The 1st Women’s March (L.A, 2017)
This was originally written on Jan. 22, 2017 and posted on Facebook. I’m sharing it now on the eve of the 3rd Women’s March as a reminder of what it felt like to attend the very first one.
The Women’s March today was such a roller coaster of emotions: joy, fear, exhaustion, anger, pride. I feel like this is just a snapshot of the years to come.
My daughter and I left the house at 8am, wearing our pussy hats. (My husband, Pablo, was out of town and my son was too sick with the flu to join us, so I left him at home with a babysitter.)
First, we waited in front of our neighbors’ house, because they’d said they wanted to join us. While we waited, I wrote our phone numbers in sharpie on our arms and quizzed my daughter on all our safety guidelines. I fervently hoped that none of my worst fears would come to pass (losing her, getting teargassed or beaten, getting arrested…)
After ten minutes passed, my neighbors texted me saying they wanted to take the bus to the metro station, which was only about 12 blocks away. I started to get antsy. I was supposed to meet my friends Cristina, Kristy and a bunch of their friends at 9am downtown near Pershing Square. So I told them we were going to walk instead.
“Ok see you downtown!” they texted back.
On our way to the metro, we saw several large groups of people wearing pussy hats and carrying signs. Everyone was smiling and waving at each other. This was really encouraging to me. The mood felt festive. I started to think today might actually be fun.
When we got to the metro station, it was PACKED.
Hundreds of people, again most of them wearing pussy hats and carrying signs. I was grateful I’d bought my TARP metro card beforehand, because the line to buy them was crazy long.
We got to the platform. Watched three trains go by completely PACKED LIKE SARDINES.
Finally, we decided to cross over and take the train going the opposite direction, so we could loop back again on an empty one. As soon as we did this, a bunch of other people decided to do the same thing. We found a seat, but by the next stop our train was also PACKED LIKE SARDINES.
Everyone was laughing and talking, sharing snacks. One lady asked if she could rest her sign on my bag. Naturally, I agreed. It said “Nasty Woman” in big glittery blue letters. My daughter loved it.
Each station we passed had more and more people waiting. Finally, after going past 6 or 7 jam packed stations, our train came to a complete standstill. We waited another 10–15 minutes or so. Then suddenly our train started moving in the opposite direction!
There were so many of us trying to get downtown, they CHANGED OUR TRAIN ROUTE.
But, of course, as soon as the train started moving, my daughter announced, “I have to go poopy!”
Everyone around us laughed. “Uh oh!” said one sympathetic mom. “Can you hold it, honey?” I asked her. She nodded. “I was just joking, mommy. I don’t really have to go!” Since I know these “jokes” are usually for serious, I was still worried.
As we approached Pershing Square, the train conductor told us not to get off, because the station was so crowded that no one could get out. So we waited and got off at the next stop afterwards.
It was now 10am. It had taken us TWO HOURS to get downtown!
When we came up above ground, we were immediately surrounded by thousands of protestors. Helicopters circled the sky. We could hear sirens in the distance. The mood felt a little more ominous. I started to feel worried again.
But suddenly — now that I had internet access again — I was deluged with text messages from all my friends that I had agreed to meet. I felt reassured again. We were all here, a bunch of mamas with babies. It was going to be ok. Still, I told them it was too crowded to find them. I was just going to “go with the flow.”
Speaking of flow, it was urgent we find a bathroom. Luckily, they had a huge row of about 15 porta potties right next to the metro station. It was early in the day, so they were still pretty clean. Of course my daughter insisted she didn’t have to go, but I made her sit on one anyway.
When we emerged, the crowd was even larger. But now it felt festive again, people were smiling and cheering. Everyone was walking in the same direction, so I plunked my daughter in her stroller and followed the crowd.
A group of women started chanting, “You can’t build a wall, your hands are too small!”
When that died down, a new one started: “My body, my choice, my country, my voice!” My daughter liked that one, so she joined in. Everyone around us was delighted by this and a young woman in her 20’s asked if she could video tape her chanting. I said yes.
A few blocks later, people suddenly started telling us, “Turn around!” Apparently Pershing Square was too crowded, so they wanted us to march over to Civic Center instead. So we switched directions and marched back the way we came.
We came to a stop at the corner of 1st and Broadway. No one knew what to do next, so we just stood there. I looked up the hill and saw thousands of more people approaching. I really hoped someone had a plan. Because otherwise it looked like we were about to be stampeded.
But then somehow everyone managed to shift to accommodate the newcomers. We were PACKED LIKE SARDINES. But it was ok.
A woman near us started handing out yellow roses. I asked her if they symbolized something and she explained that the suffragettes used to carry them when they marched. I took two, but my daughter immediately asked me for both. A few minutes later the people around us started giggling and pointing at her. She’d put both of them in her hat, upside down. “She looks like Princess Leia!” someone said.
A man standing near us was carrying a sign that said, “Get your hands off my gay mussy! And my friends’ pussies!” My daughter pointed at it and asked, “Mommy, what does that mean?” Everyone around us laughed: “Good luck with that!” I told her I’d explain when we got home.
Just then we heard someone start to play the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd went wild.
There were speeches, including one by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who vowed to protect the rights of women, immigrants, LGBT, Muslims and POC. Everyone cheered.
After a while, my daughter started getting bored: “I want to go!” The crowd was packed, shoulder to shoulder. It was impossible to move. I told her we’d leave as soon as we could, but that she was going to have to be patient. I fed her some fruit roll-ups and cheese sticks, and played the Which Would You Rather game.
Me: Which would you rather be? A unicorn or a mermaid?
Her: A unicorn!
Me: Really? I thought you loved mermaids more.
Her: Yeah, but unicorns are magical. So I can change into a mermaid any time I want!
Me: Oh, that’s smart. I love it. Still, I think I’d rather be a mermaid.
Her: But Mommy, I thought you wanted to be President!
Me: Sure, but our choices are unicorn or mermaid.
Her: But if you choose the MAGIC unicorn, you can be President any time you want!
Finally, after what felt like hours, the speakers told us they wanted us to clear out, so that the protestors coming from Pershing Square could get in. So everyone started chanting, “March! March! March down Broadway!”
Slowly, gradually, we started to move. At first it felt like we were just shuffling in place. But finally we got moving, and then we were marching for real!
About four blocks later, I heard a familiar voice shout, “Erin!” I looked over and saw my friend Kristy, with her daughter and some friends. What were the odds of finding each other among thousands of people???
We stopped to hug and laugh and share stories of our day.
We stayed for a while, watching the protestors march by. My daughter especially loved the women dressed like “angels.”
By now we were exhausted, so we decided to start heading home again. We said goodbye to Kristy and friends, and started walking south.
The crowd was starting to thin out. Protestors were no longer marching shoulder to shoulder. Piles of signs were lying on the side of the road. But there were also large groups of people playing music, singing, chanting, waving signs.
Several blocks later we arrived at a row of portapotties. I insisted that my daughter and I use them, but this time we had to hold our noses, because the smell was SO FOUL.
We then walked a little further to the metro station. I packed up my daughter’s stroller, hooked it over my shoulder, along with our backpack and bag, then slowly walked down several flights of stairs, along with hundreds of other people, while holding hands with my daughter so I wouldn’t lose her.
Once again, the station was PACKED.
When we finally got to the turnstile, a metro employee told us there weren’t any trains going in our direction. “None at all?” I asked, incredulous. “Not for a while, at least.”
So we turned around and went back upstairs. I unfolded the stroller and started pushing my daughter away from the crowds. I checked to see if there were any Uber cars nearby. Surge pricing was on. I kept walking.
My babysitter texted me, “Are you OK? When are you getting home?” It was already 1:30 and we were supposed to be back by 1pm!
I told her I was looking for an Uber and I’d get home as soon as possible. After walking another 10 blocks, I checked the app again. Surge pricing was now “only” 3x the regular price. I requested a car.
While I was standing there, several other people stopped and did the same thing. Suddenly my corner had become an impromptu taxi stand. Which made it confusing when cars arrived. But finally I found ours.
As luck would have it, my Uber driver had a booster seat built into the back seat of his Volvo! I happily strapped my daughter in, suddenly feeling much less guilty about putting her in a car without a car seat.
Twenty minutes later, we were home. It was now 2:15 pm. We were exhausted and filthy. I immediately gave my daughter a bath, and scrubbed the sharpie from her arm.
As I unpacked our bags, I marveled at the fact that I’d included kerchiefs because I’d been worried about the possibility of getting tear gassed.
I remembered past protests I’d participated in, where my friends were arrested or I witnessed instigators throwing things and getting violent. I thought about every other massive event I’d ever gone to, including rock concerts and the 50th birthday celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge, and how even those (totally positive) events had been scarier, in many ways, because of the unpredictable nature of the crowd.
I realized with surprise that today had been totally peaceful. Not a single act of violence. Not a single arrest.
I logged into Facebook and saw reports that 750,000 people had marched in L.A. And millions more, all around the world.
Suddenly, for the first time in a long while, I felt hopeful.
Originally published at www.facebook.com.