Imagine the tales you’d tell if you spoke with someone from each of the Women’s March protests from around the world. So many motivations. So many emotions. So many old friends and new connections. In my case the city was Minnesota’s capital of St. Paul, the crowd neared 100 thousand, and I arrived alone.
Like many of you, I had my own reasons for attending what turned out to be the largest gathering I’ve ever witnessed. You, too, may be wondering how to process your anger over having a president who brags about assaulting women, or your fears about a cabinet that appears ready to remove civic rights.
If you want to find your voice, one of the best ways to do so is to find your people. And so I write this post, not tell you why I marched, but to urge you find your own why. Then, do what it takes to get out of your house and connect with others. This is my story of arriving to a march as one individual, but leaving with connection and support.
It began three days earlier, near the end of a busy week. “Holy crap,” I thought, “I can’t believe the inauguration’s actually happening soon.” I’d planned to attend my local Women’s March–along with a huge percentage of my friends and family–but had been too buried in work to make actual plans.
Flustered, I scanned Twitter for details. It was then that I discovered the Pussyhat Project and went straight to Etsy for a crafty version of my own. (Kimberly of NovaKnowledge in Pennsylvania soon earned my lifelong fondness for her creative genius and fast shipping!)
By the morning of the march, the best I’d scraped together was the vague intent of a previous co-worker. She’d be organizing a group at the college where the march began, but this was hardly specific enough to find her. So, I decided to wing it. My mild unease was trounced by optimism: “If I can’t make a friend out from thousands of like-minded people, something’s wrong, anyway!”
I spent way too long strategizing the proper layers for the 35-degree weather, then headed to St. Paul. Five hours later, after the rally, as I walked the two miles back to where I’d parked, I was filled with joy. “I’m so glad I came alone,” I thought to myself. “Think of what I’d have missed otherwise!” And it’s true. See what happened, then let me know if you agree.
As I looked for parking, the neighborhood streets were packed. Cars and people were coming from all directions. I’d expected as much, so I’d come prepared to walk. I had my hiking boots on, and I’d jammed my tiny purse full of protein bars. I began walking on one side of the street, but after a few minutes decided to cross to the other. Looking back, it was one of those snap decisions that changed the course of my day–not to mention the future of my friendships.
I ended up behind a group of four, who–let’s be honest–were walking a little slow for my taste. A perennially-late type, I have the habit of walking briskly everywhere I go. My instinct was to plow ahead of them, but something held me back. Before long we started to chat. A subtle shift happened about 10 minutes in. Though nobody verbalized it, somehow we’d come to an understanding: Either I’d adopted the group, or they’d adopted me. Instead of a four plus one, we’d become a party of five.
Eventually we neared the college parking lot and heard the roar of an undoubtedly large crowd. I experienced a jolt of pride when we crested the hill and its magnitude was revealed. While I surveyed the scene, I received a tap on the shoulder. One of my new friends handed me a sign and said, “Here take this. I made an extra.” In my hasty non-prep mode, I’d dreamed such a thing might happen, but having it actually occur was more touching than I could’ve imagined.
Once the march started I had more opportunities to marvel at the size of the gathering. The night before I’d seen on Facebook that 27 thousand committed to come. I was worried people would flake, so I was thrilled to see we’d crushed that number. My crew couldn’t sense where we were in the lineup, till we turned a corner and saw hoards of folks crossing the bridge toward the state capitol. At this point we deduced we were about the middle of the pack.
We passed by the state history center and soon reached the capitol. We could hear speeches and cheering, but it took awhile to figure out where the speakers were positioned. I finally spotted a navy awning in the distance. It was inspiring to hear the leaders’ enthusiasm, but I was content to simply look around. Spotting clever signs and a multitude of pink hats was just as exhilarating for me.
Once we found a spot to stand, I began to scope out photo ops. There was plenty of good content, and every person I approached was happy to participate. At one point, while crouching down to compose a shot, I got another tap on the shoulder. I turned to see a woman in a white pom-pommed hat. “I saw that photo you just took,” she said. “What are the chances you could send it to me? My phone just died.”
Delighted to be asked, I agreed. We struck up a conversation, and she impressed me immediately. She told me she was in town for less than 24 hours but had made a point to come to the march. “Heck, yeah!” I thought to myself, knowing I’d have done the exact same thing. I value intention more and more these days, so it felt good to encounter a kindred, stalwart spirit. Speaking of kindred spirits: I just arranged to have coffee next week with with one of my new friends I met at the rally.
So, there you have it: I arrived at the March alone and walked away wrapped in community. I confess I hesitated to write this post, out of fear of seeming too political. But what kind of person writes a blog about finding her voice, then becomes too shy to tell about the rally that may have been part of the largest demonstration in U.S. history? Honestly!
Now, I’d love to hear your stories of the March! Feel free to contribute in the comments.