Passing the torch at the Women’s March on Washington

Editor’s note: This was written by Julia Tilton, of of Amherst, a freshman at The Derryfield School in Manchester.

Surrounded by swirling pink crowds chanting “this is what democracy looks like,” hundreds of bodies pressed against mine, it is nearly impossible to take even one step.

A woman shouts from the top of a stoplight, pumping a triumphant fist in the chilly air, and the women around me hoist up their signs. A look of sheer determination lights up their faces.

It is Jan. 21, 2017, one day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. The flags still hang from the Capitol Building, and the bleachers are there, too, but they are hard to pick out with the sheer number of people crowding the National Mall.

Yesterday, the mall was used to celebrate a new leader. Today, the mall is filled to the brim with women from across the United States – and from all over the world – marching to raise awareness about women’s rights. This is the Women’s March on Washington.

Ever so slowly, we make our way toward Independence Avenue, about a block away. Navigating through the crowd isn’t easy, and my family and I are pressed against one another as we move.

However, it isn’t as uncomfortable as one might think. Every person we pass seems to smile at us in acknowledgement, like we are all in on a special secret.

I look around, wondering why I’m receiving special treatment. But all around me, women are smiling at one another and greeting each other like old friends. Men are there, too, some of them even wearing pink hats to show their solidarity with the movement. Reports published later will reveal estimates saying that over 500,000 people were in attendance (ABC News, Jan. 22).

Every once in awhile, a cheer reverberates through the crowd. It starts at the Capitol and works its way to the Washington Monument, hundreds of thousands of voices roaring strong. When it reaches me, a strange feeling courses through my body as I raise my voice with those around me. When the cheer passes my area, I am left with a confidence and strength I don’t remember having before.

We are standing on Independence Avenue when the march begins. Alicia Keys sings “Girl on Fire” as we turn away from the large screens broadcasting the performance live and head toward the Washington Monument. Women hold up signs that range from protesting President Trump to calling for action against climate change to seeking affordable women’s health care.

We cross the National Mall again, this time headed toward the White House. Those around us begin chanting in protest of Trump as we draw closer to his new residence.

When we reach the outer gates of the White House, we are shocked to discover that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of signs clutter the barricades set up by security in anticipation of the march. Secret Service stand menacingly behind the barricades, carrying large guns and wearing solemn expressions. But on the other side of the barricades, marchers lay down their signs, smiling and embracing one another. According to a report published on Sunday evening, there were no reported arrests at the DC March (NBC News, Jan. 22).

I take a moment to appreciate my surroundings, and take in all of the commotion, trying to absorb the excitement. I move closer to the barricades, knowing it might be as close as I can get to the iconic White House.

At the barricades, the signs call out “Bridges not Walls” and “Empowered Women Empower Women.” As I read the signs, I am overwhelmed by the moment. Later on, I will read that over 600 sister marches were planned worldwide in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Mexico City, Berlin, Paris, London, Prague and Sydney (ABC News, Jan. 22). Reports will estimate that there were over 100,000 participants in the London March and over 5,000 in cities such as Paris and Sydney (USA Today, Jan. 21).

In the US alone, reports estimate that over 3.3 million men, women and children went to marches across the country. To put that number in perspective, it is roughly 1 percent of the entire U.S. population (Bustle, Jan. 23).

I think back to the cheering crowd on the National Mall and cannot help but feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself. Whether at the gates of the White House, below the Eiffel Tower or on the shores of Australia, the world is marching, and I am marching with it.

I glance up from the signs at the barricade and take a final look around. I then place my own sign on top of the colorful pile. It reads “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

As I turn around and head away from the White House, a little girl catches my eye. I watch her as she moves toward the barricades. She leafs through the artistic signs until she reaches a small one at the top of the pile. It’s the one I just placed down: my own sign. She then scoops it up and skips toward her parents, a smile flashing across her face. She poses with the sign, proud of her unique find. I can’t help but smile as the new owner of my sign dances about.

Later on, I realize this small action is perhaps the most important takeaway. In my mind, it embodies the whole concept of the movement. I share my beliefs on a handmade sign as so many others do. When I leave the sign behind for the public, someone else, perhaps younger, is inspired, empowered, by the words. They take the sign and keep it as their own, moving the idea forward, passing on the torch.