On January 21, 2017, I marched in the Women’s March at Washington D.C., and I came back from the experience rejuvenated, inspired, and hopeful for the tough years ahead.
For me, the march began when I picked up my poster and stepped out the door of my hotel room. Every door I walked by in the hallway was a potential threat; every person I walked by was a possible assailant. Being an Asian woman, I am always scanning every room I walk into for the most dangerous person and deriding myself when I let my guard down. But in the storm that has always been raging around me, I understood that my protest poster was a lightning rod.
When we arrived the night before, the hotel lobby was full of people who were celebrating that day’s inauguration festivities, swishing around in elaborate and opulant gowns or sporting a red cap with that slogan of racism veiled as patriotism. There were plenty of people who would hate Women’s March protesters there.
The day of the March, the front lobby was filled instead with knitted pink hats, and a middle aged white woman squealed “YAY!” when she saw us file out of the elevator with our signs. I gave her a muted smile, although a high-five may have been more effective for the cause. Why was I restrained? Because I was bracing for an attack.
My companions and I had already agreed that if any one of us was attacked that day, despite having all been trained in some form of martial arts, we would not come to each other’s rescue. Instead, we would video record the attack. In preparation for this day, we studied pictures of the Civil Rights Movement and embraced the nonviolent approach that the Women’s March held as a core value.
It broke my heart to think that I may have to watch someone I cared about be beaten, maybe killed that day. It broke my heart to think someone who cared about me would have to see me be beaten, maybe killed right in front of them. John Lewis’ skull was fractured during a march. Marching black children were attacked by police dogs. I couldn’t expect this to be the Lilith Fair of my teenage years.
This is why I did not wear the now iconic pink hat.
As we stepped out of the hotel, there were people streaming down every street heading towards the march, like pure mountain spring water that kept merging and merging until it was a roaring waterfall of pink hats. I fought back tears at the sight of it all. Seeing so many of these pink hats filled me with many emotions. I felt solidarity and gratitude that so many were going to be standing with us. I also felt the sting of the lightness it made of the current grave situation.
Would Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks or John Lewis have marched with pink hats? The pictures of the Civil Rights marchers showed them in their Sunday’s best because they were marching to be recognized as human beings, while they were treated as subhuman. The Women’s March was for the same reason, for women and minorities to be treated as human, not subhuman. Though I wanted to wear the pink hat in solidarity and felt it was a strong sign of that unity, as an Asian woman who has struggled my whole life to be taken seriously, I did not have the luxury to participate in this March with such levity.
Arriving at the National Mall, we found it teeming with people. As we added to the ranks and headed to the Women’s March rally point, which was just south of the Capitol Building, we found that we could not get close to it due to the sheer number of people present.
“The March isn’t supposed to be here in the National Mall,” I said absent-mindedly out loud to my companions, knowing they already knew that. It was supposed to be along Independence Ave. which ran parallel south of the Mall. But in the National Mall it was. The main road that was meant for the March was filled to capacity, and the National Mall was filling up completely from the Washington Monument to Congress. Remembering the pictures of the 2008 Inauguration of President Obama and the estimation of 1.5 million attendees at that event, I added, “This is more people than a million people for sure.”
Soon, it got so crowded in the National Mall that we could barely move. Though we could occasionally glimpse the massive TV screens in the distance on Independence Ave, we could not sustain a continuous view of them nor could we hear anything that was being said despite the speeches being amplified by the loud speakers.
The event was incredibly peaceful. For the most part, everyone was extremely polite and considerate, considering we were all becoming wearied and stressed. For four hours we stood, shifting here and there, coagulated in a sea of people, holding up our signs in a semi-static march. Teachers and other education professionals came up to me and took pictures with my sign that read “I MARCH FOR MY STUDENTS”.
As I merged with the masses, what stood out to me was that not only were the participants predominantly FEMALE (roughly about 80%), but they were also predominantly WHITE (roughly 90%). Thus, not only were there relatively very few minority marchers, there were even less Asian Americans in the crowd. My small group significantly upped that count. We were glad we could represent.
Though wishing there were more minority protesters there, imagine how it felt as a minority to hear masses of white demonstraters start chanting the following:
“Black Lives Matter! Trans Lives Matter!”
“Say it loud! Say it clear! Immigrants are welcome here!
Say it loud! Say it clear! Everyone is welcome here!”
“No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!”
“No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”
One white woman came up to me, emotionally exclaiming how she comes from a family of teachers and wanted to hug me for being there before embracing me. Then a young white woman who held up a sign that said “I march for the women who taught me how to march” saw my teacher sign and called out to me “THANK YOU!” as if I had been her teacher. Another young white woman chased me down through the crowd to take a picture with me, explaining to me that she was about to graduate with a degree in school counseling and that she, too, was marching for her students.
There were too many people to march down that actual pre-planned route, so everyone just began a mass march towards the White House from where ever they happened to be, filling up multiple streets on the way there, marching far into the evening for a total of about 10 hours or more on our feet. As my group started on our way, I heard a group of middle aged white women chatting with each other.
“The original feminist movement came from a position of white privilege,” one white woman exclaimed.
“I know! I literally just realized recently that I was benefiting from white privilege! I just didn’t even know that it was happening. I just wasn’t aware of it at all!” her friend responded.
That conversation I overheard made me so incredulous for so many reasons, while at the same time, I was not surprised. When I was just a little girl, my mother very clearly explained to me, “You’re an Asian girl, so you’re going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get anything.” I knew people of privilege often are not aware of that privilege, but it was still jarring to hear a white woman express it so clearly and openly. I know as someone of certain socioeconomic first world privileges, I, too, have to be vigilant not to fall into that trap of ignorance that comes with privilege.
The actions of the white majority at the Women’s March that day had a strong impact on me. Just like Hillary Clinton’s 3 million margin popular vote win, this gave me so much hope. White abolitionists fought slavery throughout the 19th century. White allies marched alongside the black activists and risked their lives on desegregated Freedom Rides down into the abyss of segregation. Though I was prepared to yell “GIVE ME LIBERTY!” in a losing battle, I am heartened by the invaluable support of white allies in this fight for human rights.
Later, when I read and watched news media about the Women’s March, specifically the one in Washington D.C., I noticed the way the protest had be presented to audiences gave the sense that there was more diversity there than there actually was. I know the media was trying to use their limited reporting space to show the participation of different minorities in the March, but this misrepresentation made it seem like it was primarily Minority America against the current White House and Congress, when in fact Majority White America was also throwing a huge number of hats (literally pink ones) into the ring.
I felt that this mis-reporting did the movement an unintended disservice because the simple fact is that the main Women’s March in Washington D.C. was primarily white dominated. This would have sent a strong message to the American people and the world that although many White Americans did in fact vote for the current White House and Congressional majorities, a sizable group of that same demographic is vehemently protesting the current government.
As we got closer and closer to the White House, I heard more and more chants, some that inspired me, some that caused me to chuckle:
“What does democracy sound like? This is what democracy sounds like!
What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!”
“Who’s the majority? We’re the majority!”
“We will not go away! Welcome to your first day!
We will not go away! Welcome to your every day!”
“We need a leader! Not a creepy tweeter!”
In front of the White House, I gazed extra long at a number of white protestors there who held up signs that had variants of this message:
“WHITE SILENCE = WHITE VIOLENCE.”
United we stand. Divided we fall. An attack on one is an attack on all. Democracy is most vibrant when citizens are engaged, and in this nation, on this entire planet, there is no doubt that we surely are stronger together.