Freethought Today · March 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

D.C. Women’s March a unifying voice of reason - By Alyssa Schaefer

By Alyssa Schaefer

Like many others, I was initially skeptical about the effectiveness of a Women's March on Washington.

That's why, when my mom asked me in late December to join her and a small central Wisconsin delegation of women in a cross-country journey to the nation's capital for the Jan. 21 event, I hesitantly agreed. Any worries of a tepid turnout, however, were immediately dispelled when our car pulled up to a D.C. metro station that Saturday morning. There was already a winding line of pink hats and handmade signs around the station.

From my first moments on the train, I felt the communal excitement that made the day as exceptional as it was. Once the reality of the enormity of this protest hit me and the other participants, it created an energy that lasted throughout the day. I distinctly remember the cheering that flooded the train when we went past RFK Stadium and saw a sea of buses arriving one after another from all corners of the country for the event.

Everyone had signs — a wild array of signs. Half the fun of going to the protest was seeing the crazy signs that others had brought, while posing for pictures with your own.

As my group made our way down Independence Avenue toward the stage at the Mall, it was astonishing to see the variety of causes that people came to the event to support. I was marching to protest the invasion of the Religious Right into our highest offices of government, particularly how it would affect my right — and that of millions of other women — to general and reproductive health care. Others marched for the rights of minorities, the economy, environment, education, civil rights — and/or to show the new president and his administration that they were going to hold him accountable during the next four years.

There was an overlying feeling of support and community — that everyone's reasons for marching were equally important, and that by working together our voices would be heard to a greater degree.

The Women's March proved that there is strength in numbers. Every single street I looked down while marching was filled with pink hats. There were children — even dogs — in pink hats. The crowd was so large that by the time we had finished the march around the Mall, those closest to the stage hadn't even begun to move. I had never seen — and may never see — so many people together at one time.

Although women were definitely the majority, it was heartening to see how many men showed up, supporting the women in their lives while voicing their own concerns about the new administration.

Law enforcement and military personnel also contributed to the lively energy of the protest. Besides taking the time to make sure this was a safe and peaceful event, many genuinely looked excited, even a bit giddy, that we were there. One army officer in a tank blocking the road to the White House was taking photos and selfies of the protesters as we marched by. Another police officer thanked us for peacefully exercising our First Amendment right after we had thanked him for his work in making the march a success.

The primary takeaway I had from my experience at the march was that my concerns about the next four years, especially pertaining to fundamental freedoms, are shared by millions of women and men throughout the country and the world. It made me grateful I am a part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where I can contribute daily to an organization that effectively works at keeping state and church separate.

It is my hope that the multitudes of people that participated in and cheered on the Women's March convert this momentum into active civic participation in their local, state and national governments — and into supporting organizations such as FFRF in the fight to keep our democracy and country the best it can be.

Alyssa Schaefer is FFRF's program assistant.

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