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“Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay!”
“We want a leader, not a creepy Tweeter!”
Chants rippled across the Washington Mall, gathering in strength and magnitude like a tsunami headed for the shore. A sea of activists wearing pink “pussy” hats dispersed in every direction, linking arms and pumping fists, as they made their way through the streets of Washington, D.C. Numbering half a million, the participants — more than 150 of whom were from Kenyon — held up signs, scrambled up tree trunks and clamored on top of Port-a-Porties, letting their voices carry to those gathered to resist President Donald Trump in the nation’s capital.
Considered one of the largest marches in American history, according to the Atlantic, the Women’s March on Jan. 21 attracted 2.6 million participants total in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston. Additional marches were held internationally in countries like England, Spain, South Africa and Kenya. Organized in response to Trump’s statements and actions against women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ community, the march vowed to show Trump that the American people — and people across the globe — are watching.
Armed with hats and signs, Kenyon students were eager to participate in the movement. Some carpooled with friends on Friday, staying overnight in the city. The majority, however, signed up for a spot on one of three charter buses departing directly from Gambier.
Emily Carter ’17, who spearheaded the bus effort, knew she wanted to go to the march the minute she heard about it.
“Following Trump’s election, I was feeling very claustrophobic here,” Carter said. “I think, at Kenyon, in these times of political complication and confusion, it’s really hard to feel like you’re part of the national conversation.”
Carter sent an email to the residence halls on Nov. 12, seeing if any other students wanted to attend the march and organize a carpool. She expected to receive 20 responses. Instead, she got 300.
Spurred on by the enthusiasm, Carter began calling bus companies and reaching out to administrators for help with finances. D.C.-area alumni, professors and families offered to help find overnight lodgings for students.
The buses, owned by the same company Kenyon Athletics employs for game travel, cost about $14,000 to charter, Carter said. Kenyon donated $12,000 fund to the trip, while students paid $20 each to help cover remaining costs.
“I wanted it to be very accessible and very easy for people to sign on, and I’m grateful that Kenyon could help fund portions so I could keep the costs low,” Carter said. “I’m so happy with the number of people who came and gave up their weekend for this.”
With the help of additional student organizers, the buses departed on Friday evening. Knox County community members and professors joined in on the journey, and members of the local Knox County Democratic Party even contacted Carter about coming along.
Stepping off the bus, the participants (myself included) knew something big was coming. “Walking through the streets of D.C. at six in the morning, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re in the city right now. This day is historic,’” Carter said. “I could just feel it in the air.”
Fairly moderate at first, the crowd soon grew in size, as hundreds of people joined in. Everywhere we looked, there were more and more people shouting, chanting and clutching handmade signs. One portrayed a vagina as the Virgin Mary. Another twisted Trump’s face into a snarling pig. Others broadcasted proud messages or slogans:
“If my uterus was a corporation, would you be less likely to regulate it?” “I’d rather be pissed off than pissed on!” “Women’s rights are human rights!”
Nearby, a group of college-age women climbed up a tree, shouting until their voices were hoarse, “What do we want?” The crowd screamed back, “JUSTICE!” “When do we want it?” the women prompted. “NOW!” the crowd cheered.
At one point, people cried out, “This is what democracy looks like!” At other points, we sang “This Land Is Your Land.” Tears in my eyes, I instantly felt connected to the thousands of people standing by my side.
Stephanie Holstein ’18 also felt the significance of the moment.
“The feeling of being among thousands of like-minded people was both empowering and reassuring in such a difficult time,” Holstein said. “Now, when I see scary headlines about the way the new administration is changing our country, I find solace in remembering all of the beautiful people I marched alongside as well as the millions around the world who are resistant in accepting such things as a new normal.”
The march was not without controversy, however. Since the march, a number of attendees have critiqued the event for not properly representing the experiences of all women. Scarlett Johansson’s speech at the march, for example, drew backlash among many women of color for marking white feminist biases.
Although the event is over, Kenyon’s political activism will not end with the march. Reflecting on the growing role of young people in the political arena, Carter is confident that Kenyon students will continue to raise their voices. She hopes to create an action network newsletter with information on how to contact those in politics and get involved with student organizations like Adelante or Kenyon Students for Gun Sense.
“I think the passion is there, and the drive is there, and the need is there,” she said. “I think Kenyon students are so capable and intelligent and I’d love to be led by one of my peers.”