One year later. How the 2017 Women's March changed me. Part 1

[Click Here To Read Part 2]

Why is it that, as women, we're encouraged to downplay our accomplishments? Why do so many of us feel uncomfortable expressing success,  strength, and growth? And why is self-confidence something women tiptoe around? I don't have all the answers to these questions, but I'm sharing what I've accomplished since last year, hoping it inspires others to reflect and do the same.

At this time last year, the United States was just coming to terms with having elected someone whose mental health was (and still remains) in question.

On January 18th, 2017, I stared at my receipt for the bus ticket I'd just purchased to Washington D.C., where I'd be walking on behalf of women everywhere during the Women's March on Washington. Between Donald Trump's recent election win -- and trying to navigate the divorce process after a 25-year marriage -- believe me, if I ever needed reasons to connect with other women, I had two solid ones in the bag.

I found myself asking so many questions: What do I stand for? What can I improve? What can I leave behind? Who are my true friends? How do I envision my future?

I knew very little about the Women's March when I bought my ticket. All I knew was that seats on the buses leaving from my hometown had sold out in December. I'd gone searching for -- and found -- Marla Walker, a woman who could no longer use the ticket she'd purchased. We met at a Starbucks on January 17th. I gave her my money -- $164.00 -- and she transferred her reservation into my name. We spoke briefly of the energy and enthusiasm surrounding the March, and how we both felt encouraged to see women coming together at a time that our nation needed intensive healing.

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Three days before the Women's March, I bought a bus ticket from Marla Walker, who couldn't use hers since she had to work that day.

Just two months earlier, prompted by reports of Donald Trump's disgraceful comments about women, I'd written a blog post on October 12, 2016, detailing my own experience with sexual harassment. The positive response -- from women and men -- was encouraging, and I felt like I'd done SOMETHING to counteract the daily swirl of negativity in the news. One month later, on November 8th, 2016, I worked with several women in my community to organize an election night watch party/fundraiser. I went into that evening feeling empowered and hopeful, but when reactions plummeted as election results rolled in, I was overcome by a desire to do so much more. The problem was, I didn't know what to do -- or how to go about doing it.

Thank goodness I was not alone with my feelings.

In November 2016, just after the presidential election, my neighbor, Nina Kavin -- inspired by the Women's March movement -- spearheaded an effort to secure a bus from our town to Washington. Two other neighbors -- Evan Finamore and Kathleen Long -- offered organizational and fundraising support, and turned that one chartered bus into four, providing 220 spots to the Capitol at $164/seat. According to their group's GoFundMe page, our community pitched in more than $4500, allowing 25 riders to head to Washington, free of charge.

I had worked with Kathleen Long on the election night watch party, so when I saw her Facebook post in early January '17 about 4 buses heading to D.C. from our local high school, I was sorry to learn the seats were already sold out. Still, I didn't think I could make the timing happen. Besides, I'd never been to a march before. To me, the event seemed better suited for people who knew the ins and outs of politics...and that certainly was not me.

But then, I thought, We all have to start somewhere. That's when I went looking for a ticket and found Marla Walker.

It would be a 36-hour whirlwind of a trip: depart Friday, January 20, 2017, just after the Inauguration; drive through the night to Washington D.C.; march all day Saturday, January 21st; then drive back through the night, arriving home around noon on Sunday, January 22nd.

Signing up for something like this felt so radical, so feminist, so completely unfamiliar to me. Who am I to do this? I'm no Gloria Steinem! I'm not politically active! I was a former advertising executive/early childhood educator/children's author/blogger/hyperlocal newspaper columnist. But the Women's March? To me, this was something exciting and unnerving all at once.

* * *

On Friday, January 20th, 2017 -- Inauguration Day -- I stood before my TV as Donald Trump stood on the steps of my Capitol. Protesters clashed on the streets nearby, and the rule follower in me -- questioning safety measures in Washington -- read the recommended security precautions listed in emails I'd been receiving about the Women's March. Rumors were flooding Facebook about safety concerns in D.C., but still...I was determined to go. Women's March organizers advised putting personal belongings in clear, plastic bags, all the better to pass through the numerous security checkpoints. I didn't have a clear bag, though I had an old, square, plastic package in my linen closet, likely left over from a new set of sheets. Using bright pink duct tape (again, left over from something?), I fashioned a makeshift backpack as I wiped my tears while watching The Donald take control of my country.

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My Women's March backpack, made from duct tape and a plastic bag that used to hold bedsheets.

Later that day, I gathered with hundreds of women and girls in our local high school parking lot, preparing to board buses headed to Washington. I was amazed to learn that volunteers had laid out handmade hats, scarves, cookies and letters, all to wish us well on our journey. I claimed three of the hats -- one for myself, one for my daughter, and one for Marla Walker (whose bus ticket I'd bought) -- then climbed on board with my snacks, my toothbrush and my clear plastic backpack.

The ride itself was incredible. Local organizers had arranged for leaders from my community to stand up and speak to us at various points along the route. Time and again, I was moved to tears listening to why this trip was so historic. When I was asked if I'd like to stand up and add my own thoughts, I declined. What could I add that wasn't already said -- about fearlessness, about self respect, about taking a stand? I, myself, was just figuring my own life out. I, alone, had no solutions. And I, quite frankly, was scared for the future.

And so...I decided I'd talk about that.

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Speaking on the bus, headed to Washington.

I don't recall exactly what I said, but I know it had to do with the power of vulnerability, of humility, of integrity. It had to do with listening to your gut. I tried to convey the critical need to trust our own voices, no matter how ineffective we think it might be. I tried communicating all of this on a bus traveling 75 miles an hour -- while facing backwards and toward a crowd I could barely see. I really don't know if I even made myself clear. All I knew as I spoke was that personal stories have always impacted me, so I just held on tight to the microphone (and the seatback beside me) trying my best to be my vulnerable self...which, to be honest, was a total piece of cake.

As I faced that crowd of women -- so many of them strong, accomplished, successful and confident -- I tried to focus on the youngest riders, imagining what they might take away. If nothing else, I figured, I'd let them know that no one has all this stuff figured out (hey! prime example! look at me!), and that by showing up, we'll somehow get to where we're meant to be, one determined step at a time.

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With my friend and seatmate, Lisa Degliantoni, on the way to D.C.

I tried, then, to sleep, but unfortunately, it didn't happen. I was too excited, too interested in talking to others. Too curious about the people I was meeting for the first time.

I remember, during one of our stops, somewhere near the Ohio Turnpike, when we'd all stepped off the bus to stretch our legs and use the restrooms, that a man was walking from the gas station to his car. He saw all of us -- bus loads and bus loads of women in the middle of the night, making our way toward the neon-lit building -- and asked us with a laugh, "Hey, now, where all you ladies goin'?"

"To march in Washington," one woman said as she kept on walking.

"Well, I hate to tell ya," the man chuckled, "but the Inauguration's over!"

"We know," another woman said, stopping in her tracks. "That's exactly why we're going."
I looked at that woman and gave her a high five.

* * *

As the sun rose and we neared D.C., we found ourselves driving through the thickest fog, quite a metaphor for what our futures held.

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En route to Washington on Saturday, January 21st, 2017, community organizer Evan Finamore peers into the fog.

Once "on the ground" in Washington, we walked at first slowly, then with more confidence, toward the Mall. I'd never in my life seen this many people in one place. And I'd never before seen so many smiles. I wouldn't have been surprised to see outrage and yelling and clashes with police. What I saw instead was unity, positivity, and understanding. I saw women, men and children. I saw hugs and tears and togetherness.

And I never once passed a single security checkpoint. No one asked to see my bag. No one questioned my being there. Not a single security official prevented me from walking wherever I wanted to be. In fact, several asked me where I was from, then thanked me for making the trip.

You've by now seen all the pictures of the protest signs, and they'll surely pop up in the history books of eternity. They covered every angle of the human condition: anger, despair, humor, creativity, disgust, shock, rage, fear, compassion. I saw signs that were pleading, berating, and mocking. Others were begging, reprimanding and demanding. Every sign conveyed its creator's feelings.

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A protest sign at the Women's March, January 21st, 2017.

Throughout the day, I remained with a group of about 20 women from my hometown, though it wasn't easy navigating the crowds with so many of us trying to stick together. At any given time, three of us held helium balloons aloft to make finding each other easier when we were (frequently) separated in the massive crowd. It took mental energy keeping each other in sight while observing the mass of humanity around us. People in trees. Banners waving. Megaphones blaring. Strollers. Wagons. Policemen on horses. Protesters stopping in front of the Trump International Hotel, leaving signs and heavy emotions in their wake.

At one point, we met up with my local congresswoman, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th, IL), and later saw our picture show up on MSNBC.

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Women from Evanston, Illinois stand with IL Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) on January 21st, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At another point, we ran into the actress Martha Plimpton, who reminded us to keep fighting and to never give up our rights.

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Running into actress and activist Martha Plimpton after the 2017 Women's March on Washington.

Still, the most important person I ran into that day was a lady by the name of Patricia Sainz. We met around 4pm after I'd been on my feet all day after staying up all night.

My friend Jill and I had just finished waiting in line for yet another portable toilet, and we were chilled, thirsty, hungry and (speaking for myself), irritable. Jill and I had broken away from our larger group. We were on a mission to sit, charge our phones, and briefly decompress. We stopped at a corner and sat on the ground, leaning against the exterior wall an office building where, as luck would have it, we'd found an electrical outlet to charge our phones. Sitting in silence as we and our devices recharged, we watched the crowds continue to march.  Almost immediately, a woman from the crowd (not Patricia) approached us, insisting we remove one of our devices so she could charge her own. This was not posed as a question.

"We just started," I began. "Do you mind waiting just five--"

"You're not the only ones here," the woman snapped, extending her arm toward the masses. I was taken aback. Still, I unplugged my phone and let her plug in.  I looked at Jill and pursed my lips, not wanting to say what I was feeling inside.

Moments later, Patricia Sainz appeared from inside the building. She looked directly at Jill and me. "Would you like to come upstairs with me?" she asked us. "I work inside. You can charge your phones in there, if you like."

Clearly Patricia had seen our exchange with the other woman. I gave my friend Jill a sideways look, then smiled at Patricia. "Thank you," I said. "We'd love to come in for a few minutes." All I knew was, I had to use the bathroom again, and the portable experience was getting old.

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The view from Patricia Sainz's office in Washington, D.C.

Patricia took us past the security personnel in her lobby ("They're okay" was all she had to say) then led us up to her floor, where a bank of comfortable chairs in a beautiful lobby sat before floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the crowded streets below.

To the right of the chairs was a buffet of sorts, the kind protesters on a chilly day only dream about, stocked with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water, soda, and snacks. We couldn't believe what we'd just stumbled into.

"Please, make yourselves at home," Patricia said, pointing to other marchers there, too, as they warmed up and enjoyed the treats.

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The crash: Falling asleep in Patricia Sainz's Washington, D.C. office, my homemade backpack at my side.

We plugged our phones into outlets and helped ourselves to some coffee and mini candy bars, then got to know Patricia a little better. She said she was working (on a Saturday) and couldn't help but notice that Jill and I looked cold outside, sitting on the hard cement charging our phones. She admitted that she'd mistaken me -- at five feet tall -- for a child. Believe me, I'm still having a good laugh at that. I've cursed my small stature most of my life, but on that day, let me tell you, I'd never been more grateful to be mistaken for somebody's kid.

As we stood with Patricia in front of those windows, watching the steady stream of protesters marching peacefully past her building, she encouraged us to take a seat in the comfortable chairs. I took off my glasses and, in less than 5 minutes, I promptly fell asleep. My nap lasted only about 20 minutes, yet it gave me just the respite I'd been needing.

And now, feeling warmed up and rested up, we thanked Patricia for her kindness, exchanged contact info, then headed back outside in search of a quick dinner before climbing back on board our bus.

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With Jill Greenman, saying goodbye (for now) to our new friend, Patricia Sainz.

On the bus ride back home, sleep came very easily. And, just as promised, we were back at home on Sunday, right around lunchtime.

* * *

Once home, though, I wondered how things might be different, especially when I saw opinion pieces in the news deriding the march as "ineffective", "pointless" and perhaps "feel-good grandstanding". My immediate feelings after the march were that I was proud of myself for going, though I wondered how my individual trip to D.C. would have any impact on anyone, including myself.

And that's where things get kind of interesting...

[Click Here to Read Part 2]


Christine Wolf, Writer is on Facebook. You can also follow her writing on Twitter.

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    Christine Wolf

    I tend to cover life's ups and downs. I don't shy away from the tougher, more emotional stories. While I'm always willing to voice an opinion, it sometimes contradicts my innate desire to please everyone at all times. Such is this crazy life, I suppose. Ultimately, I search for meaning in the human experience, and openly share how I (try to) keep my head above water. Thanks so much for dropping by. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

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