** Note: This is the long version of a shorter piece to be published on Girl Museum in the near future **
The day after Inauguration Day, I joined more than 6,000 women, men and children at a march in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. I went to march in Seneca Falls, New York, not far from where I grew up. It’s hard to put into words just how much the march impacted me, and the people around me. Like many around the United States and the world, I am still devastated and furious over the results of the presidential election.
The Women’s March gathered together in all fifty states and over 30 countries, on every continent including Antarctica, to stand together for women’s rights, for human rights, for all of us. Their mission was to send a “bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” In their official mission statement, they state: “We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.” I believe the Women’s March is the beginning of a global movement to defend and advance human rights in the current political climate and beyond.
Since Nov. 8, I’ve run through all the stages of grief, except for the last one — I will never accept this. Not when accepting and internalizing this type of bigotry, racism and misogyny means negatively impacting the lives of young girls and women around the world. When it means a dimmer future for all of us. No thank you.
That being said, I was in a weird headspace Saturday morning before I went to Seneca Falls. I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go. I was excited and I was angry. I was hopeful and I was numb. Basically, I was a mess. I had spent the night before making signs for my grandmother, my sister and I, who were all going together. I used three key quotes that really spoke to me and expressed how my family feels. Hillary Clinton’s “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” Malala Yousafzai’s “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.”
I was tired the morning of the march, and anxious and excited and a million other emotions. But that all began to change the closer we drove to Seneca Falls. Suddenly, at 8:30 in the morning, the roads seemed to be swarming with cars that were full of women in pink hats and signs, obviously heading to the march. I was buoyed by their optimism and their smiles, and we hadn’t even gotten to Seneca Falls yet.
Arriving to the march and taking our places at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park was absolutely inspiring. Slowly, the square my sister and I were standing in was filled with people until we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd. Music was blasting from the loudspeakers, everything from Katy Perry’s Roar to Rachel Platten’s Fight Song to Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up. I sang along with my sister and everyone else in the crowd and was so energized I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better. And then the rally started at 10am and the crowd got even more pumped up.
For photos of the Seneca Falls march, you can look here and here for my own, as well as search the hashtag #WomenMarchSenecaFalls.
It was a very surreal moment. I was standing in the same square where 169 years ago on the same spot, 300 women and men began the fight for women’s rights in the United States. I like to think I don’t cry often, but I was on the verge of happy/frustrated tears all morning. There were many different speakers, but they all came back to the same message: that today is a call to action to be vigilant activists now and especially over the next four years. That all of us are here today making history and we will not be bullied into silence. That message is burned into my brain forever now, like participating in the march itself will be.
One particular speaker at the morning rally, Mary, hit me the hardest. Mary was 101-years-old and born in 1915. One of her earliest memories happened at age five. She told us she remembers dressing in all white with her mother and going to march in the town parade in celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving [most] American women the right to vote. ** Black women didn’t achieve the same until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. **
Starting the march was another experience entirely. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. There was such a sense of joy, love, optimism and hope, and the energy was palpable. My family and I ended the march early, but sat on a nearby bench and watched for 20 minutes until the last of the march had passed us by. As we were leaving, a park ranger said that there was an estimated 6,000-8,000 people in attendance. Local news outlets peg the number at almost 10,000, which is remarkable in and of itself, especially when the town population is around 6,700 people.
Physically being with thousands of other people marching for equality made me feel less alone, and more a part of a wider community. I came away from today feeling hopeful and further resolved to fight in whatever way I can to protect my rights and the rights of my fellow Americans, as well as worldwide.
I’m physically and emotionally exhausted, in a good way, but I can’t stop reading and looking at pictures and coverage of the Women’s March all over the world. I left the March feeling joyous, optimistic about the future and hopeful for the first time in a long time. And when the winds inevitably shift and fear is once again on the forefront of the minds of my fellow humans, I’m going to remember how I felt today. I felt powerful, strong, and a part of something bigger than myself. I saw so many little girls in pink hats carrying signs that said things like “Girls with dreams become women with vision,” “Make America Tolerant Again,” and “Love Trumps Hate.” When so much of the future is right in front of you, how can you not be optimistic about it, no matter how hard things might be for Americans during the next four years and for the world at large?
The Seneca Falls solidarity march was my first time attending an activist rally, and will not be my last. Now more than ever, I am more dedicated to fight for women’s/human/LGBT/POC rights. In the words of Hamilton the musical, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Hopefully I will see much more positive change in my lifetime, but in the meantime, I am going to fight for all of the little girls who I saw at my march today, and for all children. We all are worthy of respect and love and deserve the world. I have to believe that things will get better, in the United States and worldwide, and that we won’t stop progressing toward a better future for the next generation.