Before I went to the Women’s March, I have to admit I was scared.
I did not grow up in an activist home. I grew up in a “hunker-down” home with monthly fire safety talks. I knew where the hand gun was and how to use it if an intruder threatened my life.
I grew up in a home where the doors were always locked.
This was not all paranoia. Someone did break into my house when I was 12. Fortunately, my mother was at the grocery store that morning and they left the family cat alone (we found her smelling roses in our back yard). But the man who entered our house and stole my $5 allowance, family videos, and the hand gun took more than our possessions. He took my sense of childhood security. I was afraid of shadows and noises outside my window for months, often choosing my parents’ floor over my bed. For awhile, I was convinced someone was trying to get in my room, but we eventually found out it was an armadillo who’d made his home in the bushes by the side of the house. I was so thankful for that guardian armadillo, offering some semblance of security.
I mention all of this to give you a sense of how brave I am (hint: not at all).
My dad messaged me in the days leading up to the march concerned about rioting and arrests. He told me to bring my pepper spray and take care of myself. I steeled myself for the worst case scenario.
But then I arrived to a sea of pink cat hats at the Metro, women handing out Kind bars for sustenance and offering up extra hats to bring back to our loved ones who couldn’t march. The atmosphere was celebratory and open-armed. Like a reunion, or a town festival.
Several stops into our train ride, one of the doors got stuck and we were forced – several hundred of us – to exit the Metro train and stand on the already-full platform. We couldn’t get back on the now-full trains, so we exited the station and pondered next steps. While waiting, we saw cat hat-bedazzled women on city bike shares, breezing through the quiet morning streets and stopping to talk to other marchers at crosswalks. We eventually settled on an overpriced Uber and got the march site. Cheers, signs, laughter. Pink hats everywhere.
One sign read: The last time I marched there was a wall in Berlin.
Friendly march volunteers directed us to jumbotrons as an Indigenous woman began singing a haunting piece, mostly unaccompanied, that sounded to my ears like a new, more inclusive, national anthem.
By 10:30, we could no longer see the road we’d walked in on. The crowds were too dense. We stood behind a mom and her daughter and next to a group of young guys who’d driven over from Nashville, excited to learn.
By 11:00, we were packed like sardines. You couldn’t move without bumping into someone. Incredibly, no one was bothered by this. The counter protesters (the kind wearing “Jesus loves you” sweatshirts and carrying “You’re going to hell” posters) got ahold of a megaphone and started chanting something barely discernible. Nearby marchers countered, calmly and exuberantly, with “Love trumps hate.”
I am so badly trying to find a way to describe for you the serene, utopian calm that washed over me as I stood there among hundreds of thousands of strangers. The paradox of feeling safer here than anywhere else at any other time. At some point in the day, I tried to sum it up for myself and this is what echoed through my head:
I saw a glimpse of paradise today.
I felt God. I felt peace on earth. A long awaited glimpse of the world, perfected. All the prophecies come true.
It wasn’t about the specifics of what was said. It wasn’t about righteous anger. It wasn’t about protest. It was about being present with people on a day that we’d collectively determined we would be our best selves.
I am not naive. I know there were people there who in their regular lives are grumpy, un-self aware, even narcissistic, but we were, maybe for the first time, trying – and succeeding at – practicing what we preach.
The Women’s March showed me what we’re all fighting for, after all.
We’re fighting for a world where people are free to be their best selves.
Where we can put our guards down, knit each other hats, listen to radical ideas without getting defensive, and understand that we are all welcome at the table.
As a scared white woman, I am grateful for being brought into ongoing conversations on immigration, religious freedom, Black lives, and Indigenous rights. I am grateful that I could listen and learn from people I don’t have the opportunity to bump up against in my everyday life.
I am grateful that the voices that told me that I would be unsafe were proven wrong.
There is work to do.
An endless amount of work to do. We can never stop working. I realize that now, that I’ve been letting “good enough” serve as my activism for the bulk of my adult life. I’ve been hiding behind words and my computer screen.
But the community of the Women’s March not only inspired hope in me to press on, it reminded me that strong communities change the world. I am excited to get started writing letters, making phone calls, and paying attention with my fellow Charlottesvillians.
I am ready now.
Here are some resources and articles that helped me get a grip this emotional rollercoaster of a week:
- How to #StayOutraged without losing your mind
- In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.
- Burst your bubble: five conservative articles to read during Trump’s first week
- Perhaps the Largest Protest in U.S. History Was Brought to You by Trump
- Pictures From Women’s Marches on Every Continent
- Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab
- 6 Ways Not To Resist Donald Trump
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.