BY ERICA HOWELL
WASHINGTON — “Life begins where your comfort zone ends.” This is the mantra I repeated to myself in the days leading up to the Women’s March on Washington.
As an introvert, participating in this march was far outside of my comfort zone. So was picking up a complete stranger for car-pooling at 4 a.m. The drive to do something and to be part of something bigger overpowered my need for personal comfort.
The first thing my travel companion, Amanda, and I noticed after arriving at the rally in Washington, D.C., was the diversity of ages, genders, religions, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, abilities, socioeconomic status, national origin, and reasons for marching.
We made our way into the crowd and were stuck at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 7th Street for the duration of the rally. It was too crowded to get any closer to the stage, but we were close to one of the screens, enabling us hear the speeches and see the performers. We knew we could watch the speeches online later, so we were more interested in talking to all of the people around us, learning about each other.
I spoke with Native Americans from North Dakota, a family from Alaska, a family reunion of siblings and their children from Nebraska and Michigan, a woman from Germany, women engineers from North Carolina, some local women who walked to the march from their homes just down the street, and so many more.
The rally was intensely crowded, but everyone was incredibly polite and positive, and we all took care of each other. When medics, police, or National Guard needed to get through the crowd, we shuffled and squished our bodies together to make way from them. We thanked them for being there and for their service.
Once we finally started marching and could breathe again, I took a moment to remind myself to really take it all in — burn this memory in my brain because of the historical significance of the march, because of the impact it would have on each of the individuals around me, what it meant for their lives, and what we all might do from here.
I want to remember marching past a big truck that young people were sitting upon while leading chants of: “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” It was the most incredible and moving moment of democracy I have witnessed in my lifetime.
I want to remember the moment when we arrived at a fence where people were displaying their protest signs. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, like an organically grown art gallery. There was a man standing by the fence holding a sign that said, “This is why I march.” The sign showed photos of a young girl. He had tears in his eyes, and it broke my heart. I gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder before continuing on the march.
I want to remember that I was just one person in a sea of 3 million “pussyhats” around the world. Each of us with our own lives. Each of us with our own stories. Each of us with our own reasons for marching. Each of us with our own plans for the future.
The future. This is why I march. I march for the environment and the future of our planet. I march for our black, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQ+, immigrant, and Muslim friends. I march for education, science, healthcare, and reproductive rights. I march for an end to inequality.
For me, the Women’s March on Washington was one of the most uncomfortable, beautiful and empowering experiences of my life. The rally may have only been for one day, but the march continues.
President Trump’s legacy may very well be the awakening of a new wave of women leaders in this country. We are indivisible, and we will not stop.
Howell lives in Norfolk and works at Old Dominion University, where she earned her masters degree in education in 2016.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC