I attended the Women’s March on Washington D.C. on January 21st. I’m not typically one to do such a thing. I’m an introvert. I don’t generally go for public displays of anything. My idea of a good time almost never involves masses of other people. However, I have for a long time been politically and socially engaged, and after last year’s election I was left in despair. Despair quickly moved to anger, which fortunately moved again to a commitment to fight any injustice that might come. I’ll add, since this is after all a yoga blog, that both yoga and mindfulness meditation are instrumental tools to help me keep my head on straight, so to say, in dealing with all the difficult emotions around our current political climate, and to help me move to a place of calm and peace, as opposed to fear and hopelessness. I recognize not everyone in “the yoga community” has the same political views, but I’d like to think that most of us can agree that kindness, empathy, and compassion are important values in a society. We can approach a fight for these values from a place of fear or a place of calmness, and I think we all know which one will lead to the better outcome.
As soon as I heard about the Women’s March I wanted to go, but also fully expected to “wimp out” and change my mind. After all, it was in January on a Saturday, during my precious ski season. Did I really want to give up a day on the slopes to drive forever and be around a bunch of (probably annoying) people? As the date grew nearer sure enough I started to second guess going, but momentum seemed to be building, and how cool would it be to be part of something like this? One of my intentions for 2017 is to be more brave and step outside my comfort zone. Well this was definitely that.
The first leg of the trip was driving down to my sister’s house in Philadelphia the Friday before. On the way down the NYS thruway I passed a van from Vermont full of women, with “never give up” and “grab back” painted on the side. That’s when I started to get excited. People were mobilizing. I was beginning to have hope that it really would be a big, newsworthy event. The next day we drove from Philly to D.C. There were tons of buses and cars full of mostly women with signs, so we knew where they were headed. The excitement was building. Maybe this really was going to be huge. That was my biggest concern, not that it would get violent, or uncomfortable, but that it would be a bust, with just a few hundred or even a few thousand people. Well, it was so far from a bust. As we all know by now, it was the biggest inauguration related event in the history of our country, and not only that but there were marches in every state and on every continent. Estimates are between 5-7 hundred thousand in D.C. and 3-4 million throughout the country.
Our first indication that it was going to be huge was when we arrived at the metro station in the suburbs of D.C. There were some other groups there, but it was not packed. Then the train arrived. It was so full we could barely get on. In fact, we were almost the last people to get on, only 1 couple with a child managed to squeeze on at the next stop. We were packed into that train car like nothing I’ve ever experienced, literally body pressed to body. At first it wasn’t so bad. A group of people started singing Bohemian Rhapsody, and some of them really could sing. It was fun and a feeling of camaraderie. Then the train kept stopping without explanation. I really had to use my mindfulness practice to not freak out being so packed in with people in a train that was not moving. One lady couldn’t take it. She left her group and got off at the next stop. Finally, the conductor explained the train kept stopping because the stations in D.C. were so full it was taking a long time for people to get off the trains and exit the platform. We were in it now, for better or worse. Finally, we arrived at our station. It felt so good to get off that train, I really didn’t care what else would happen after that. Like they warned, the platform was packed, the streets were packed, and pretty much the rest of the day we were in a sea of people. It was good though, it wasn’t like the train where we were packed body to body. There were people all around but there was room to move for the most part. We made our way to the mall and that was full of people as far as we could see. We heard speeches in the distance but could not get close enough to see or hear anything. Honestly, it got a little boring. Several hours were spent just standing around waiting, and trying to determine what was going on, was there actually going to be any marching. There were people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, families with children and old women in wheelchairs. The energy was so positive. Everyone was really friendly and relaxed. The crowd was cooperative and well behaved. A few times they needed to part the crowd to let an EMS vehicle through and everyone was really organized and efficient in making that happen. Finally, at almost the end of the day we started to march down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. I don’t think this was the original planned route. The word through the crowd was that we were too big for the original route so they had to split us into multiple groups. Anyway, marching down Penn. Ave. was the most fun part of the day. The energy was amazing. Everyone was chanting all the slogans. People on the sidewalks and rooftops of some of the buildings were cheering us on. It really was a feeling of hopefulness and solidarity. We never made it all the way to the White House. Some did, but we were too far back and it got to the point where you could just not pack any more people into that space. That’s ok, though. It was a hugely positive experience. It felt so good to be part of it and help make it as large as it was, merely by adding a body and voice to the many other bodies and voices that made it a record setting event.
The next day driving home I was still feeling really good about having been part of it, but also kept thinking, now what? We did this but nothing has changed. The people in charge of our government right now are not going to change one thing in their agenda based on this march, regardless of how big it was. Truth is, the march was just a symbol, and hopefully a motivator for some who have not been as engaged, to get involved, vote, and take action however possible to ensure we continue to be a just, compassionate, and free society. This is going to mean different things for all of us. Not many of us have the time to be full time activists, and that is fine. After spending much of the past few months obsessively following the news and worrying about the impact of each cabinet pick on their respective department, I’ve decided I better step back and work on myself first. This is not to say I will not stay informed, or take action where I can, but my main focus is to continue to practice mindfulness, to try to be less judgmental, and put kindness and compassion into the world. We have to take care of ourselves first, and by doing that alone we’re making a positive contribution to society.