By Reanna Lavine
O Lot, Ithaca College, 3:30 a.m., January 21
Hundreds of Ithaca area residents covered the sidewalk. Wearing layers, transparent backpacks and pink pussy hats, participants of the Women’s March on Washington would be covering lots of sidewalks that day. Foggy weather and bleary eyes made what lay ahead difficult to see, so friends held onto one another’s jackets as they walked to the curb. When eight buses arrived, they cheered.
Despite safety concerns raised at an informational meeting for participants earlier that week, the mood remained light. Bus leaders welcomed marchers at their seats with gift bags of snacks, tissues, and “Rise Up Ithaca” hats. Adolescent boys hunched over tablets, thumbs twitching, their faces lit up by electronic games. People chatted pleasantly with their seat partners, sharing their reasons for attending the March.
“This is the biggest and most organized protest against the Trump administration and I want to be a part of it,” said Melanie Hamilton of Ithaca.
She said it was also a civics lesson for her three daughters Clio, 16, Dorothy, 13, and Coco, 9, who were joining her at the March, and a chance to share her values of inclusion, civility, and respect with them.
“Not political values, but human values,” she said.
Her husband, Charles Hamilton, sat next to her on the bus.
Tanya Kingsley of Ithaca echoed human values as a reason for marching.
“The big thing is to demonstrate that I don’t support the disrespect [Mr. Trump] shows to so many groups,” she said. “I’m a woman and I’m Mexican and his careless talking without considering that he is a model for our children, for our girls, our boys – that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Kingsley added that she disagrees with his policies on the environment and human rights, among others.
Some had intersecting reasons for marching. Sofi Gluck of Ithaca said because she’s been horrified every time she turns on the news.
“I think we need to have as many bodies show up as possible on Trump’s first day in office – just a resistance,” she said.
Marching was also a way for Ithacans to connect with people from other parts of the country.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility as a woman,” said Maddie Carroll of Ithaca, “and I want to meet with other people who think like I do to know that I’m not alone.”
For others, attending the Women’s March was like answering a wake up call.
“I’ve been quietly ignoring racism and homophobia,” said Maureen Whitehead of Ithaca. “For the first time I’m saying ‘this is not OK’. People who are not directly effected need to speak out.”
Greenbelt, Maryland, 10 a.m.
As marchers prepared to exit the buses, news spread that Buses No. 7 and No. 8 had been delayed in Pennsylvania because of mechanical failures. People called their loved ones to let them know they had arrived at the Metro safely. Some wrote their emergency contact information on their forearms in permanent marker. They put on their backpacks and their pussy hats, collected their signs and banners from the hold under the bus. They headed by foot, walker, and wheelchair toward the Metro Station.
Hundreds of marchers had lined the perimeter of the parking lot. Ithacans identified each other by their purple “Rise Up” hats. A group traveling from New York City wore pink and purple foam crowns in the style of the Statue of Liberty. Others wore purple, white and gold Suffragette sashes. The United Steel Workers of Toronto carried a banner and stood near the entrance to the station, greeting marchers.
GreenStar had donated Metro fare to the Ithaca marchers, which allowed them to bypass the line. People piled into the train cars in station after station. And while the metro car became more cramped with every stop, spirits continued to lift as they approached the city. A group of high school students began singing “This Land is Your Land” and passengers joined in, pulling out their cell phones to refer to the lyrics.
7th and E streets, Washington, D.C., 1 p.m.
In the streets, the celebratory atmosphere continued to intensify as marchers realized the sheer number of people assembled. South of Chinatown near the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the grade toward the National Mall dipped into a steeper decline, providing a clear view of the landscape. A crowd of approximately 100 people had packed into the street from adjacent blocks and erupted into cheers, some crying and hugging each other, when they saw tens of thousands of people with signs and pink hats gathered on the Mall.
Danielle Heavens-Soda of Freeville recalled the experience of being completely enveloped in the March.
“We made our way through the crowd with our signs to what we thought was the starting point of the rally,” she said. “We realized there was nowhere left to go.”
As men, women, and children of all ages and skin tones descended the hill toward the Mall, a group of Native American women holding a tribal banner started singing. Onlookers chanted, “Water is life!” As the number of marchers continued to grow, they made a right turn onto Independence Avenue. Another cheer went up from onlookers packed shoulder to shoulder on the steps of the National Archives Building. The crowd answered that cheer with whoops, whistling, and applause, and held their signs higher.
Despite dense crowds, marchers remained upbeat and generous. Heavens-Soda said she and her friends “made a little girl’s dream come true,” helping her onto a platform so she could display her sign that read: “I’m a girl, what’s your superpower?” She said as they looked upon the crowd together, “the little girl kept saying ‘This is amazing.’ And it was.”
In addition to the wide variety of signs, the sea of bright pink pussy hats provided marchers with a colorful visual experience. Knitting the hats was promoted as a way to create a statement and to involve people who could not attend the March.
People selling merchandise met marchers at the entrance to the Mall. “Get your Women’s March buttons, hats, and T-shirts! Everything you need for the Women’s March on Washington!” The scene on the Mall had a marathon meets musical festival feel.
D.C. marijuana activists made an olfactory statement during the March. DCMJ, a marijuana advocacy group, handed out over 4,200 free joints during the Presidential Inauguration. Pockets of cannabis smoke lingered above the crowd, raising some eyebrows but eliciting more cheers.
National Mall, 2 p.m.
Michele Mitrani of Trumansburg said the atmosphere “was passionate, peaceful, and often funny and joyous.” Chants reflected the broad spectrum of feelings Mitrani described. “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” was a recurring call and response that excited marchers. Similarly, “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” brought smiles to the faces of marchers and law enforcement alike. The D.C. Police reported zero arrests during the March.
Though the March itself was supposed to begin at 1:15, speakers and performers continued to take the stage for hours afterwards. The crowd eagerly chanted “March, march, march,” but the routes were too congested for it to proceed. Few Ithacans got close enough to the rally point to hear that the March had been rerouted, though directional chants accompanied by hand signals rippled through the crowd: “Walk to the Mall and take a left! Walk to the Mall and take a left!” But the Mall was also in gridlock. Ultimately, marchers had no choice but to follow the flow of people wherever it led.
Trump International Hotel, Independence Avenue, 4 p.m.
“It was kind of an accident. We were just heading to the Metro,” said Moira Sheehan of Ithaca. “We heard booing that was so loud, it was almost like you were in a stadium and they had fumbled the ball. We had not heard booing through the entire March.”
The flow of marchers had led Sheehan and her friends to Trump International Hotel.
“It was probably the most focused point in the whole March,” she said. “People were finding themselves there and really raising their voices in protest in front of the hotel.”
This was a stark contrast to the rest of the rally and March, which had a loose structure.
The hotel had an inner and an outer barricade to keep protestors out and allow hotel guests in as well as three security guards. Sheehan said the guards were friendly and likely amused. She also said the outer barrier became the logical place to leave protest signs before getting on to the Metro.
“There was quite a stack of signs on the outer barrier, sort of a memorial for the March,” Sheehan said.
Greenbelt, Maryland, 8 p.m.
The Metro lines were overwhelmed with passengers leaving the March, causing long delays. A number of Ithaca marchers were trapped in a broken down train for over an hour, pushing back bus departures. When they arrived at the station, awaiting crowds cheered once more and broke out singing “Lean On Me” as exhausted passengers gradually passed through the turnstiles.
Back on the bus, tired marchers changed into pajamas, shared stories from the day, and found inspiration from photos of Sister Marches posted on social media from around the world. Melanie Hamilton presented a cupcake with a birthday candle to her daughter Coco who had turned nine years old that day. Everyone on the bus joined in singing “Happy Birthday.” Coco blew out the candle
“I don’t think she’s going to forget this birthday,” said her father, Charles.
Pennsylvania, 10:30 p.m.
The buses turned into rest area parking lot. Groggy marchers slipped on their shoes and ordered shakes and fries from MacDonald’s while watching CNN. The Press Secretary offered “alternative facts” about the number of people in attendance at the March. Ithacan marchers shook their heads and rolled their eyes.
Passengers from Bus No. 7, who ultimately rented passenger vans to complete their trip to Washington, returned to the auto shop where their bus had ben repaired. Their driver, “his name was Tyson,” one bus leader recalled, was waiting for them. He had taken the day off from work to drive the bus so that he could attend the March.
“A clamp that holds the coolant tube rusted off,” said the bus leader. “It took hours to fix so Tyson missed the March to wait with the bus.”
Various locales, January 22
Local marchers awoke to having participated in an important historic event. Many wondered what they would do next. Danielle Heavens-Soda carpooled home with friends.
“We slowly made our way back, listening to speakers from the day before and contemplating what we could do to continue this momentum,” she said. “We decided to commemorate the day at a tattoo parlor in Pennsylvania. The tattoo artist, Nate, clearly supported Trump. He tattooed an arrow on three of us, an arrow symbolizing moving forward.
“Not only was this empowering, but talking to a Trump supporter and seeing his small change in beliefs of what powerful, feminist women were like gave us hope!” Heavens-Soda added.
Nate donned a pink pussy hat for a photo with Heavens-Soda and her friends before they continued home.