I went to D.C. on a rally bus, leaving Friday evening, Jan. 20, and riding 13 hours through the night. I’ve taken my kids to Disneyland; I thought I knew crowds. But I’ve never been in the midst of anything like this. We walked for hours, a shuffling zombie sort of walk that was the fastest we could manage — at times, we couldn’t move at all because the crowd was pressed too thickly.
Eventually, we made it to the Capitol Mall and just stood there for a while, in the center, trying to take in the enormity of the crowd. My phone camera entirely failed to capture it — you could gaze down the mall to the Washington Monument on one side, the Capitol on the opposite, the cross streets for blocks and blocks, the steps of the various museums — it was just people, people, people, a sea of exuberant pink-hattedness as far as you could see. It felt unreal.
Over 500,000 in D.C., over 250,000 in Chicago, 100,000 in London — across the world, down to the 30 protesters in Antarctica, millions of people, mostly women, stood up to say that their issues would not be ignored. This was why I went, to be a part of history, to put my body on the line and demand to be counted.
Women marched for reproductive rights, of course, and against sexual violence. For many marchers I talked to, those issues were at the forefront of their minds. But they were also concerned about a host of other issues: health care, domestic abuse, equal pay and glass ceilings, the paucity of women in government office and in so many science and engineering jobs. The marchers were worried about other issues too — my own sign referenced Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, immigrant issues, and science being real — the latter not something I ever thought I’d have to protest about, but here we are. Those may not all be women-specific, but they are absolutely issues that women have strong opinions on, opinions that their legislators are going to have to learn to listen to.
We’re seeing a vast movement being born — people who had perhaps been complacent (myself included), now energized to participate on a level they never had before. I’d done my share of Pride marches, worked as an arts activist to amplify the voices of many, including women and people of color. I had tried to be a good ally to people fighting other social justice battles. But after the election, I joined Oak Park Progressive Women for Action; I hosted community gatherings and sign-making parties for the march and even decided to run for local office.
I’ve been to a village hall meeting about making Oak Park a Welcoming Village to immigrants and was moved to tears by the enthusiastic support of this diverse community. We live in a special place, one that is in many ways already a leader in progressive ideals. Now, I think, a lot more of us are going to get involved to try to make it even better. Whether we’re calling our legislators, writing postcards, or just talking to our neighbors, Oak Parkers (and our neighbors in River Forest, Berwyn, Austin, and elsewhere) are coming together to make our communities as strong as possible.
I hope we can set an example for the nation.
Mary Anne Mohanraj is a UIC English professor, writer, mom, and a candidate for Oak Park’s library board.