these hats were part of a new “sharing economy” and were made with love. “I don’t think anyone from Wall Street is here,” she said, earning chuckles. Soon she handed the megaphone over to anyone who wanted to explain why they were marching. A black woman from Louisiana said she was there for her four sons. “I want to teach them to respect women,” she said. “If they grab any pussies, they better know they’ll grab back,” she went on to applause.

There was no shortage of men marching, although they were probably outnumbered three or four to one. I spotted one sign, held up by a 20-something-year-old man, that read: “I’m here for the ladies.” A female reporter from Circa (I’d never heard of the news site before) asked me on camera why I, a man, was marching and then asked a follow-up question: Would you be willing to cut off your dick for feminism? (My answer didn’t make it into the final video on Circa’s website. Sad!)

As the day went on, the warped gender ratio contributed to a dire bathroom situation. In a move that would have made the North Carolina lawmakers who passed HB2 piss their pants, the men’s bathrooms in L’Enfant Plaza were turned gender-neutral. The line was still so long that people waited for half an hour or more. Next time, when 500,000 descend on Washington to take a stand for women’s rights and denounce Donald Trump, we’ll need more Port-A-Johns.

Marchers were generous with what they had on hand; a woman in a unicorn costume walked around carrying a sign offering free hugs. I thought I saw two women sharing a joint. Although the cramped space could be frustrating at times, the mood was relentlessly upbeat. The Marxists and Socialists handed out their newspapers a block away from where a contingent of middle-aged white woman representing the gun safety group Moms Demand Action shared buttons. A bearded man from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee mentioned Elizabeth Warren and passed around a signup sheet just off the Washington Monument.

As I walked around the March alone, I grew attuned to the other solitary explorers. There was a college-aged woman with a McDonald’s bag and a camera waiting by the Metro station. Another woman got briefly separated from her friends when she went to go pet a dog. Quite a few joggers passed the Capital shortly after 7 a.m. for their morning run, but I saw just a single man, iPhone on his arm, trying to run his way through the crowds around noon. Perhaps he was the one person in the city who didn’t know what was going on, who wasn’t political. But like most people at the March, this mysterious runner was in focus for only a few moments before he faded back into the masses that ran down all directions of the city.

In fact, once I separated from my mom, who was also marching, early in the morning, I didn’t see a single person I knew all day. I kept my eye out for celebrities, and I thought I saw Jessica Chastain at least two or three times, but alas, it’s the red hair that fooled me. My mom had better luck; she stayed near the platform and got within arm’s reach of Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson. Yet the March was hardly about celebrities or speakers. Where I was standing, you couldn’t hear or see either. Instead, I imagined the March was like living in a small town where closeness breeds a certain familiarity. For all the talk by conservatives of liberals being out of touch with “real America,” the March touched upon a tone of coziness and solidarity that wouldn’t have been out of place from another day long ago when a group of citizens took on another greedy real-estate baron in It’s A Wonderful Life. As one protest chant put it nicely: This is what democracy looks like.

Since I wore a Brown sweater, I received all sorts of strange tidbits that had to do with the University. I met a man from Maryland who asked if I followed Brown basketball and then preceded to tell me about 6’9″ freshman David Erebor. Near the White House, I passed a woman who said she graduated in the Class of 2011. I met parents of a Brown alum (“She’s wearing that gray hat over there,” they said), a woman from a South Carolina contingent who said that they were traveling with a Brown student, and a teacher, I think, who mentioned the name of another Brown student, Will Weatherly. I ran into no current Brown students however, although I’m sure, like everyone else, they were there somewhere.

The Women’s March will probably not directly stop Trump’s reign of terror (“It’s been one day, but I’ve already had enough,” someone deadpanned), but the amazing signs we made along the way were surely memorable. Among my favorites were “A million snowflakes make a blizzard,” “Send your dick pics to Trump,” “Eve was framed,” “If I wanted the government in my vagina, I’d fuck a Senator,” “Congress has too many dicks,” “We shall overcomb,” with an orange illustration of Trump’s hair, and one that summed up most of the crowds’ feelings: “There is more to protest than I can fit on this sign.”

Even once we walked down past Independence and around the Washington Monument toward the White House, there wasn’t anything to do but to keep marching. I had to get on the Metro, so I walked west toward Foggy Bottom, where I finally encountered the first Trump supporter I’d seen all day, an older white woman, who asked, to no one in particular: “What about white lives?” Later, on the edge of the station I saw more Trump supporters buying commemorative buttons and other Inauguration gear from vendors. I witnessed no confrontations, no shouting matches, not even any civil debates. These Trump supporters went on to their dinners, or wherever they had to be, and more and more women in pink hats poured into the underground Metro station. So many, in fact, that the Metro estimated it was their second-busiest day ever.

At almost 6 p.m., it was still impossible to get on a train. So, reunited with my mother, we walked farther west to the Watergate Hotel. We found an Italian place to eat dinner and were amazed that the CNN reporter on the TV was talking about Trump and not us. Weren’t we at the center of the world at the moment? The tattooed cashier gave my mom an iced tea. “It’s on the patriarchy,” he said. As a few more marchers found their way to the diner to use the bathroom, I watched men in black suits and women in blue dresses step out of their valet-parked cars, ascending slowly up the adjacent stairs to the Kennedy Center. You already missed tonight’s show, I wanted to tell those people. Come back tomorrow and wear comfier shoes. There will be so many more steps to go!