For a single day, the arteries of the nation’s capital ran pink. Sidewalks and streets and Metro cars pumped currents of pink hats into the heart of Washington, where an agitated sea of women stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting: “NOT MY PRESIDENT!”
“Show me what democracy looks like!” they demanded of each other.
“This is what democracy looks like!” they answered.
It looked smooth and wrinkled, strong and weary, brown and beige, and freckled and fair. It looked teary-eyed and shaken, a little brokenhearted. And it looked angry, defiant, diverse and united.
On Jan. 21, the day of the Women’s March, democracy looked like it was shuddering at the sight of itself. At its numbers and power and the volume of its collective voice, echoing off the national monuments, and at satellite rallies around the country and the world.
Somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million marchers took to the streets in Washington. They listened to Gloria Steinem and Maxine Waters and Madonna and then they took off toward the White House. It was not billed as a protest, but of course it was exactly that. The man now living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue stood for much of what they said they opposed.
The women and their allies came to Washington to emit a primal scream of outrage and opposition. They pledged to resist and rise up and stay woke. But did they?
It’s been a year. It has been a year. A year that confirmed the fears of many of the marchers and battered them with an unceasing onslaught of developments they abhor. Travel ban. Charlottesville. Comey.
We asked six women to look back at what the march meant then, what it means now and whether — in the long moral arc of the universe — it made a difference.
Alexis Frank didn’t realize she was tired. Or that she was hungry. Or that her back ached and feet were sore. None of that registered during the eight hours she was at the March, with her 5-month-old, Eliza, strapped to her chest.
“I just felt so empowered being there,” says the 27-year-old. “Like I was part of something bigger.”
Then she went back home to Rock Hill, S.C., to resume life as a stay-at-home mom to her “two little brown people” — children she sensed she needed to protect and fight for in a new way. “I felt so personally attacked by the election.”
The Army veteran had never conceived of running for office, but after Mick Mulvaney vacated the congressional seat in her home district seat to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, she showed up to a local Democratic Party meeting and said she would consider vying for the open seat. And then, with no experience, no staff, no funds and one slightly stunned husband, she did it.
Frank attracted a handful of volunteers and enough donations to print yard signs. She shook hands and gave speeches at community events and for the first time felt that “people totally trusted what I had to say. And the more I spoke to people, the more people genuinely believed in me.”
She believed, too, and even though she lost in the May primary to a better funded Democrat, that 54-day campaign gave Frank a new sense of purpose. Her husband, who is still in the Army, has requested an assignment in the District, in large part so that Frank can pursue a job on Capitol Hill.
But right now, mostly, there are toys to pick up, shocking headlines to scroll and a gnawing sense of helplessness. “I’ve never suffered with any type of anxiety before, and since I lost I’ve dealt with a lot of different anxieties — that’s hard for me to admit out loud.”
“I just want to get back out there,” she says. “I want to be a part of it. But I can’t right now. So I have to trust that things will be good for me in the future when it’s my time.”
Before the election, Edie Carey’s street in Colorado Springs was lined with signs supporting Trump. And after he won, she felt alone in her despair.
“I’m in Colorado feeling angry and gutted and devastated in a climate where I don’t even feel like I can talk about it,” she recalls. “I felt like I had to go be with amazing, strong women. I felt the need to show up with my body and my voice.”
Carey, a 43-year-old folk singer, showed up with her voice the night before the March, joining Sara Bareilles and others on stage at a Tysons Corner benefit concert for Planned Parenthood. The night ended with a “folk-ified” version of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
The March itself, she says, was magical. “Your body was constantly pressed up against other people, and the humanity and the kindness was just so healing.”
The high lasted about a week. “But then life goes on, and you make your phone calls to senators and you feel like, ‘Am I even getting through to anyone?’ ”
The onslaught of news and drama and baffling presidential tweets kept coming and coming, wearing at her hope. “It’s like the country is in the most toxic boyfriend relationship it’s ever been in with anyone,” says Carey, a mother of two young children. “It’s just horrifying, and you can’t get over the last trauma before there’s another one.”
Carey is beset with guilt that she’s not doing more to protest the Trump administration, but she’s not sure what, exactly, would make a difference. “It feels like this behemoth, and I don’t know what to do and so I’m not doing anything except listening to NPR and getting enraged in my kitchen while I’m washing dishes.”
She has found herself talking back to Trump when his voice comes on the radio. Right after the inauguration she worried about the policies that Trump might enact. “Now,” she says, “I genuinely fear that we may not survive his presidency.”
For Carey, the March was transcendent and she’s so glad she was there. But did it move the needle? Does it matter now? She’s not sure.
“I’m feeling so broken down,” she admits. “Is anything going to ever change?”
It’s not that Cindy Cooper hasn’t tried to find ways to engage after the Women’s March. But a year later, the 62-year-old retiree from Marion, Ohio, admits: “I have not remained invigorated, I have been depressed. There have been a few days when I can’t believe this is happening.”
Cooper — a registered Republican — went to the Women’s March in the District, an experience that she still talks about wistfully one year later. But in the months since, she’s found it difficult to find the right place to channel that energy into action.
Cooper admits that she isn’t a “party person;” instead, she votes for whomever she deems the most qualified candidate. She voted in the 2008 presidential primary for Republican John McCain (R-Ariz.), but in 2016 she voted for Hillary Clinton. She registered as a Republican because she wanted to vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in primaries, but she described herself to The Washington Post as a “bleeding-heart liberal.” And she really doesn’t like Trump.
There aren’t a lot of Republicans like Cooper in her community. Trump received 64 percent of the vote in Marion County in 2016. “I’m kind of awash in people that don’t believe the same way I do,” she says. “I have tried being assertive about it, but I’m not comfortable with the blowback,” she says. The only true ally she’s found is her husband, who, despite being a lifelong Republican, did not vote for Trump.
Cooper has found small ways to get involved in politics. She helped gather signatures for a petition to urge the Ohio legislature to tackle gerrymandering in the state. She wanted to join an anniversary march in Cincinnati this month, but she had to help her daughter move to Denver that day. “I’m so jealous of those who are able to do it again,” she sighed.
She tried out a Democratic club in nearby Columbus, but they were mostly focused on local issues that did not impact her own community, and she just couldn’t get excited. She’s contacted Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) office whenever the Trump administration does something she considers egregious, such as picking Betsy DeVos to run the Education Department, but she doesn’t think this is making a real difference.
With the Women’s March anniversary looming, Cooper finds herself getting a second wind. “I just feel like I have to do something. Like I see this happening, I don’t know what I can do about it, but don’t think I’m not noticing.”
For two days after the election, Angela Marshall didn’t leave her Santa Cruz, Calif., house. She and her husband were sleepless, depressed, “walking around like zombies.”
“Did this happen?” the 53-year-old empty-nester remembers thinking. “Is this a dream?”
The D.C. Women’s March was a day of catharsis. And then, on the plane home, Marshall turned to the friend who’d traveled with her. “What do we do now?” she asked.
Her friend started hosting meetings to write postcards to representatives. Then Marshall did the same. She went to a meeting of a Democratic club and hooked up with Santa Cruz Indivisible. Marshall, who works part-time for a small-town chamber of commerce, told the Indivisible leaders she could devote 20 to 25 hours a week to the group. By June, she was named Indivisible’s director of membership development.
The action helped, but as the summer progressed it was hard to beat back despondency. “It’s like, ‘This has to be the bottom of the barrel.’ Then the next day — ‘No, there’s something lower than the day before,’ ” she says. “But we just said, ‘No, we can’t become complacent. This is not normal.’ ”
In September, Marshall helped organize an event titled ResistFest to showcase the work of Santa Cruz Indivisible and recruit new members. “It was wonderful because we had gone through that valley,” she says.
Every morning, Marshall wakes up and makes five phone calls to representatives. Every night, she turns on Rachel Maddow’s news program on MSNBC and checks Twitter and flips over to Fox News to see what they’re covering. She was a rabid news consumer before the election. But now, she says: “It’s been more obsessive — 24/7. For me, it’s helping. The more information I know, the more power I have to share that information with people who aren’t watching the news.”
As the second year of the administration gets underway, Marshall has found reason to believe her efforts are making a difference. To her, good news has come in the form if indictments in the Russia investigation. “We’ve got the carrot in front of us,” she says. “It’s exciting to see.”
Christina Martinez has been having a lot of important conversations since she attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old single mom from Long Beach, Calif., had never devoted much time to politics, but since January, she can’t stop talking about it.
She’s talked to her girlfriends about the gender pay gap, sexism in the workplace and the #MeToo movement. “There’s so many subjects we didn’t discuss before,” Martinez says. “Now we’re like, ‘How do you feel about it?’ ‘Where do you stand?’ ‘Have you gone through something like this?’ ”
Those conversations inspired her to get an additional professional certificate, which led to a promotion and a raise at the law firm where she works as an office manager.
A post-March conversation with her boyfriend at the time made her realize he didn’t understand why feminism was important to her. She broke up with him.
She joined discussions online, which inspired her to become more informed about political issues that affected women. She signed up for newsletters from Planned Parenthood and started following members of Congress on Facebook.
But of all the conversations Martinez has had since the March, none have been as crucial as the ones she’s had with her 12-year-old daughter, Mia.
Attending the March together “created a lot of dialogue between her and I about how there’s a lot of things that are unfair. But that we’re working toward making it better,” Martinez says.
“I talked to her about the pay gap between women and men, how we do the same jobs as they do but we don’t necessarily get the same pay that they do. I talked to her about how there’s men making decisions about women’s health, and how it’s not really fair because they’re men and they don’t know what we go through [with] our bodies.”
“We as women, we have these struggles, but they were just something we silently struggled with,” Martinez says. “And now, it’s something like, let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss how we feel.”
Before the election, Illinois native Suroor Raheemullah never felt nervous traveling. But in November 2016, hate crimes spiked, and Raheemullah, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, didn’t feel so safe visiting small towns for the manufacturing company where she works.
“My husband said, ‘Look, you can’t let fear take over. You can’t let any person take this away from you,’ ” she says.
That became a guiding principle that led Raheemullah, a 38-year-old mother of three daughters, to organize a bus of mostly Muslim women who traveled from Chicago to Washington for the March.
“We had people randomly coming up to us saying, ‘We love you. Nothing is going to happen to you. We’re here for you,’ ” she remembers. “I can’t tell you what that did for me — when your heart is breaking, but then it’s filled up with love.”
For her, the March was transformative. She had always been an activist within the Chicago Muslim women’s community, but in the past year she’s felt emboldened to fight more stringently for equality and to join forces with other marginalized groups.
“The process is definitely something that transformed me,” she says. “I had confidence before, but there was a newfound confidence. A collective confidence.”
Of course, that confidence was tested soon after she arrived home, with the pronouncement of the travel ban. That brought Raheemullah out to more protests at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
Her confidence was again tested in the fall with the wave of sexual harassment allegations. She posted her own stories and absorbed those of so many others. Until it cracked her open. “I was really triggered, reexperiencing pain,” she says. “I needed to get off social media and take a break and just heal.”
The break is over, but Raheemullah’s fight is not. She sometimes feels despondent, but it’s her memories of the March that comfort and invigorate her. No matter how many headlines the president is dominating, she says, “I know who else is out there.” Those women, those people — with the hats and hugs and the love.
“So while it’s frustrating and it’s hard, it’s like, ‘Okay there’s a light.’ And you see the light. You know there’s a bunch of people around you who also see the same.”