words by Heather Roszczyk, special to The Devil Strip; photos by Shane Wynn
“This is a moment we’re always going to remember,” says Nicole. “He’s being sworn in right now.”
We sit silently, the beat of the windshield wipers clashing with the violin concerto coming from the radio. I stare at the line of traffic in front of us, a steady stream of women ready to raise some hell.
“Turn around! The trains are full! Turn around!”
We continue descending the escalator, fingers crossed. Sure enough, the first train speeds past without stopping. It looks as though every square inch is awash in pink. The crowd on the landing cheers loudly. We wait through four more trains before we finally squeeze on.
Pussy hats are everywhere and I briefly regret turning one down. The male Metro driver is even sporting one. When women behind us ask one of the security guards where his is, he laughs and says, “I don’t think my supervisors would look too kindly on that. But I’m with you!”
The stream of people exiting our train joins others coming from who-knows-where until we reach the ocean of humanity gathered near the mall. There is nowhere to go. Masses of people stretch out in every direction, the mood festive yet determined. We spend the next five hours moving within a two-block area and I will not grasp the enormity of the crowd until hours later when I see the overhead shots.
To be one part in such a massive group is strange. There are moments — hours even — when we cannot see or hear the speakers. We point out clever signs to one another, eavesdrop on and talk to our fellow marchers, take turns backing out of the crush of bodies, finding warmth and bathrooms. We lose each other and find each other over and over again.
The reasons I attended the march are countless.
I’m angry that after years of running solo, safety is still at the top of my concerns every single time I lace up my shoes. Angry that murders of female runners last year scared countless women indoors. And let’s be clear: I’m not afraid of other women. Margaret Atwood once said, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
I’m sad that as I send my young son outside to play, another mother across town is having “The Talk” with her son. The one where she tells him how to survive an encounter with law enforcement. Not because those in law enforcement are bad — I respect those men and women tremendously — but because they’re human, with hundreds of years of implicit bias running through their veins, and because the statistics are stacked against that mother and her son.
I’m disheartened that despite years of progress, women still face a 20 percent pay gap. And that the celebrated record number of female CEOs of the S&P 500 in 2016 was a measly five percent. And that despite women making up 51 percent of the American population, we make up less than 20 percent of the seats in Congress. Oh, and that out of 50 states, only five will be led by female governors.
I’m disgusted that same-sex partners enjoying decades of a loving, committed relationship live in fear of having their marriage stripped away by lawmakers who want to “protect the sanctity of marriage,” while our country elected a man, twice divorced, who has a long history of publicly degrading women and a record of extra-marital affairs.
And yes, there were critics who said that the crowd’s message was too fractured, the reasons for marching were too disparate. Well, that’s because there are just so dang many to choose from.
We stand shoulder to shoulder against the barriers, each clutching a piece of Akron. As we look to Shane Wynn’s camera, an anonymous marcher yells, “Hey! Ohio!” and the joy of being recognized bubbles up and erupts in a laugh, captured forever on film.
That moment, the Pavlovian pleasure of being seen and recognized, stays with me for days, because isn’t that exactly what we were all doing there? Saying “I see you” to the millions of women who are abused, underpaid, devalued, dismissed or otherwise marginalized on a daily basis? I see you, and I stand with you.
On the largest single day of protest in Washington, D.C.’s history, there wasn’t a single arrest. The world carried on — people were born and died, the sun set, and Donald Trump remained President. One of the most powerful signs I saw was one that simply said, “we are watching.”
During our long walk home, I overheard someone lamenting the fact that the experience felt anticlimactic. And while I understand their feeling, in truth, I’m glad. The march didn’t serve as the catharsis I thought it might; I’m still angry. Which is good because there’s still work to do.