Marching on Washington: A Voice from the Crowd

An estimated 3.3 million people in cities across the United States marched on January 21, 2017 – – an impressive number to be sure. So it’s a high probability you know of at least someone who did. I know many.
Kate Mason marched on Washington. Here’s Kate’s reflection about the Women’s March on Washington.

Marching on Washington: A Voice from the Crowd
By Kate Mason

I’ve really enjoyed hearing and seeing about people’s experiences at the Women’s March yesterday, and wanted to share some of what I saw in Washington, DC.

My mom and I joined a group of people from Connecticut and took buses down to DC for the day; we left at 1 a.m. early Saturday and got back around 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Our bus parked at RFK Stadium…because Metro stations were already overwhelmed …we walked the three miles to the rally site.

Most yards that we walked past had signs with MLK, Jr. quotations prominently displayed. We never got close enough to see the rally speakers—or even one of the Jumbotrons farther away from the stage—but we got to be part of the crowd.
Being in that crowd, I was touched by the multiple feminisms and messages I saw on display. Many signs were anti-Trump, but I didn’t see one sign or hear one chant disparaging Trump voters. People’s signs talked about immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter and anti-racism, reproductive rights, transgender rights, healthcare, environmental justice, and more. A huge number of signs explicitly referenced intersectionality. This wasn’t only about self-empowerment; these signs and chants exemplified one of the core values of feminism: lifting up others as we rise. I can’t think of a more loving message to share, or a more perfect rebuke to the spiteful, self-promoting rhetoric that the current president often uses.

I was touched by the patience and peacefulness of the protest. Conditions were often uncomfortable, and it was frustrating not to always know where we were going or who was speaking, but people handled it with grace. The most tension I ever saw was in the line for port-o-potties—people waiting an hour or more to pee can get a little grouchy—but even there was camaraderie and cooperation (people offering to hold each other’s signs & bags so that they could get in and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible).

Skeptics may look at the march and ask, “How do you expect this to accomplish anything? You need to come together around a single issue.” I agree that targeting specific issues will be important in the months and years to come, but there was something incredibly powerful in seeing such a diverse coalition of people and goals come together in this one space. And I’d also like folks to remember that moments when social movements make progress—like the 1960s—often see progress on multiple fronts, made possible by different movement groups learning from and supporting one another (think of Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, and other movements of the 1960s and surrounding years). Being strategic and organized about our demands for social change is important, but the claim that we must coalesce around a single goal is a false choice.

Lastly, I was impressed by the work I saw people doing to build coalitions and be better allies. I saw men amplifying and deferring to women’s voices; I saw white people carrying signs for racial justice; I saw citizens marching on behalf of immigrants and undocumented residents; etc. This isn’t to say that everyone did this well, and it isn’t to give privileged folks a “cookie” for being decent. And I’ve heard stories through my social networks about some people who really weren’t good allies, and some folks of color who were excluded and/or talked over. I didn’t personally witness that happening, but I absolutely believe that it did.

Feminism is a work in progress. Social justice is a work in progress. Allyship is a work in progress. Let’s appreciate the good from yesterday, name and improve on what wasn’t good, and remember that our work isn’t done. The marches yesterday demonstrated some very fertile ground for social justice work, and I can’t wait to see what we grow in it.”

Kate Mason is an assistant professor of Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Her areas of scholarly teaching and research are gender, social inequality, health, and the body.

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