By Paula Volos
You know what they say: The rise of a woman is equivalent to the rise of a nation. If you were one of the many who believed that women hitting the streets in order to fight and stand up for morality, basic human rights, and equality was a thing left in the 1980s, you’ve been proved wrong. Very wrong. And if you were one of the many others who expected a new wave of feminism to strike at any time, well- let’s just say- you were right.
Rewind to the night of Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. The unexpected occurred, and besides the lack of sleep that the majority of the almost 66 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton had to endure, the widest range of emotions was felt by all. From confusion, rage, apprehension, despair, and grief, to “Hold on, I’m packing my life away, and moving to Canada”- we felt it all, no trying to deny it. He belittled, insulted, criticized, showed sexism, and privilege at every opportunity, and repeated his desire to take our rights away from us. We mourned, we ranted, we feared for our future, we tried to understand, we accepted the results, and then we decided to get to work. It was our time to crusade against the misogyny that we were exposed to during his entire presidential campaign.
On January 21st, 2017- a day after the inauguration, when Donald Trump officially became the 45th president of the United States- millions of women worldwide left their homes, and took over the streets of major cities to attend what will go down in history as the famous Women’s March.
If you know me, you know that I’m not a morning person, and it should definitely come as a surprise that I woke up at 8am- completely on my own- that day. Call it excitement, anticipation, impatience, or whatever you want- point is, I somehow managed to wake up and get ready to head out to the streets of Manhattan, early in the morning. Washington D.C, where the main Women’s March took place, is a little too far away, so I decided that the sister March on NYC would suffice. After all, it only matters that you show up no matter the place, right? It only matters that you disregard everyone’s critical comments which try to dissuade you from doing exactly what you think is essential for maintaining society’s morality, right?
I was expecting my best friend to come over so we could leave together. Just as planned, she showed up at 9:30am at my door with a huge, empty, white banner that just called for us to write something on it. After days of brainstorming alone for something clever, expressive, and touching to put up on our sign, neither one of us came up with anything that we both liked. There was too little space to write down everything we thought, and felt, so we kept on trying to find something short, and concise. Together, we did it. Both of us sitting on the floor in the middle of the morning, while sipping our iced coffees, and staring at the poster brought the ideal quote to life.
“I am enough. I’ve had enough. Enough is enough.”
We immediately got to work. The poster didn’t come out looking perfect, but it was all we needed to get our point across… All we needed to make our voices heard. We prepared everything, and rushed out the door. I’m pretty sure we both felt a little like Rosa Parks in our very own way (Alright, yes- that might be a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean), so we drove to the subway station quite fast. As soon as we parked, and got out of the car, we bumped into two other girls holding banners, and standing at the side of the street, seemingly waiting for someone else. We all looked at each other, nodded, smiled, and then one of them opened her mouth to say the one thing we all wanted to hear: “See you there”.
With just three words, we all felt a special sense of unity, which is all that day was ultimately about. Fast forward to the moment we stepped on the F train: by that time, we had already seen enough mothers, and daughters, and girls our age holding posters, to be able to paint a picture of what was to come later on. Quite frankly, the subway ride made it all even more apparent. What seemed like the vast majority of New York women were all headed to the city for the same reason that we were, and the pleasure that overcame us cannot be put into words. From posters, to the now-popular Pink Hats, to shirts with different slogans on them- it was all coming together slowly. New York was about to stand up for righteousness, and everyone- those who were attending the march, and those who weren’t- was coming to realize this as the subway approached the Manhattan stop where the majority of people would be getting off.
Saying that the streets were chaotic would be a grand understatement. The entire mid-town section of 2nd Avenue was packed with people of all ages, nationalities, and genders. To be completely honest, I was expecting the Women’s March to be just that: an event attended solely by women. Who would’ve known that men of all different ages would be there to support their wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, mothers, and friends? Who would’ve known that they’d be among the hundreds of thousands of us, chanting for our rights and equality, as fervently as we were?
Getting to a place where we could see what was happening was a little hard- not going to lie. We blended in with one of the numerous crowds, but people were everywhere, and initially, no one was moving. All streets between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue were filled, confusion was everywhere, no one’s phone seemed to be working, police was all around and yet, we refused to let that bring us down. We were there for a reason, and nothing would stop any of us. Slowly but surely, I made my way to 2nd Avenue where I managed to get a better glimpse of what was going on. The crowds extended far beyond my eyesight both to my left, and right, creating a picture in my head that will never fade. In the faint distance, I could hear music…definitely a female empowerment playlist, as the songs ranged from Beyonce’s “Run the World”, to Helen Reddy’s classic, “I Am Woman.”
Eventually, the march began. From 2nd Avenue and approximately 55th Street, we walked all the way down to 42nd Street, crossed over to 5th Avenue, and then walked back up to the Trump Tower, where law enforcement urged us to stop. Everyone there became one; there were no differences in age, nationality, skin color, gender, or class. Everything that the government has been trying to use to turn people against each other vanished, and we all united to stand up for what we believe in. We all united to show the world that we’re not powerless, and that we will fight for what’s ethical.
Chanting was consistent, repeated. “Love- not hate- that’s what makes America great”, “My body, my choice”, “Build a bridge, not a wall”, “The people, united, will never be defeated”… I could go on for hours. There were people solely there to protest against President Trump, but that didn’t seem to be the reason why most people- including myself- were there. We were there to advocate for what is virtuous, and for what society has turned its back on for countless years. We were there to advocate for equal rights, and reproductive rights. We were there to fight against condoning sexual assault, misogyny, bigotry, sexism, and hate. We were there to show that kindness, love, respect, and understanding are much bigger than any person in power will ever be. We were there to show that we will not be apathetic in the face of what was unfolding. The streets were ours, and we used them to our advantage like never before.
Now I know what some might ask, so I’m here to answer it. Is there something from that day that really stood out or struck me, and changed my overall perception of the world? Yes, of course. Definitely. I’m almost 22 years old, and my parents were rather uneasy when I told them about my choice to attend the March. Why? Because they feared for my safety- plain and simple. We live in a world where threats and evil are everywhere and one wrong move or decision could cost you everything. So, to be brave enough to say “I’m going!,” and to actually stick to your statement, and go, are two separate things. I decided to follow what my brain kept telling me was the right thing to do- regardless of the possible consequences I could potentially face along with so many hundreds of thousands of others.
Can you imagine, then, the surprise on my face when I saw young children- both boys and girls- holding their parents’ hands, or even resting in strollers during the March? For a large number of parents, showing their children the goodness that people possess was far more significant than any threats, and we can all agree that this is as admirable as can be. A lot of people say that the education system in our country is nowhere near where it should be, and in quite a few respects, I agree. However, seeing all those children there made me reflect on how educational the march actually was, and how different these kids’ outlook on the world will be one day, compared to that of the others’ whose parents’ made the choice to leave them at home.
Now I say this from the bottom of my heart, and bear with me while I rant about it, because- trust me- this will strike you too. When I first got to the March- during the process of trying to navigate through the havoc that was taking place- my eye caught a young man carrying a boy of no-more than five years old on his shoulders. It was just him, and the boy- presumably his son. No woman was accompanying them, which only made this image more prominent to me. Alright, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m getting to the point of it, I promise. What was so special about this boy was the fact that he was holding up a sign that read, “No means no. Always ask for consent”, all while passionately chanting “Her body, her choice”. If a five-year-old boy who has not yet seen the world around him can understand these notions, why is it so hard for an older man in a blue suit, and red tie who runs our government to do so, too? Why is he not the one advocating for these ideas, as opposed to a young child who is supposed to maintain his innocence for a few more years? Simultaneously, this brought me hope, and gave me confidence that the world may not actually be headed in the disastrous direction many people think it is. It’s possible that young children like that particular boy- whose father clearly taught him the difference between right and wrong- will be the reason why our country’s future may be altered for the better. I may be rather optimistic when it comes to this, but ultimately- at such dire times- this is what we all need: a hint of positivity to help us get through everything we experience on a daily basis, and to inspire us to keep fighting to ameliorate the world and our future.
The March lasted all day- literally- and the feelings that were circulating within all of us by the time we got home are probably the hardest things to put into words. Satisfaction? Unquestionably beyond that. Joy? That’s an overt understatement. Hopeful? Something like that. Like I had done something meaningful- something that was way bigger than me? I think that’s the closest I’ll get to describing it.
The first thing I did as soon as I got home was sit on my couch, and look at the news on the TV, and my phone. It’s one thing to experience something so great first-hand, and it’s a completely different when seeing the media’s coverage of it. What I have to say is that I didn’t truly grasp the size of the crowd that attended the March- not just in New York, but also in the other 49 states, and in major cities worldwide- until I saw footage taken from the helicopters that were constantly flying over us. To this day- two entire months after- I still can’t quite fathom how fascinating the March was. I still can’t quite fathom how lucky I was to be able to live something like this, and, how in a few years from now, I’ll be able to tell my own children about it. Frankly, I still can’t quite fathom how I had the ability to be in such an imperative part of history.
If there’s one thing the Women’s March taught me, is that there’s good in this world. Where there’s will, there’s a way. Seeing so many people come together to create something so incredibly powerful is how I know that it isn’t worth losing our faith in humanity. It isn’t worth giving up because of one man and the decision that millions of Americans made to vote for him.
Unfortunately, we’ll always have to face adverse situations that may be deemed as unfair to certain groups of people. But if the public realizes that the power is in its hands, it can do so much more than it thinks it can. The march didn’t put an end to misogyny, or manage to alter the majority of people’s opinions regarding our rights and place in society, but, in a sense, it did something much greater: it showed the world that we’re not inferior, and that our voices will not be silenced. You don’t have to be a Feminist to believe in equal rights for women- you just need to be a human being with consideration, decency, and morals.
The Women’s March was monumental, but it is only one demonstration of our force and perseverance. As long as certain people choose not to understand that the right to our bodies is completely ours, that condescending and insulting comments are not acceptable, that sexual assault cannot be overlooked, that the glass ceiling must go, and that we deserve equality in all aspects of life- we will be here to show them otherwise.